Although MedCity News has always covered the broad spectrum of the business of healthcare and healthcare innovation, its coverage of medical technology and digital health has always figured more prominently than its biopharma coverage. But the latter got a signal boost Wednesday with the launch of our all-new Biopharma Newsletter.
The newsletter will showcase both stories produced by our in-house reporters – especially myself, MedCity’s senior reporter covering the biopharma beat – as well as those by MedCity Influencers. You can sign up for the newsletter by filling out this form and checking the “Pharma” box.
The 21st century has been touted – to borrow the title from social theorist Jeremy Rifkin’s 1998 book – as the biotech century. Having had the opportunity to cover the biopharma sector for more than 10 years, it’s clear to me now more than ever Rifkin’s forecast was correct.
There are already two cell therapies and one gene therapy on the market in the US, all approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the past couple of years. And this week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency plans to hire 50 new cell and gene therapy reviewers as it anticipates more than 200 such therapies entering the clinic annually starting next year, with 10-20 approvals per year by 2025.
Various research reports have also shown biopharma startups raising larger and larger amounts of money. Although the amount of money it raised significantly decreased from the quarter before, the biotechnology sector led the healthcare industry in terms of money invested in the fourth quarter, raising $978 million, compared with more than $2.1 billion in the third quarter, according to PwC’s MoneyTree Life Sciences Report. Other reports – from PitchBook and Silicon Valley Bank – have likewise shown biopharma startups playing a leading role.
One need only look at the year-over-year growth in attendance of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference – driven largely by biopharma – and the multitudes of people going to industry meetings like BIO and medical meetings, especially in areas like hematology-oncology, to conclude that the biotech century has definitively arrived.
Of course, biotechnology is nothing new. One could argue that the world’s oldest biotech medicine can be found at your local liquor store. And immunotherapy can trace its origins back to the experiments of Dr. William Coley, a New York physician at Memorial Hospital – now part of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – who in 1891 injected a cancer patient with streptococcus bacteria, which successfully sparked an immune response that caused the tumor to shrink.
But it’s in recent years that the field has seen the most development, from interferons in the 1980s to monoclonal antibodies in the 1990s, snowballing into the advanced monoclonal antibodies, cell therapies and gene therapies of the last decade.
In tandem with the rapid development in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals have seen significant advancements as well. The approval of Loxo Oncology’s Vitrakvi (larotrectinib) in November heralded the arrival of drugs that treat cancers not as diseases of the body’s tissues, but as a disease of the genome.
But it’s also MCN’s coverage of areas like digital health and medical technology that positions it well to cover biopharma because the two fields have slowly but surely been converging. From a company developing prescription digital therapeutics to complement drug therapy like Pear Therapeutics to the mushrooming firms using artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment drug discovery and development, the two areas are noticeably starting to occupy a common space.
It’s an exciting time to be a journalist covering such a fascinating field, to see highly effective and potentially even curative treatments become available for diseases that have historically been death sentences. It’s also a time in which journalism is more important than ever, as company after company pops up with fantastic claims about the products it’s developing. That requires sifting through those claims and balancing them against complex data, market needs and the skeptical gaze of regulators. That’s what MedCity News does, and the Biopharma Newsletter is an opportunity for us to showcase it.
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