What About Funding The Fight Against Cancer? Startups Challenge Venture Capitalists …
On Tuesday September 23rd, swissnex Boston hosted the second life sciences events of this year’s fall series. A transatlantic panel of seasoned venture capitalists (VCs) and entrepreneurs discussed the challenges startups in the field of oncology are facing when it comes to fundraising.
Cancers figure among the leading causes of death worldwide and oncology represents one of the fastest growing markets in the pharmaceutical industry. Today, technological advances and a better understanding of the biology of cancer now allow a shift in paradigm, from the traditional toxic chemotherapies to more targeted and personalized treatments - treatments that are better tolerated by patients and which result in a superior clinical outcome. Startups are playing an important role in this shift as drivers of innovation, but important investments are critical. This is where VCs come into play, by backing up startups in risky early-stage ventures that must survive the clinical development value chain.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, we had the pleasure to have present Jeffrey Albers, CEO of Blueprint Medicines, a Cambridge based Biotech company developing highly selective kinase drugs for specific, genomically-defined cancer patients. Also present was Oliver Middendorp, CEO of Numab, a Swiss biotech company that innovates antibody-based therapeutics. Both Albers and Middendorp shared their respective experiences on how difficult it was for them to seek funds to finance their ventures initially. Oliver recalled that, in 2012, the environment was pretty hostile as most of the venture capitalists approached by him were already at the long tail of their funds. Nevertheless, he was able to collect several mandates from large pharmaceutical companies, which allowed Numab to grow. For Jeff and Blueprint, it was essential to get the support of Nextech Invest Ltd, a Swiss fund based in Zurich and dedicated exclusively to oncology ventures.
Lately, we hear more and more the idea that venture financing for biotech is in decline, and that the hey days are over for biotech entrepreneurs. However, the two VCs on the panel, Nilesh Kumar, Director of Merck Serono Ventures, and Doug Cole, General Partner of Flagship Ventures, could not disagree more. From a corporate venture capitalist perspective, with a fund of over $140 million, Nilesh, on the contrary, is convinced that there is enough funding available out there, even within Europe. The key factors to secure the investment of corporate pharmaceutical ventures are both the strategic fit and the quality of the opportunity. Startups really need to refine and focus their strategy, and approach the appropriate funds. For early stage companies, securing funding remains a difficult exercise, as the adage says, “it’s too risky until it’s obvious.” According to Doug’s experience, one of the key questions every venture capitalist should ask themselves when confronted with what could be a breakthrough idea is: “If this was true, what would the world look like?”
Steven Dickman, CEO of CBT Advisors, moderated the panel, juggling the different perspectives with brilliance and leading the discussion into an engaging Q&A session with the swissnex audience. This event was organized by swissnex Boston in partnership with SWITZERLAND GLOBAL ENTERPRISE and SWISS BIOTECH.
About Blueprint Medicines
Blueprint Medicines is a patient-driven oncology company developing highly selective kinase inhibitors for genomically defined cancer patients. Blueprint has developed a platform that combines genomics with a novel small molecule library of kinase inhibitors, enabling Blueprint to rapidly develop potent, highly selective compounds against clear genomic driver targets. Founded in 2011, Blueprint is privately held and initially backed by Third Rock Ventures and Fidelity BioSciences.
About Numab AG
Numab is a Swiss biotech company that innovates antibody-based therapeutics.
Numab’s strength is the engineering of highly stable molecules with tailored pharmacological properties (e.g. multi-specific products with short or long half-life).
Numab entertains a pipeline of proprietary antibody-based programs and offers collaborations to discover innovative antibody-based therapeutics on behalf of its partners in the pharmaceutical industry.
Nanomedicine… ready to impact society?
On September 15, 2014, swissnex Boston had the pleasure to kick off the first of this fall Life Sciences Expert Talks “Nanomedicine in 2014: From Academic Discoveries to Societal Impact” with Omid Farokhzad, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Laboratory Of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Omid Farokhzad, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School
Prof. Farokhzad research currently, focuses on the development of therapeutic nanoparticle technologies. He pioneered the high throughput combinatorial development and screening of multifunctional nanoparticles for medical applications. His technology has formed not only a basis for a new class of targeted nanoparticles for treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease, but also a new class for synthetic nanoparticle vaccines and for synergistic treatment of cancers, inflammation, and infectious diseases. Based on his discoveries and in an effort toward commercialization and societal impact, Prof. Farokhzad launched three biotechnology companies BIND Therapeutics, Selecta Biosciences and Blend Therapeutics.
More than 80 people from different backgrounds, from academia to biotech, came to hear our guest speaker presenting current and future challenges in designing and optimizing polymeric nanoparticles for medical applications.
