Funding programmes and awards
From 28 to 30 April, German biotechnology companies gathered at the 2nd German Corona Showcase to share how they are successfully working to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Over the course of the three-day event, a total of 154 attendees heard presentations and took part in panel discussions on the topics of diagnostics, vaccines and therapies, as well as biotech financing. The digital conference was opened by Oliver Schacht, Chairman of the Board of BIO Deutschland. He gave an overview of current industry figures, the association’s activities during the pandemic, and the most important issues that need to be raised with policymakers as Germany’s federal elections approach.
In his keynote speech, Hubert Birner, Managing Partner of the main sponsor TVM Capital Life Science and also a BIO Deutschland board member, focused on the development of venture capital financing in the industry, which he sees on the upswing. He noted that German life science companies are in “vogue”, including in the U.S, and expects an increase in M&A activity in 2022.
In the panel discussion “Biotech financing in times of a pandemic”, the panellists agreed that the pandemic has had a positive impact on the industry’s financing, even if fears to the contrary prevailed in early 2020. The fact that biotech companies had the most promising solutions in the pipeline to address the crisis led to the turnaround. Matthias Krohmayer of MIG Fonds summed up the development as follows: “The crisis created a sudden awareness that biotech as an industry isn’t just a graveyard for stupid people’s money, but that it can save mankind.”
The second day of the event was opened by Holger Kissel, Vice-President of Business Alliances at BioNTech in Mainz. In his keynote speech, he spoke vividly about Operation Lightspeed and the company’s efforts to advance vaccine development and production, but also to apply mRNA technology to other indications.
At noon the same day, Stefan O. Müller, COVID-19 Program Lead and Vice-President of Pre-Clinical Development, shed light on vaccine development at the Tübingen-based company CureVac. He also discussed the different variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the possibilities of adapting mRNA vaccines relatively quickly to new mutations of the virus.
At the end of the conference’s second day, another panel of experts addressed the topic “One year in crisis mode: What have we learned, what could we do better?”. The panellists took a negative view of the fact that policymakers had so far listened too little and too late to experts from science and industry, saying that all stakeholders should have been involved from day one. They also said out that communication on issues like the use and importance of rapid tests needed to be improved. The panellists gave an extremely positive assessment of the commitment and willingness of stakeholders from companies and regulatory authorities to act quickly in unison, making it possible to ramp up production and get clinical trials underway.
The third and final day of the German Corona Showcase focused on therapy development. Rob Schott, Senior Vice-President and Chief Development Officer at Sangamo Therapeutics, kicked off the programme with an overview talk about the different approaches around the world. Using a real-life example, he illustrated the critical factors for rapid therapy development for COVID-19 and the difficulties that can arise.
The German Corona Showcase concluded with a panel discussion that explored the question of why we still lack effective therapies against COVID-19. Reasons cited by the expert panellists included the fact that COVID-19 disease was initially not well understood; the challenges of planning clinical trials, including competition with vaccine trials; and a lack of funding. The panellists said that the latter could be attributed to a variety of factors: lack of support from government funding agencies as well as lack of attractiveness to investors and pharmaceutical companies, since marketing a therapy for COVID-19 may not be sufficiently profitable after 2022. It is therefore more likely, they said, that investments will be made in therapeutic agents that also hold promise for other or broader indications.
In addition to keynote speeches and discussion panels, 16 companies presented their latest innovations. Participants also took the opportunity following the main programme to exchange information and ideas in informal breakout sessions.
You can visit the conference’s website at: https://corona.ascrion.com/