Biotech bounces back at JPM 2024 on optimism, breakthroughs and calculated bets, but uncertainties persist

  • 1 min read
  • 17th January, 2024
  • Media Highlights
  • External Writer

At the dawn of 2024, there’s a sense of renewed optimism in the biotech sector despite recent sector-specific challenges.

This week, the JP Morgan Health Care Conference witnessed strong deal-making activity. For instance, Merck agreed to acquire cancer drug developer Harpoon Therapeutics for roughly $680 million, highlighting continued interest in oncology cancer therapies. Meanwhile, Novartis announced plans to acquire Calypso Biotech, a deal involving an upfront payment of $250 million with potential milestones worth up to $175 million.

“I feel like in the last two or three weeks, we’ve almost made up for 50% of the deals that didn’t happen in 2023,” quipped Jen Nwankwo, CEO of 1910 Genetics, a company specializing in computational biology and automated laboratory technologies. Pointing to recent clinical successes and FDA approvals, Nwankwo notes that Big Pharma and biotech recorded some significant achievements in 2023. “Antibody drug conjugates are experiencing an absolute renaissance,” she said. (We interviewed Nwankwo in the second episode of AI Meets Life Sci.)

There are several recent examples of Big Pharma companies scooping up antibody drug conjugate (ADC) assets. Most notably, Pfizer recently completed its acquisition of the ADC pioneer Seagen. In late 2023, AbbVie also announced its intent to acquire next-gen ADC firm ImmunoGen for $10.1 billion while Daiichi Sankyo and Merck & Co. agreed to co-develop three of Daiichi’s oncology-focused ADC candidates. The deal involved a $4 billion upfront cash payment.

It goes without saying, too, that interest in GLP-1 drugs is another bright spot. Last year, strong sales of semaglutide contributed significantly to propelling Novo Nordisk’s valuation above Denmark’s GDP. Simultaneously, Eli Lilly achieved a significant milestone by recently scoring FDA approval for its GLP-1/GIP receptor agonist drug Zepbound (tirzepatide) which is designed for chronic weight management.

By: Brain Buntz

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