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Readout @ JPMDamian Garde

Farewell from #JPM20! This is your final afternoon check-in from San Francisco, recapping biotech's annual convocation. Keep up with STAT's reporters: @adamfeuerstein, @damiangarde, @rebeccadrobbins@erbrod@pharmalot, and @matthewherper. And see you next year!

Venture capitalists start to warm to brain diseases

Longtime venture capital star Beth Seidenberg and former Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper say they have funded 10 companies from their new fund, Westlake Village BioPpartners. But only three — the cell therapy companies Kyverna Therapeutics, Tmunity, and Arsenal Biosciences — are publicly known. Any hints?

Neuroscience.

“My pattern matching over the years is when a pharma company says I'm out of a particular area, that's a perfect time for venture capitalists to jump in because it means that they're hard problems,” said Seidenberg. Those are perfect for the focus startups bring, she said.

Principally, they meant neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. But they also expressed some interest in chronic pain, where Harper thinks animal models may work. Psychiatry? It’s so hard, Harper said, but he didn’t want to rule out trying in the future.

Read more

Verily steps on a few toes at JPM debut

Verily was one of the most-talked-about debutants at this year’s J.P. Morgan ball. For the first time in its five-year history, the Alphabet life sciences spinout presented to some of the 9,000 health care executives and investors who descended upon Union Square, and Verily’s mercurial CEO, Andy Conrad, faced pressure both to impress and entertain.

It seemed to go well.

But not everyone was thrilled with the particulars of Conrad’s presentation — especially Dexcom’s chief executive, who was caught off-guard by some of the specifics Conrad revealed. Those included a potential movement-tracking feature on the device as well as images that CEO Kevin Sayer said hadn’t previously been made public.

“He said things about it publicly that he wasn’t supposed to,” Sayer told STAT.

Read more.

Do you even shroom, bro?

There is mounting evidence, from the most ivory of academic towers, that psychedelic drugs have therapeutic effects. But convincing buttoned-up biotech investors to take a risk on the idea can sometimes be difficult, according to Ronan Levy, co-founder of Field Trip Psychedelics. And the people willing to bet on companies that think of psilocybin as a medicine have something in common.

“They’ve had their own psychedelic experience, and it’s been profoundly positive and profoundly meaningful,” Levy said. And that cuts across demographic lines, uniting 60-something former pharma CEOs and millennial tech millionaires, he said.

That was the case for Christian Angermayer, an investor in the psychedelics startup Compass Pathways whose life changed after eating some magic mushrooms on a yacht. And it suggests that biotech’s more staid moneychangers are perhaps an ayahuasca weekend away from getting on board.

Money made

Lest we forget, JPM at its core is a healthcare “investment” conference, where what really matters is making money. On that score, the week was a success! Biotech’s most closely followed index is higher today than it was at Friday’s close.

Congrats, enjoy Whistler or Maui or wherever your post-JPM vacation plans take you.

We figured out the solution to the JPM problem

Let’s give the weather at this year’s JPM an A-minus. No rain (except for today) was wonderful. It could have been warmer but the brisk temperature felt pleasantly like fall in New England. There was a noticeable drop in attendance. Meeting rooms weren’t jam-packed. Ubers and Lyfts were easy to hail and coffee shops were bustling but not overloaded. 

All in, this was a really pleasant week in San Francisco. Maybe that’s the simple solution to all the hand-wringing over the future of JPM: Fewer of you, plus sun. 

More reads

  • Genetic bias law has worked perfectly, or maybe not at all (Bloomberg Law)
  • Previously unseen mutations in stem cells of young donors can be passed to recipients, study finds (STAT)
  • Glaxo, Pfizer executives out of step on consumer unit’s future (Bloomberg)
  • Opinion: The public science behind the ‘Merck’ Ebola vaccine (STAT

Thanks for reading! Your regularly scheduled Readout returns tomorrow morning, thanks to Meghana Keshavan.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

STAT

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