How San Diego Biotech Leaders Are Adapting to Coronavirus Concerns

Xconomy San Diego — 

Three hundred Takeda employees from the Japanese pharma giant’s California research center have been working from home for 10 days straight.

Neurocrine Biosciences, one of the few commercial-stage biotechs in town, is working to ensure the animals housed in its vivarium are appropriately minded.

Ciara Kennedy, CEO of clinical-stage antifungal therapy developer Amplyx, is facing a slowdown in trial enrollment as hospitals focus on handling the influx of pandemic patients.

Local biotech executives and investors shared snapshots of life sciences in the time of coronavirus Wednesday afternoon at Xconomy’s Xcelerating Life Sciences San Diego event. The program, originally slated to take place at Takeda California, in San Diego, was instead hosted in a place many of us are becoming ever more familiar with these days: cyberspace.

And although coronavirus wasn’t formally on the agenda for any of the fully digital event’s talks, its impact was raised in each of the panel discussions—an illustration of how the deadly virus is reshaping the lens through which many view today’s business and biotech worlds.

Panelists were united in anticipation of significant changes to the biotech sector. Still, it wasn’t entirely a chorus of doom and gloom.

Nancy Hong, a managing director at St. Louis-based, MO life sciences venture capital firm RiverVest, noted that notwithstanding the shuddering public markets, investment firms still have ample capital to deploy.

“I still think that for the right deals, they’re still going to need to get done,” said Hong, who helped open RiverVest’s San Diego office. “We try and [invest in] once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and those are going to need to get done, and we have the capital, so they will get done. There’s just going to be a higher bar for companies that are raising right now, and the sense of urgency is going to die down.”

For biotechs Hong has spoken with, the situation remains fluid.

“Companies have been coming up with backup plans, but it’s changing daily,” she said. “I have one portfolio company that had contracts for manufacturing in China and they thought, oh, we should get some domestic backups. But at this point in the cycle, it feels like China might be back online, and we don’t know what is going to happen to the domestic manufacturers.”

Kim Kamdar, a partner at the San Diego healthcare venture capital firm Domain Associates, said the firm is pressing ahead with deals that were the works before the word “pandemic” irrevocably entered the mainstream lexicon.

“We were in the process of funding two companies while this was going on, and those are continuing to happen,” she said. “One is a new investment and other is a seed investment in neuroscience, where we’ll be looking to pull down a Series A financing here within the next couple of weeks.”

Still, “I do think overall I do think there will be a dramatic slowdown in the private markets due to the lack of liquidity in the public markets, or just actually the general lack of investor confidence,” Kamdar said. “Until we start to see some stabilization, I think it’s going to result in a pullback.”

Entrepreneurs in the Domain portfolio are being disciplined, with some pulling from experience they gained while wrestling their early-stage companies through the 2009 recession, she added.

“While this is a very different reason, a lot of the same kind of mindsets are being put in place,” she said. … Next Page »

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