Following the presentation a reception was sponsored by Debiopharm Group™, a Swiss-based global bio-pharmaceutical group of four companies active in drug development, GMP manufacturing of proprietary drugs, diagnostics, and investments. The company is currently expanding its portfolio and is actively looking for new candidates to feed its manufacturing pipelines. Sandya Von Der Weid, licensing officer gave a brief overview of the company’s growth strategy.
Sandya Von Der Weid, licensing officer, Debiopharm
Following the event Debiopharm worked on a scouting mission with swissnex Boston in order to identify new business opportunities in the greater Boston Area. Only the future will tell us if this trip set solid grounds for collaborations to impact unmet medical needs …
All roads lead to… Zero Power Smart Fashion!
Using pink sticker dots on West 18th Street in Manhattan, the designers of the Stijlinstituut Amsterdam made sure that the crowds of the New York Fashion Week would find their way to the 4th floor of the Metropolitan Pavilion, where on September 10th fashion met technology. This event, organized by the Zero Power Smart Systems Initiative of EPFL and ETHZ in cooperation with swissnex Boston, and designed by the Stijlinstituut Amsterdam, joined together the worlds of technology and fashion with a day-long exhibition and symposium.
Throughout the day, visitors flocked to the exhibition for a hands-on experience with the latest developments in the wearable technology industry. Whether it was Sensoria's Smart Sock, Forster Rohner Textile Innovation's LED-equipped haute couture dress from Albert Kriemler – making the headlines at the spring fashion shows in Paris – or the cutting edge technologies displayed by the Swiss Federal Institutes of Zürich and Lausanne, to name only a few; they all left an impression on the visitors, including special guest Ambassador André Schaller, Switzerland’s new Consul General in New York.
Even among the many exclusive fashion shows happening this week around New York, there were no empty seats when the presenters hit the stage. No less than 13 speakers from diverse backgrounds drew the crowds to this afternoon symposium.
A well-balanced audience
“I am very happy with the event,” said Adrian Ionescu, Director, NanoLab of EPF Lausanne and Chair of the Guardian Angels Initiative. “There was a fantastic balance of people from the tech, fashion, and design industries in the audience – just what we were looking for!”
Networking reception allows for new connections
Lastly, the networking reception with experts from the fields of technology and fashion allowed new connections in otherwise opposite industries. This reception put a stylish end to the day at the Metropolitan Pavilion, where technology met fashion and Swiss researchers met New York fashionistas.Even among the many exclusive fashion shows happening this week around New York, there were no empty seats when the presenters hit the stage. No less than 13 speakers (Link to program) from diverse backgrounds drew the crowds to this afternoon symposium.
Bringing Swiss science and innovation to New York City
The success of Wednesday’s event is a testament to the mission that swissnex serves: bringing the best Switzerland has to offer in science and innovation to audiences around the world. “EPFL’s Guardian Angels Initiative, and the many wearable tech ventures it has linked with in Europe and the US, deserved to reach the right public,” says Oliver Haugen, swissnex Boston’s new Senior Project Leader in New York. The incredible growth of Silicon Alley over the last decade has cemented New York City as the US’s full-service hub for the new economy.
Building on fourteen years of experience running the world’s first science consulate, swissnex Boston decided to open a New York Outpost in 2013 to better serve the needs of partners like the EPFL and ETH. “Innovation has no borders – and it’s our job at swissnex to make sure that Switzerland’s top centers of research excellence that are EPFL and ETH are known here in New York”, Oliver adds. In doing so, swissnex already benefits from the internationalization efforts that the schools have accomplished at home: more than half of EPFL’s faculty and student body is non-Swiss, hailing from 125 countries; and ETH is over one-third international.
The Zero Power Smart Fashion exhibition and symposium was organized by the Zero Power Smart Systems Initiative of EPFL and ETHZ in cooperation with swissnex Boston and its Outpost in New York.
Photos by Katie Nicole Mercado & swissnex Boston
University of Basel’s Global Perspectives Programme participants visit swissnex Boston
The Global Perspectives Programme (GPP) is an initiative of the University of Basel for doctoral and postdoctoral students. The purpose of the program is for students to gain experience within the Swiss and US higher education sectors, as a means by which to build global competencies and inter-cultural communication skills that will enable them to become future academic leaders, leaders that are ready to face the challenges of an increasingly diverse sector.
In partnership with Virginia Tech in the US, the program consists of five components: an introductory seminar; the hosting of the US delegation in Basel; a joint seminar in Riva San Vitale, Ticino; visits to higher education institutions in the US; and a conference held in Washington at the closing of the program. Each year, the GPP has another focus. This year’s focus was “The Future of Higher Education”.
