J.P. Morgan’s 40th Annual Healthcare Conference 2022 (JPM22) took place virtually on 10–13 January. The event offered a platform to engage in quality discussions on key milestones and future directions in healthcare, connecting global industry leaders, emerging fast-growth companies, and members of the investment community. Our Portfolio Manager, Dr Mike Murphy, offers his insight on this years’ event.
Though JPM22 and the concurrent Biotech Showcase was largely envisioned as biopharma’s return to a ‘new normal’ of in-person conferences, organisers made the last-minute decision to host the event virtually, to prioritise the health and safety of its clients and employees amid rising concerns of the latest COVID-19 variant.
Nevertheless, with all eyes on the healthcare industry, JPM22 remained a tremendous opportunity and platform for companies to announce new partnerships and deals, showcase emerging innovations and technologies, and expand company networks to support communications efforts throughout the year.
New research collaborations between large pharmas and smaller players at the cutting-edge of innovative technology platforms and modalities took the spotlight this year, with notable focus on cell and gene therapies, RNA and antibody therapeutics, and small molecules—an unexpected, though refreshing, shift from the high-value acquisitions and deals that populated previous years.
Extending the reach of cell therapy
In the cell therapy space—an area that has the potential to significantly improve areas with high unmet clinical need—JPM22 saw pharmaceutical companies taking the field in innovative directions, announcing a series of new deals.
Moderna has established a research collaboration with Carisma Therapeutics, to discover, develop and commercialise in vivo engineered chimeric antigen receptor monocytes (CAR-M) for cancer therapeutics, combing Carisma’s macrophage technology with its messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Looking at additional types of immune cells for cell therapy and cancer drug development, Bristol Myers Squibb entered a collaboration with Century Therapeutics to develop and commercialise engineered natural killer and T cell therapies derived from induced pluripotent stem cells—named iNK and iT, respectively—for both blood and solid tumours.
In one of the higher-value deals debuted at JPM22, Takeda announced the exercise of its option to acquire Adaptate Biotherapeutics, adding Adaptate’s novel antibody-based γδ T-cell engager platform to its immuno-oncology portfolio, with the aim of harnessing innate immunity to deliver treatments for solid tumours with improved safety and efficacy.
CAR-M, iNK and γδ T are certainly promising additions to the cancer cell therapy toolkit.
There is an emerging role of AI-powered technology in healthcare and, as evidenced through the collaborations showcased at JPM22. Big pharma players are focusing on incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities into their R&D offerings.
Amgen has partnered with Generate Biomedicines, leveraging Generate’s ML-enabled technology platform to develop protein therapeutics for five clinical targets across multiple therapeutic areas and modalities, and similarly, Sanofi will use Exscientia’s end-to-end AI-driven platform to develop up to 15 drug candidates across immunology and oncology in a new research collaboration and license agreement.
In partnership with Merck, Absci will use its AI-powered Integrated Drug Creation™ and Bionic Protein™ non-standard amino acid technologies to create enzymes to meet biomanufacturing applications, with the option for Merck to select three targets to progress into a drug discovery collaboration.
It will be interesting to see the impact on healthcare that these new technologies harnessing the potential of AI and ML have as they continue to progress.
On the horizon for healthcare
Looking at the life sciences landscape, further growth is on the agenda. Emerging companies with new modalities are taking the spotlight, with larger players looking towards partnerships for external innovations that strengthen their own pipelines and expand portfolio reach.
There has been a continued increase in research collaborations—including cell and gene therapies, antibody and RNA therapeutics, and small molecules—and AI-powered solutions are beginning to streamline processes from early drug discovery and development to patient care management. JPM sets the tone for investment at the start of each year and, in 2022, we can expect to see cell and gene therapies driving exciting developments for cancer treatments.
Virtual or in-person, events such as JPM22 are a great platform for industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors to network and discuss ideas that will ultimately transform the future of healthcare.