JP Morgan Healthcare conference research trends in 2023 25 Jan 2023
Once again thousands of C-suite executives and investors converged on a rainy San Francisco in the US, for the annual 41st JP Morgan Healthcare Conference on 9-12 January 2023.
The heady mix of global industry leaders, emerging companies and innovative tech start-ups alongside keynote speakers like Dr Robert Califf, the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Commissioner of Food and Drugs, ensured a lively forum for discussion.
The JP Morgan event has expanded hugely over the years and is recognised as the place to uncover the latest trends in the healthcare environment.
However, the undoubted potential for new treatments and technologies to take off in 2023 was set against a backdrop of global inflation, regulatory uncertainties, manufacturing issues, and a continuing cautious approach among investors.
So, what areas could be the winners in healthcare this year, despite the challenges?
Cell and gene therapies
Cell and gene therapies are starting to accelerate, with the US FDA noting the increase in new drug applications in this field in recent years. The administration predicted it will be approving 10 to 20 per year by 2025.
There was a lot of talk at the conference around T-cell therapies – an area where big pharma and smaller firms are investing strongly. These treatments harness a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer and other diseases, potentially putting them into remission for the long term.
However, the downside for cell therapies is that they are a lot more complicated to manufacture and this means more chance of errors in the early development stages. As a result, companies are choosing to bring their manufacturing processes in house.
The regulators are showing interest in these early data, as well as efficacy data.
Another issue down the line is how payers that treat cancer as a chronic disease will pay for treatments that could turn out to be cures.
CNS and neurological diseases
Another focus for R&D in 2023 is in central nervous system (CNS) and neurological diseases. Speaking at the conference, Biogen’s new CEO Chris Viehbacher highlighted studies they and partner Eisai were conducting on Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab. He explained that they were investigating a subcutaneous version, which he thought would be most suitable for pre-symptomatic patients. He added that the companies were taking a “multi-pronged approach” and testing the treatment in pre-symptomatic patients and with different dosing regimens. Lecanemab was recently granted accelerated approval in the US.
Partnerships and collaborations
While the economic environment over the last year has suppressed the appetite for M&As, Merck’s chief strategy officer Michael Klobuchar noted in a panel discussion at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference that Big Pharma remained interested in partnerships and collaborations. He explained that the majority of transactions that Merck had completed in 2022 were collaborations. The company investigates the quality of the science and the approach, as well as reviewing its portfolio and deciding whether there is a clear path to value creation. “When those three things line up and we have clarity of intention, we will pursue these opportunities in the right form,” he said. “Most of these in recent times have been classic collaboration and I suspect that will continue.”
Regulation and innovation
On the technology side, innovation is outpacing regulation in the healthcare space. Developers of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tend to come from outside the traditional routes. Eli Casdin, founder and chief investment officer of Casdin Capital, speaking during the same panel, noted how retail companies were moving into the space. He added, “You are seeing the convergence of therapeutics companies and device/data companies [and they are] starting to get closer and closer.
“Everything is starting to converge and you’ll find these therapeutics companies talk about data and how to find the patient and data companies talking about using AI and how to find a better molecule.”
While he believed that innovation was moving too fast for the regulators, Medtronic’s senior vice president and chief scientific, medical and regulatory officer, Laura Mauri, disagreed when it came to medtech. She praised the FDA for its efforts to develop suitable frameworks for using AI and machine learning.
Casdin countered, saying he expected a “big car crash in the regulatory world”. With chatbots like ChatGPT already showing the world what AI can do – and how fast it can learn – new technology will become increasingly embedded in all aspects of life through 2023.
Coming up: Look out for PMC’s next article focusing on the deals announced during the 41st JP Morgan Healthcare conference.