Swerving between a sea of suited biotech executives, innovative technology creators, and investors, I navigated to three interviews in three different hotels in downtown San Francisco for my first ever J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM).
At Hotel Spero, I met with Matt Angel, PhD, CEO at Eterna Therapeutics, and felt his palpable enthusiasm for the metamorphosis of the biotherapeutic company. In 2022, what was then Brooklyn ImmunoTherapeutics, a Nasdaq-listed company, was renamed after making sweeping changes to management and the board, landing Angel in a position as interim CEO. Utilizing intellectual property on a lipid nanoparticle system and a novel nuclease from Factor Biosciences, which Angel co-founded and also serves as chairman and CEO, the renamed company is carving out a niche in the growing gene and cell therapy space.
Next, I dodged clusters of enthusiastic JPM attendees en route to The Beacon Grand Hotel to interview James McArthur, PhD, president & CEO at PepGen, who preached the value of investing in treatments for patients with rare diseases. Behind a delivery platform that leverages cell-penetrating peptide conjugates to improve the activity and tolerability of oligonucleotide cargo therapeutics, McArthur shared the success PepGen has had in moving the needle towards genetic medicines for patients with neuromuscular diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In 2021, PepGen raised $113 million to challenge Sarepta in DMD and build its neuromuscular and neurologic pipeline.
My introduction to JPM wrapped up at The Donatello, where I sat down with George Church lab alum Chris Varma, PhD, co-founder and CEO at Frontier Medicines. Varma enthusiastically described his company’s proprietary platform powered by chemoproteomics, covalent chemistry, and machine learning that has lured him away from investor roles at venture capital firms such as MPM Capital, Third Rock Ventures, and Flagship Pioneering. With a pipeline lead that targets active and inactive KRAS, Frontier is chasing targets considered undruggable in cancer and beyond.
In the backdrop of headline acquisitions announced on JPM opening day by AstraZeneca, Ipsen, and Italy’s Chiesi, which collectively totaled $3.5 billion, the theme running through these meetings was that a platform is simply not enough. Today’s healthcare market climate calls for competitive, cadenced pipelines. In the cold and cloudy city, these CEOs have convened to campaign for collaboration and cash in the hopes of bringing to fruition their concepts for tomorrow’s cures.