Health Data That Can Meet Pharma Standards: Amy Abernethy on The Long Run

Amy Abernethy is the latest guest on The Long Run podcast.

Amy Abernethy, chief medical officer and chief scientific officer, Flatiron Health

Amy is the chief medical and chief scientific officer of Flatiron Health in New York City. She’s an MD/PhD, and previously was a tenured professor at Duke University. She made a name for herself there with more than 400 peer-reviewed publications. She honed her ideas there around using technology platforms to improve cancer clinical trials, outcomes research and health policy.

She’s smart, and a forward thinker.

The last few years, Amy has been working to translate some of her longstanding academic ideas into practical reality at Flatiron. The company makes Electronic Medical Records for cancer physicians. It aggregates data from their practices, cleans it up so that it’s clear and consistent enough to use in FDA new drug applications, and sells that quality data on things like how patients perform on certain medications, etc. to pharma companies. The company was acquired by Roche in February for $2.1 billion.

In a world where lots of healthcare software companies are all-hat-and-no-cattle, Flatiron is unusual. It doesn’t just hoover up data and claim it’s changing the world. It works hard to make sure that data has meaning for drug development.

I often find tech press releases to be so full of buzzword gobbledygook that I can barely intuit what a company does when I’m done reading. This conversation with Amy was a breath of fresh air. She was able to explain things in a way that I could understand. I think you’ll agree.

Now join me and Amy Abernethy for The Long Run.


Telling Biotech Stories on TV: Listen to Meg Tirrell on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Meg Tirrell.

Meg is the biotech and pharmaceuticals reporter at CNBC. This is a big job. People that control billions in investment dollars regularly keep an eye on the cable TV investment channel for breaking news and analysis on interest rates, the stock market, currencies and more. Meg makes sure they get timely, factually accurate, and contextual coverage of biotech and pharmaceuticals. Someone needs to do this and do it well. We all know biopharma is an important part of the global economy, and that it’s not very widely understood.

Meg Tirrell, biotech and pharma reporter, CNBC

Before joining CNBC, Meg got her start in science and business journalism at Bloomberg News.

Some listeners may recall that Meg and I served as co-hosts of the Signal podcast for STAT from its founding in 2015 to the spring of 2017. (Archives here).

From working with Meg, I can say she is an excellent reporter, writer, and a good colleague and friend. It was fun in this episode to ask her a few things about her life, and about television reporting, that were new to me.

Listeners should note that this episode was recorded in late August — before Agios announced that Jackie Fouse will become its next CEO. So unfortunately, the speculation you hear about her going to Gilead Sciences is now out of date. But I think the larger point being made still holds.

Last thing — Meg has a personal announcement to make on this show. You’ll have to listen to the end to hear it.

Now, join me and Meg Tirrell for The Long Run.


Building Startups With Pharma Needs in Mind: Thong Le on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Thong Le.

Le is the CEO of Accelerator Life Science Partners. It’s a venture capital backed operation that starts and nurtures biotech startups in Seattle, New York, San Diego and other places outside the main industry clusters of Boston and San Francisco.

Thong Le, CEO, Accelerator Life Science Partners

Accelerator, founded in 2003, currently invests out of a $63 million fund, and has seven active startups in its portfolio. Arch Venture Partners and Alexandria Real Estate Equities are a couple of stalwart members of its syndicate. As CEO for the past five years, Le has helped bring a group of big pharma corporate VCs into the fold – including J&J, Pfizer, AbbVie, Eli Lilly.

In this episode, we talked about the approach Accelerator takes to starting new companies, and how it likes to work with scientific entrepreneurs at academic institutions. This is a conversation for anyone in the world of early-stage investment. This is the murky intersection where scientific discoveries either succeed or fail to grow into a product.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Le more than 15 years. We have sort of grown up together in Seattle’s biotech community. The past year, rather than work from just any co-working space, I’ve chosen to sublease a private office from Accelerator, just down the hall from him and his team. This makes him my landlord. I lease this space because I like to stay in touch with Timmerman Report subscribers, and I particularly like to bounce ideas off of Thong as a representative reader. Take that for what it’s worth.

