BioFIT: innovation and investors

For two days, Lille was the place to be for partnering in early stage innovation. On December 5th, Europe's leading tech transfer event BioFIT wrapped up, recording a record number of participants.


Around 1.500 people came to Lille to participate in the event. BioFIT is hitting a nerve, says Etienne Varvaecke. The general manager of Eurosanté, organiser of BioFIT, points to a rising demand for an event that has a strong focus on early stage innovation. There are several trends Varvaecke has been observing this year. While the partnering event is mostly for young companies looking for partners or investors, more and more pharma investors are looking “upstream” to collaborate directly with academic institutions, he stressed. Another trend goes beyond borders: " BioFIT is looking to support the internationalisation of early stage investing."

New sources of financing

The growing internationalisation of the sector was on several minds at the event. In the spirited panel discussion “Seed funds crossing borders: How far and how fast is the early stage investment markt in biotech globalising?”, China in particular was highlighted as a new productive pool of funding. And while Chinese investors used to focus at mature products, they are more and more looking at early stage assets. With the Asian competitors, European investors will have to take care to keep pace, said Jemila Houacine, associate at Medicxi. “It used to be the case that Europe is good for seed investments, and later European start-ups go to the US for the big money,” explained Houacine. “But more and more, biotechs go to Hongkong for early stage money. Europe will have to work on staying relevant in seed financing.”

However, the panellists agreed that to get Chinese investors onboard, biotechs would have to be well-prepared. A presence in China would help, as would local management. “Chinese investors are very different,” stressed Zishan Haroon, Chairman and General Partner of Julz Co, an investment management company located in the US and China. The panellists also advised young entrepreneurs to put a lot of thought into finding the right investor. “Finding the right investor with the right expertise at the right moment is more important than the amount of money they can put on the table,” stressed Houacine. However, while immunooncology developers may be able to pick and choose, those that have assets in antibiotics might have more trouble finding an investor at all. 

Hand in hand with animal health

Another topic on many minds was animal health, and how it can help accelerate human health, as well. In a hosted event, the  French Association for the animal healthcare industry SIMV focused on R&D dating for animal health and innovation. The panel “How can common pathways in human and animal health set up a new era for collaborations?” also addressed this topic. There are some areas where human health cannot be disconnected from animal health, the panel agreed. Antibiotics, especially, came to mind, as overboarding use of antimicrobials in livestock may result in antimicrobial resistant bacteria in humans as well. “Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem that spans animal and human health,” said Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of Takis Biotech and Evvivax. 

However, other health care areas could benefit from a collaboration with animal health as well. Companion animals, for example, are living longer today than before, which leads to an increase in diseases like diabetes and arthritis. “Cancer is now leading cause in companion animals”, pointed out Aurisicchio. And while it is difficult to test certain drugs in primates, it is possible to test them in dogs, for example. "Pets are often better than mice for drug testing", said Sven Arnouts, Business Development Manager of PROVAXS. Steve Nanchen agreed. "That kind of preclinical data from pets can derisk and accelerate your programme for human health,” he pointed out. Plus, along the line, developing meds for animals can also create additional values, thus derisking the financial perspective, as well, he added. However, the panel agreed that it can be difficult to manage both business models in one company. 


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