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January 24, 2020

JPM20: 5 Key Takeaways from a Deals Conference (with Few Deals)


Shown above: Vas Narasimhan, MD, CEO, Novartis, Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford University, and Lord Prior, Chair, NHS England, announce partnership at JPM 2020 to address cardiovascular research in the U.K.

Every year, thousands from the pharma and biotech communities flock to San Francisco for healthcare’s largest healthcare investor conference of the year, the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

While only a small fraction of that number actually makes it inside the walls of The Westin, the activity outside of Union Square is often where agenda-setting industry insights and trends happen. 

Despite industry analysts calling #JPM20 being a “slower year” for deals, they did note that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as acquisitions may bolster R&D announcements later this year. 

As for our colleagues reporting on the conference, we heard that the lack of huge news allowed them to focus on stories that will extend beyond JPM and connect with people they don’t always have access to. Like the analysts, reporters shared that while JPM is not where the news is happening, it is where the news is starting. Hint: We may see more M&A activity in 2020.

So without further ado, we wanted to share key themes and takeaways from MMC’s time at #JPM20:

Digital Health is here, but its impact is yet to be determined. 

Which begs the question: What exactly is digital health again? 

As CNBC’s Christina Farr said, “There’s too much variability” and not enough clarity. Surely a wellness app and an FDA-regulated wearable device prescribed by a doctor have distinct qualities – and one has arguably more merit and testing than the other. Right?

There’s no denying digital health has been a large focus at previous JPMs, but its presence was this year was undeniable. Panels, conversations, and media were just as focused on AI’s contributions to drug development as they were on any other hot topics (during an election year at that!). 

All of a sudden, it seems like just as many tech companies strike deals with biotechs as there are biotech deals, which means there’s opportunity to enter the category and reshape the narrative around what digital health means. 

Conversations around drug pricing remain. 

The industry doesn’t need reminders that drug pricing, healthcare costs, and disparities in access and affordability are among the hottest topics in our industry. The overarching consensus is that something still needs to be done, yet the costs of R&D for cell & gene and other novel therapies continues to present challenges. 

Still, there was positive news on drug pricing: Industry veteran and biotech venture capitalist Alexis Borisy launched EQRx, a company focused on developing medicines at lower costs and selling them at lower prices. While the announcement caused a stir and execs pitched ideas to address the issue, we seem to be a long way from a permanent solution. However, in a heated election year, the industry may be reluctant to wade too deeply into these waters.

There still was some deal making.

Brad Loncar, a well-known biotech industry veteran said it best in an interview with TD Ameritrade Network, “There’s been good news, but there hasn’t been blockbuster news.” 

So what announcements did make headlines? 

  • Lilly acquires Dermira - The $1.1B deal, expands Lilly’s portfolio of treatments for chronic skin conditions, including Phase 3 medicine lebrikizumab for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. 

  • Incyte strikes a 2-part deal with MorphoSys - Incyte will pay MorphoSys $750 million to add its experimental lymphoma tafasitimab to its research pipeline and another $150M to have partial U.S. and exclusive ex-U.S. rights to the German biotech’s drug. 

  • Novartis announces partnership with Britain’s NHS - The deal clears the way for accelerated review by the U.K.’s health watchdog NICE for heart drug inclisiran, which could make it broadly available by 2021. The pact establishes a UK clinical trial using proprietary NHS data to identify at-risk heart disease patients for whom conventional treatment has not worked.

  • Teledoc buys InTouch Health for $600 million - The cash and stock deal Teladoc Health as the telemedicine partner of choice as InTouch Health is a leading provider of enterprise telehealth solutions for hospitals and health systems. 

The Promise of Neuroscience

“We think neuroscience has the potential to be in the ’20s what oncology has been in the last decade,” said Roche CEO Bill Anderson in a headline-making comment. 

However, Biogen’s highly anticipated updated on the potentially pioneering aducanumab to treat Alzheimers’ has yet to come and we’re all are watching what comes next.

Two sides to every coin 

Just as healthcare costs have been a huge focus of the industry, so too are the social determinants of health, which are perhaps underscored by the conference’s San Francisco locale. 

While the pricey J.P. Morgan Conference won’t change cities anytime soon, there is a movement to address the broader social issues plaguing healthcare in the 21st century.  

To end on a high note, we wanted to call out a few positive conversations peers in the industry are leading to support forward momentum in addressing the social determinants of health:

  • STAT’s to support homeless living on the streets of San Fran raised over $10k;

  • CNBC’s Meg Tirrell at the conference that focused on healthcare and housing;

  • Luke Timmerman focused on funding cancer research awareness;

  • Industry influencers leverage JPM to call for diversity in our industry; and 

  • #PinkSocks, a nonprofit organization, promoted human connection around the world by socially supporting other public charities and had a larger presence than ever before.

Despite the many challenges surrounding the annual J.P. Morgan Conference, each year marks an opportunity for the industry to develop new and meaningful connections that ultimately drive business forward. And, perhaps more importantly, we see the surround sound of the conference becoming increasingly socially conscious, moving key industry influencers to action. 

It’s hard to envision a January without JPM, and the event remains ripe for growth across many areas of the pharmaceutical and biotech spheres. While 2020 may not have been a news-making year, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see the outcomes of this year’s deals throughout the year to come. And that may be the very best outcome as this year’s deals propel forward critical pipelines to address unmet needs.