Final Takeaways: Optimum’s 12th Annual Healthcare Investor Conference 2020

We bring you our final key takeaways from our super insightful 12th Annual Healthcare Investor Conference 2020 to complete the collection.

  • 2021: Priorities for European Pharma
  • What does the investment landscape look like post Covid-19?

The full collection and more great content can be found on Optimum’s Vimeo profile page.

2021: Priorities for European Pharma

In the session on “Priorities for European Pharma in 2021”, Mike Ward, Global Head of Thought Leadership at Decision Resources Group, part of Clarivate, spoke with Philippe Lopes-Fernandes, Executive Vice President, Chief Business Officer, Ipsen and Peter Stein, Chief Executive Officer, Norgine Group. Both have extensive and impressive track records in international business development, and a tremendous ability to work closely with the scientific community around the world.

Major themes discussed included:

  • Silver lining – In the UK, Brexit has helped build resilience, as firms have long been preparing for drastic supply chain interruptions by building extra facilities, increasing inventory, and hiring more ‘surge capacity’ staff.
  • The increase in digital and multi-channel interaction because of working from home is a positive change that companies will be investing more in.
  • There is an increasing focus on disease prevention and early diagnosis. The art of making a difference will be in working closely with clinicians and patient groups and focusing on the trials that will clearly demonstrate the value of new therapies, especially as there is an increased emphasis on proving cost-effectiveness.
  • Small companies are generally still well capitalised and can keep much activity in house but will still need large partners, such as pharma, for support when progressing a broader application of their technologies.
  • The industry is teaming up better. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen competitors working together in coalitions and accelerating drug development both in terms of regulators and companies.

The industry has shown that it can be agile, but how well can it apply this approach beyond COVID-19, in other therapeutic areas that are now currently underserved? Our speakers agreed that the industry needs to prevent future crises rather than just reactively solving crises when they happen. We need to seriously evaluate the future priorities in healthcare and work out what needs to be changed. Mike Ward, Philippe Lopes-Fernandes and Peter Stein, all hope that the pharma industry continues to be perceived as a significant part of the solution in healthcare, not part of the problem.

How does the investment landscape look post COVID-19?

The Investment Panel, chaired by Robert Darwin, Partner, Dechert LLP, discussed the investment landscape for healthcare and life sciences post-pandemic with experts from venture capital, pharma, private equity and asset management, including Isabella Eichler, Director, Altor Equity Partners, Linden Thomson, Fund Manager, AXA Investment Managers, Stavros Mercouris, Director, KKR, and Elisa Petris, Partner, Syncona

One of the perhaps surprising things about the coronavirus pandemic is that it has had much less of a negative impact on the investment landscape than in other sectors, some of which have been hit hard. This partly explains why investors are piling into the healthcare sector, which has long been a defensive play, with record sums being raised, helping the sector weather the pandemic well. It has in fact been a year full of opportunities, as healthcare is THE space. The panel discussed that investors have supported their life sciences companies with capital and have made new investments using processes that are now entirely virtual. Institutions have raised a lot of money for quality assets and there has been significant competition for deals, with the strength of the IPO market in the sector one of the biggest positive surprises in 2020. But what are investors looking at in 2021?

Themes to watch include:

  • Democratisation of data around care, digitalisation across operations and increased professionalism across the services space in particular. This will drive greatly enhanced remote monitoring of patients and telemedicine in general, which will be winning market segments.
  • There has been a negative impact from clinical trials having to stop, pushing out milestones, but at companies in pre-clinical, people were quick to adapt to new ways of working. There has been a complete stand still of elective surgery, which is now picking up again, as surgery cannot be put off forever. How clinical trials pick up in 2021, and where, and what that means for new medicine development will be a major theme.
  • The industry still needs to develop better ways to fight antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which has likely been exacerbated by COVID-19, as antibiotics have been widely prescribed to reduce lethal secondary respiratory infections from bacteria and fungi. New models and partnerships with organisations will need to be explored to make the development and commercialisation of these products viable from an investment perspective and generate a worthwhile financial return. But the industry cannot do it alone, it must be part of a much wider societal conversation that requires the full support of governments. Perhaps with a worldwide focus on investing in public health, enabling healthcare systems to become more resilient, making AMR research investable is something to watch for in 2021? That could be another bright spot on the life sciences investment landscape. If we have learned anything in 2020, it is that being unprepared for deadly infections is a fatal mistake.
  • Company creation: founding new businesses that really move the needle, and more support for very early-stage companies. We will see more active engagement with academics to identify opportunities and make the most of transformational science coming out of universities. This basic investment model of founding companies coming out of Universities has not changed, or been slowed, due to COVID-19, in fact the pandemic has pushed the pedal to the metal. The quality of the management team and its ability to execute remains one of the top characteristics to consider when investing.
  • Blood based genomics: how we are monitoring and screening for early-stage cancers and how that determines treatment choices over the long term. Better genetic understanding of neuroscience conditions is another likely growth area.
  • Finally, Phase 3 data for some of the COVID-19 vaccines might be the peak of equity prices for some of these companies. Valuations have become quite high in the US so those stocks might correct in 2021, and the ‘halo’ effect on biopharma companies in general may fade.

The investment panel eloquently reaffirmed what many know already: the pandemic has not caused a tectonic shift in the sector, as it is generally resilient. COVID-19 brought a lot of generalist investors back to the sector and companies and regulators are working together, faster. We are seeing fantastic innovation and the industry has learnt how to be more agile, digitally.