Drug Baron

October 29, 2012
by admin

Bardoxolone and BG-12: A Tale of Two CITIEs (Covalently-Interacting Therapeutic IntErventions!)

Until 18th October, bardoxolone methyl (Abbott/Reata) and BG-12 (Biogen) had two things in common: the nrf2 transcription factor complex as their molecular target; and their candidacy for blockbuster status.

Then Reata halted clinical development of bardoxolone, following an excess of unspecified serious adverse events and mortality among the treated patients in the Phase 3 BEACON trial in chronic kidney disease.

Almost simultaneously, the FDA paused for breath in their assessment of BG-12, delaying a decision on approval – although Biogen argue that the delay is unrelated to the sudden collapse of the bardoxolone programme.

Should Biogen shareholders be concerned?  Is this the end of the road for nrf2 activators?

Ironically, the presumed similarity of mechanism is also less certain than has often been assumed.  Both compounds can react covalent with nrf2 and modulate its activity, but the extent to which nrf2 is central to the beneficial effects or the adverse events seen with bardoxolone is an open question.

If the data with BG-12 supported approval before the Reata announcement then nothing should change.  And nrf2 remains an attractive target for non-covalent modulators – both bardoxolone and BG-12 suggest, but don’t yet prove, that this pathway is an important one in a range of disease processes.

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October 24, 2012
by admin

Lessons Learned in the Playground: Why the UK lags behind the US when it comes to biotech entrepreneurs

Some of the most important lessons in life are learned in the playground.  And so it proved this week, when more than 100 wannabe biotech entrepreneurs gathered in London for the Playground event organized by Index Ventures and Nature Biotechnology.

The goal was to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to take the plunge in biotech.  To do that, Kevin Johnson pulled together some of the most successful biotech pioneers, led by the entertaining, thought-provoking and charismatic Stelios Papadopoulos.   But the most striking thing? That almost all these inspirational leaders were from the US.

While its undoubtedly true that the UK has hosted some truly entrepreneurial biotech talent (look no further than Kevin Johnson himself), the US domination on the stage at Playground was representative of the start-up world.

Why is that? Are Americans simply a more entrepreneurial bunch?

Could it be that the young entrepreneurs were simply afraid of failure? Yes. And with good reason 

Spending some time in the Playground didn’t just pose the question – it also provided some clear answers.  For a start, there was no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit (or for that matter ability, energy or commitment) among the young audience.  But one thing came up over and over again: what a big deal it was to start a business.

It really shouldn’t be – starting a business is just like starting a scientific experiment.  So it got DrugBaron wondering whether the key difference between the UK and the US environment was the activation energy around those first start-up steps, and what the UK establishment could do to remedy it.

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October 2, 2012
by admin

From Luddite to Guru: a Cynic’s Guide to Twitter for Biotech Professionals

There was something quite ironic when Luke Timmerman of Xconomy described DrugBaron as “Twitter-savvy”.  Even allowing for poetic license that represents a turnaround to match the heroics of the European Ryder Cup golf team last weekend.

When it comes to social media, DrugBaron is a renowned luddite – seemingly one of a dying breed who has never even looked at Facebook, completely mystified by the current vogue for broad rather than deep interactions. How can a tool so beloved of neighbourhood gossips and celebrity-addicts play a part in the life of a busy biotech executive?

Not once but twice did DrugBaron attempt to engage with Twitter – only to fail completely to see what all the fuss was about.  Frustrated by the limitations of 140 characters and the stream of inane trivia, these experiments were short-lived and only served to underline the pre-existing notion that democratization of opinion was simply a race to the bottom.

So when the epiphany came it was all the more powerful.

Watching my friend and colleague Francesco De Rubertis (@fdrubertis) at Index Ventures use Twitter properly provided the education I had been lacking.  Just because tools like Twitter are intuitive, easy to operate and so flexible they can be used for just about anything does not mean that you can jump straight in and make it work for you.  Cars are easy to drive once you know how – but its dangerous to assume that intuition alone will keep you on the straight and narrow.

So, for the benefit of the few remaining cynics who have been even slower than DrugBaron to embrace the power of crowd, here is a Guide to Twitter for professionals in the biotech and pharma sector that attempts to distil my recent education on the subject into a “how to” handbook to turn Twitter into a tool that you too cannot live without.

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