Five Takeaways from “What’s Hot in Boston Biotech”

Xconomy Boston — 

“What’s Hot in Boston Biotech” can change with the wind. One week it might be a multi-billion dollar buyout, the next a high profile startup. Keeping up with the latest high-flying companies and issues can be tricky when you’re running an event in one of biotechnology’s epicenters.

This year, before a packed house at Biogen’s campus in Cambridge, MA, the focus was the challenges ahead. Things like drug pricing, which has put a target on the biotech industry’s back in Washington; running better, more productive neuroscience trials that can cut down on expensive failures; or even the need for new methods to take on what are currently “undruggable” targets. Even when biotech was on its unprecedented bull run the past few years, issues like these would creep to the surface. Now, in tougher times, and during an election year, they’re under the microscope.

During a forum on drug pricing, one attendee cited an urgent need to stop pointing fingers and take action. “If we can’t provide the leadership…and say we’ve all got to sit down and solve this problem, it won’t get resolved until someone gets elected and says I’m going to solve the problem on my own, and then everyone’s going to be unhappy,” he said. “And the outcomes for our patients won’t be the best either.”

Thanks to our speakers and attendees for making this the biggest life sciences event Xconomy has pulled off in its history. A special thanks as well to our event host, Biogen, and our supporters: Platinum sponsor Ropes & Gray; gold sponsors Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Pfizer; and silver sponsors ALT Lab Equipment, Mintz Levin, Promega, and The Richmond Group. A hat tip to Keith Spiro of Keith Spiro Photography for the pics too (stay tuned for a slideshow—look tomorrow).

And with that, here are a few takeaways from the action.

The scaling problem for neo-antigen vaccines. One of the well documented problems with a form of cancer immunotherapy known as CAR-T—in which cells are taken from a patient and engineered into cancer killers—is manufacturing these products at scale. It’s not as simple as synthesizing a bunch of pills. This might be an even more complex issue for an evolving, next-generation version of cancer vaccines that companies like Neon Therapeutics are developing. These vaccines contain “neo-antigens,” or genetic fingerprints left behind by tumors as they mutate, and they’re potentially a big deal because the immune system sees them and wipes out the tumors that have those fingerprints.

Still, creating these vaccines, as Neon co-founder and Mass General Hospital Center for Immunotherapy director Nir Hacohen explained, is a … Next Page »

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