Members of the Catalyst Advisors team attended multiple private, VC-sponsored conferences recently. It was a joy to get back to live, in-person meetings. The presentations sparked some timely ideas, and the hallway encounters led to engaging and open conversations with many research and development and regulatory leaders in our industry.
The conference presentations and conversations highlighted four key trends we are seeing:
- Market consolidation
- The war for talent continues unabated and for new reasons
- Investment patterns run the risk of creating a gap between the developed and developing worlds when it comes to access to innovative therapies
- A debate over whether such a large amount of research resources should be funneled into cancer treatments at the expense of other pervasive diseases
Here is a bit more elaboration, including my own thoughts.
The market is ripe for consolidation. You can see the seeds of this in several disease areas. For example, 20 companies are working on advanced therapeutic approaches to Duchenne muscular dystrophy and well over 100 companies are working on cell therapy approaches in cancer. At the end of the day, you cannot have 20 approaches to Duchenne muscular dystrophy in the market because there are not that many patients. Over time, funding will need to be allocated more effectively and that, in turn, will limit the number of organizations and projects pursuing specific diseases.
Even with consolidation, the war for talent in the industry continues unabated (and across the economy, for that matter). There is a greater emphasis on and desire for highly specialized scientific knowledge along with specific business experiences, making recruiting more challenging than ever. This has been exacerbated by the COVID work-from-home trend, making remote work and whether companies offer it an important consideration for candidates considering new roles. Providing flexibility has become a key element of finding and hiring the right individuals. I spoke with CEOs of venture-backed companies who are hiring remotely as a matter of course. They cannot get people to relocate and feel that it is working well so far, even for roles such as Chief Scientific Officers. Time will tell.
These conferences also brought up the fact that a more divided universe of therapeutic access has been created. Cell therapies, gene therapies, and other advanced therapies are not going to sub-Saharan Africa or India anytime soon. Access will be limited both by supply chain issues and by price expectations for such advanced medicinal products. The allocation of research funding has been directed to therapies for high-income and insured patients. That creates even more disparity in health care provision across geographies and income levels.
Another idea that speakers and attendees raised at the conferences is the unprecedented amount of investment in cancer and cancer therapeutics. It is creating some tension with folks who believe in focusing more resources on other significant diseases where we may be able to move the needle farther and faster, including cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological disorders. The COVID pandemic has awakened the world to the realization that there is value in any discovery, development, and prevention of even unforeseen diseases.
Beyond these trends, we were pleasantly reminded that in-person meetings offer such great opportunities for learning and connection after the last two years of virtual meetings. We all hope to see face-to-face interactions and events continue.