MUNICH, Germany Part of the challenge in biotechnology investing was exemplified Tuesday when a major investor in the sector noted that a slide presentation she recently created on the industry already was out of date.
Another investor presenting at the same session at the European C21 BioInvestor Conference here compared forecasting the sector to forecasting the weather. What looks like the trend today might turn in a new direction tomorrow.
So panelists at a session titled “What technology and product areas will become hot for bioinvestors and why” seemed to reach a tried-and-true conclusion: invest in good management.
“Good management will always figure out a way to build a good company,” said Vera Kallmeyer, a biotech investor based in Palo Alto, Calif., who founded Veritas Venture Partners.
Sue Foden, investment director at Merlin Biosciences Ltd. in London, said the right executive team would combine the qualities of vision, leadership, inspiration, communication skills and delegation capability with a manageable ego.
Those six traits may not be available in one individual at a German start-up, joked Holger Mueller, investment director at 3i Deutchland in Munich. But that can be overcome with the right board members and company leaders who are willing to step aside once a company outgrows its start-up phase.
Mueller, like other panelists, did not tout specific companies, but he did point to areas of opportunity. In the technology solutions area, he wants to see companies with more diversity in chemistry, better understanding of cell components and interactions, better disease models, parallel data analysis by multiplexing and better predictive technology, which leads to faster proof of concept. He also wants integration of the early steps in drug discovery, which means he wants to see bigger, merged companies.
Product opportunities, Mueller said, are in the areas of predictive diagnostics; disease prevention, with vaccines, for example; gene therapy, which he said is poised for a comeback due to improved delivery systems; devices that combine innovative delivery with novel or known drugs; and lifestyle drugs created through genomics and proteomics technologies, such as cosmeceuticals.
Foden, whose “outdated” slide show contained the breadth of biotechnologies such as proteomics, microarrays, high-throughput systems, genomics and others, said an investor has to know where a company’s particular area fits in and what it will need to build value. So after looking at the founders and management team, Foden wants to see what partners and resources are needed and what challenges there are to the product’s path.
Concentrating on product-focused companies was a consistent theme at the conference, as it often is in biotechnology when markets are at their tightest.
Thimo Sommerfeld, investor manager at Warburg Pincus in London, said near-term revenues are among the first criteria he evaluates in a company. Along that line, he wants to see a validated technology that will serve as a pipeline engine. He also wants a company that achieves critical milestones and, of course, has a proven management team.
An emerging opportunity and one that is increasing, Sommerfeld said, is spin-offs from pharmaceutical companies. He also likes companies that are headed by the former No. 2 in command at a pharmaceutical firm, a person who is driven to show what he or she can do when given the helm.
John Gonzalez, a partner in the Milan, Italy, office of Alice Ventures, who compared forecasting biotechnology to the weather, said, “I avoid making predictions.” But he did say the environment now is such that it is time to get “back to the basics,” meaning good management teams with business models that address real needs. He sees opportunities in the manufacturing of biologics and in specialty pharmaceuticals.
The conference, which drew about 300 people, ended Wednesday.
Conference organizer Robert Kilpatrick, co-founder and partner at Technology Vision Group LLC in Monterey Bay, Calif., said: “European biotechnology is currently in a dynamic period of growth in terms of the quality and quantity of companies and investors who are committed to developing new strategies to sustain the industry in the future. Many people acknowledge a short-term funding crisis for many of the companies. So, Europe is seeking to develop more cross-border deals, as well as attracting investment from all parts of the world.
“In other words,” he said, “Europe is truly open for business.”