Now, join me and Thong Le for The Long Run.


The Antibiotic Opportunity? Spero’s Ankit Mahadevia on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Ankit Mahadevia.

Mahadevia is the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Spero Therapeutics. It’s an antibiotic developer. Specifically, it’s focused on new strategies for fighting gram-negative bacterial infections that are increasingly resistant to our existing set of antibiotics.

Ankit Mahadevia, CEO, Spero Therapeutics

Despite persistent warnings from global health authorities about the rise of multi-drug resistant bugs, and the need for new antibiotics to fight them, most major pharma companies have a limited appetite for this area of R&D, or have bailed out. There hasn’t been much money to make.

Mahadevia started thinking differently about the future of antibiotics a few years ago as an entrepreneur in residence at Atlas Venture. The team there came upon some research from Finland into a set of potentiator molecules, which they thought could create an opening on the surface of gram-negative bacteria. This is a pretty clever idea. Essentially, the thought is that these potentiators should allow many of our existing gram-positive directed antibiotics to get inside these hardy bugs and kill them. The science created enough of an opportunity for Spero to raise significant venture capital. I first wrote about the company when it raised its Series A venture capital round in June 2015. The company went public last November.

On this show, Mahadevia talks about a whole set of varied career experiences that led him to this moment in antibiotic R&D, along with some creative ideas being floated now to create new incentives to revitalize this important field. Anyone interested in creative thinking about staving off the post-antibiotic world will find this to be an interesting listen.

Now, join me and Ankit Mahadevia for The Long Run.


Finding the ‘Middle Market’ of Biotech VC: Chris Garabedian on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Chris Garabedian.

Garabedian is best known for his controversial stint as CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Sarepta Therapeutics, the developer of treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Whatever you may think of his tenure there — and the FDA’s decision to approve eteplirsen on a slim reed of clinical trial evidence – there is no denying that Sarepta got into that position because Garabedian saved the company. When he started there in 2011, it was called AVI Biopharma. It was running out of cash and left for dead. I know because that’s when I first interviewed him and wrote about the company.

Chris Garabedian, founder and CEO, Xontogeny

Rather than repeat the history of Sarepta, which has been pretty well-documented, I asked Garabedian in this interview to talk more about his early career coming up on the business side of biotech. He learned the ropes in market research, then joined Abbott, and got serious about biotech in more senior positions at Gilead Sciences and Celgene.

He has developed some interesting beliefs on how the R&D side of the house can work with the business side. Those beliefs culminate in a new entity he started called Xontogeny. It’s sort of like a small venture-capital firm aimed at scientific entrepreneurs who need more oomph than they get from a small “friends and family” financing round, but don’t need a full-blown $50 million Series A round from the likes of the big VC firms.

He calls it “the middle market.”  You can hear him describe it. (See previous TR coverage from May 2017).

Now, join me and Chris Garabedian for The Long Run.


Nine Observations on Leadership and Teamwork from Mt. Everest

Most of you have heard by now that I reached the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, on May 22.

With Everest guide Jangbu Sherpa at Base Camp.

Not only was this a dream come true, it was the culmination of my charity fundraising campaign, the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer. It fetched $339,000 for cancer research at the Fred Hutch, a leading center for immunotherapy. I’m extremely grateful to all who contributed, and overjoyed that it inspired so many others to pursue their own dreams, their own “Everest.”

This two-month odyssey also gave me ample time to think deeply about leadership and successful team dynamics. I will share some of these observations here. I’ll also give a talk with beautiful photos from the mountain at BioPharm America in Boston on Sept. 5. RSVP here, and soon, because space will be limited.

OK, for a few lessons from the mountain, you can read the full, free and shareable article on the Knect365 website

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