Sam Waksal, Pfizer Venture Investments, and More: Moderator Looks Forward to All-Star Chat at New York Life Sciences 2031

Xconomy New York — 

Les Funtleyder, manager of the Miller Tabak Health Care Transformation Fund (MTHFX), recently told Xconomy that in a few years, investors are going to look back and wish they had invested more in healthcare today. That forward-thinking attitude prompted Xconomy to invite Funtleyder to moderate our first public New York event, Life Sciences 2031, a panel discussion that will take place October 13 at the Alexandria Center for Life Science.

Funtleyder, who is also author of the book Health Care Investing (McGraw Hill 2009), spends his days contemplating what the future will hold for pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and health care—and searching for the companies that are best poised to capitalize on those trends. So he’s excited by the prospect of polling the event’s four panelists on current trends in those industries and what they portend for the next 20 years. “The level of expertise on this panel will give the current era some context,” Funtleyder says.

The panelists bring a wide range of experience to bear on what’s sure to be a lively discussion. Sam Waksal was the founder and CEO of ImClone Systems and now serves as CEO of Kadmon, a New York-based biotech startup working on drugs to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infectious diseases. Barbara Dalton is a scientist-turned-investor—a Ph.D. trained in virology and immunology who is now VP of venture capital for Pfizer. Sam Isaly, founder of OrbiMed Advisors, manages the popular Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences Fund. And Eric Schadt is a genomics expert who serves as the chief scientific officer of Pacific Biosciences, as well as the director of the New York-based Mount Sinai Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology.

Funtleyder expects all the panelists to weigh in on one of the top questions on everyone’s mind: What are the next areas of growth in research? “The fact that they’ve all been around a while will allow them to bring to the table some ideas about how we can increase R&D productivity in the industry,” Funtleyder says.

For his part, Funtleyder believes R&D has reached an inflection point. “We had Genomics Part 1—the sequencing of the human genome,” he says. “Now there’s Genomics Part 2. The cost of sequencing a genome has come down from $3 million to $1,000 and the speed has gone up. Is this going to lead us into better drug discovery in the next decade? Or are we having another fad and nothing will ever come from it? That will be an interesting question to discuss.”

Personalized medicine is one of the goals of genomics research, Funtleyder points out, and will no doubt be part of the discussion at New York Life Sciences 2031. “Personalized medicine is the holy grail. But are we there yet? I don’t know. It seems like it’s inevitable. But what’s the timing? It could be a while,” he says.

Pfizer’s Barbara Dalton will bring valuable perspective as someone from Big Pharma’s ranks, Funtleyder predicts. “What’s the business model of the future?” he wonders. “Pfizer is setting up campuses all over, in Massachusetts, New York, California. Is that the new model—hiring universities, basically, to do research for you?” Funtleyder is also interested in how Pfizer’s acquisition choices might impact the rest of the industry. “The old saying is ‘If Pfizer sneezes, the industry catches a cold,'” he says. “What Pfizer does will guide what other companies do, and it will also affect the decision making by small and mid-cap biotechs. They want to make themselves attractive to Big Pharma.”

Funtleyder also wonders what the future holds for small biotechs. Some promising startups are getting snapped up by Pfizer and other large companies, he notes. But what about the legions of small biotechs that need years of research to bring their ideas to fruition—and the capital to support those projects? He’s particularly interested in what “Sam and Sam” will have to say about that, seeing as Waksal is running a startup, and Isaly’s firm has a venture arm. “It seems like private equity and venture capitalists are taking less risky bets,” Funtleyder says. “Is this setting us up to no longer have a small biotech industry in the middle of the decade? The good ones will get acquired, the bad ones will go out of business, and we’re not seeing too many public offerings.”

The biggest macro-risk for the future of the industry, Funtleyder believes, is government spending. “We’re having cost problems in the U.S.—that’s not going to go away,” he says. “We’re going to have health care reform. How are we going to grapple with it over the next decade?” Funtleyder hopes to gather perspectives and advice on that issue from all four panelists.

This being a New York event, there will, no doubt, be plenty of discussion about what needs to happen for the city to become a biotech hotbed—long the goal of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other politicians. “This has been a knock on Manhattan forever,” Funtleyder says. “We have eight research institutions and more people than Boston or San Francisco. It’s always been a mystery to me why we don’t have a thriving biotech industry.”

The four panelists should have some creative ideas for fostering growth in the city’s life sciences sector, Funtleyder believes. “This is a great industry from an economic-development point of view,” he says. “Having life sciences as a growth engine in this town would create other growth engines.”

Funtleyder won’t be the only one firing questions at our panelists, as we will leave plenty of time for audience Q&A. So please join us at Xconomy Forum: New York Life Sciences 2031 by registering here.

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