Innovation Forum • Will the Biotech Bubble Burst?

A panel comprised of a biotech executives from Acceleron Pharma (Steven Ertel, Chief Business Officer),  Back Bay Life Science Advisers (Jonathan Gertler, MD, Managing Partner and CEO), Verastem (Dan Paterson, Chief Business Officer) and a venture capitalist from Third Rock Ventures (Kiran Reddy, MD, Assc. Partner) convened at District Hall, the Seaport’s new innovation meeting spot, a short walk from WA.  The panel opened with a discussion on the trajectory of genomic sequencing – with breakthroughs [by the Broad Institute and others] leading to an initial investment bubble. The crash that followed led to a reassessment on the time needed to bring potential therapies from bench to bedside.

The executives agreed that biotechs have finally figured out how to effectively use the sequencing of the genome. In the initial bubble in the early 2000’s, biotechs anticipated harvesting innovations in genomics research, but were not quickly able to do so. There is now a shift, for instance, in oncology drug development toward personalized medicine and away from a single-minded focus developing the next blockbuster drug.  Better understanding at the genetic and molecular levels now allows small biotechs to make targeted drug discovery bets at a relatively small scale with more likelihood of success. The investments from venture capitalists and others have more likely returns, with more of these smaller scale therapies likely to come to market.

While Kendall Square is the heart of the biotech industry, the panel spoke of the rich ecosystem that the Boston area as a whole has to provide in support of drug development. Early stage biotechs in Kendall Square rely on the intellectual and financial capital available there to begin research and development; when the therapies become promising, Kendall and elsewhere in the Boston area have the capacity to support their growth. The panel referenced Vertex – now located across the street from District Hall – as a prominent example;  Vertex established itself as a start-up in Kendall Square, grew rapidly, and moved out with the recent completion of its massive office and research campus in the Seaport District.

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