On June 16, the participants of this year’s GPP visited Boston on their tour of the US to listen to a talk by Johannes Heinlein, edX’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, a role wherein he is leading university partnership and collaborative initiatives. Virginia Tech was linked to the talk via a video conference. Johannes Heinlein gave a very interesting and elaborated discourse about the history of edX, the current initiatives as well as the future aims of the institution. The lecture was followed by a discussion that also covered critical issues pertaining to the newest digital developments. After the talk, the GPP participants met with the local Friends of Basel chapter for refreshments.
Urban Planning Across The World
Over the summer, swissnex Boston hosted a Panel Discussion led by Prof. Jean-Claude Bolay, Professor at the Faculty of Natural, Architectural and Built Environment and Director of the Cooperation and Development Center (CODEV) at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. Prof. Bolay is also Director of the UNESCO Chair “Technologies for Development”.
Prof. Bolay’s research focuses on the challenges faced by cities in emerging and developing countries in urban planning, and, in particular, challenging the implementation of western methodologies for sustainable planning and urban development in other regions of the world. For the panel discussion, six experts from a variety of institutions joined Professor Bolay in the discussion. The experts represented the Institute for International Urban Development, the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, the MIT Urban Planning Department, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Each of the panelists offered a brief presentation of their work across the world in sustainable development.
The panel offered a wealth of insight into the different challenges and opportunities each panelist has encountered with regards to sustainable, urban planning in developing countries. The presentations included the discussion of projects such as the Digital Matatus Program[i], which is a collaborative research and mapping program for public transit in Nairobi. Another project was a multi-year ecological planning project developed to facilitate the design and management of a more sustainable future for the Exuma archipelago, and for the Bahamas in general[ii].
Preview of swissnex Boston events in September!
Zero Power Smart Fashion: Wearable Sensors and Green Energy
On September 10th, during New York’s Fashion Week, the Zero Power Smart Fashion exhibition and symposium will showcase some of the latest products and electronic technologies the wearable tech and smart clothing community have to offer.
Organized by the Zero Power Smart Systems Initiative of EPFL and ETHZ in cooperation with swissnex Boston, the event will explore the future of electronic fashion with forward-thinking industry leaders, scientists and creatives.
“Our goal is to bring together the fashion and tech industries from both the US and Europe,” said Adrian Ionescu, Director Nanolab of EPF Lausanne & Chair of the Guardian Angels Initiative. Key international experts from leading universities and colleges will showcase visionary roadmaps and future evolutions of smart garments embedding sensing, computation, communication and energy functions.
“We particularly plan to have an emphasis on wearable autonomous systems, body area networks, smart garments (embedding low power sensors), smart textiles and wearable energy harvesting solutions,” said Adrian Ionescu. In Europe a large consortium of 66 academic and industry partners (http://www.ga-project.eu/) developed the concept of Zero-Power energy efficient systems that will be in the core of the exhibition. Applications cover sport and fitness, prevention in healthcare, safety and security, and emotional systems – all centered on a technology-enabled quality of life.
Zero Power Smart Fashion is taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion’s Gallery, at 125 W 18th Street, New York, NY on Wednesday, September 10th from 10:30am – 6pm. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Tickets are available at zpsmartfashion.eventbrite.com. More information and the agenda can be found at www.zpfashion.org.
Coming to Boston: EXCELLENT SWISS DESIGN
EXCELLENT SWISS DESIGN comes to Boston this September!
EXCELLENT SWISS DESIGN highlights selections from the 2013/14 Design Preis Schweiz (Design Prize Switzerland), a biennial award that has, for twelve years, recognized design excellence in the areas of fashion, furniture, industrial, interior, interdisciplinary, textile and communication design. The award offers insight into the versatility demonstrated in Swiss design today. Celebrating ingenuity and sustainability, this exhibition pioneers a new vision for contemporary Swiss design.
EXCELLENT SWISS DESIGN will be on display at the Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design from September 10th through November 22nd, 2014.
Rhode Island International Film Festival 2014 Opens Today
The Rhode Island International Film Festival 2014 is set to open today. Organized by Flickers, the opening night gala and soiree for the film festival will take place at 7pm in Providencel, RI.
Included as part of the line up for this year’s international film festival are 8 films from Switzerland:
- 17 anni (17 Years Old)
- A iucata (The Bet)
- Blinder Passagier (The Stowaway)
- In The Name of Love
- The Kiosk
- Taglia Corto! (Cut it Short!)
- Wo ist Klara (Where is Klara?)
The Swiss film, Sandrine, will be featured today as part of the opening night screening.
For more information on the Film Festival please visit: http://riff.festivalgenius.com/2014/films/country/Switzerland
swissnex Boston is proud to be a sponsor of this year’s RIIFF.