Stanford Innovators SPARK Optimism

Stanford Innovators SPARK Optimism

Posted on November 8th, 2022

Oppenheimer and SPARK co-hosted Oppenheimer’s 6th annual Biotech Emerging Science Summit for investors in a virtual format with collaboration from BioCentury. The event featured academic presentations on recent breakthroughs in medicine, two panel discussions on intriguing topics in emerging biotechnology, and corporate discussions with AMGN, DNLI, Genentech/Roche, and NBIX on BD strategy, R&D priorities, and upcoming catalysts. Oppenheimer summarized the event afterward in an industry update, excerpts of which are included here:

Co-director of SPARK Prof. Kevin Grimes described SPARK’s mission as creating synergistic partnerships between Stanford University and industry advisors to advance academic discoveries from the laboratory to clinical practice. SPARK has a 58% success rate across 159 graduated projects that have entered clinical trials or have been out-licensed to an existing biopharmaceutical company or a start-up. We remain highly encouraged by SPARK’s innovation and prospects for emerging companies, which we believe reflect strong long-term tailwinds for the industry.

Prof. Grimes highlighted several examples of successful SPARK projects. One example is Auration Biotech that was co-founded by Peter Santa Maria following his discovery of a growth factor molecule to repair eardrums in Australian aboriginal children with chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) hearing loss, which out-licensed its lead asset to Astellas Pharmaceuticals. Another example is Michelle Monje and Christopher Mount’s discovery of GD2 as a biomarker of diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) that led to development of a CAR-T therapy, which is now in a Ph1 clinical trial expected to complete by YE22. Prof. Grimes concluded by emphasizing SPARK’s social responsibility to patients and taxpayers while pursuing the ultimate goal of driving medical innovation.

Innovative SPARK Faculty presentations included: 1) Dr. Eric Appel on a novel ultra-rapid insulin for diabetes; 2) Dr. Lawrence Leung on enhancing anti-tumor immune response; 3) Dr. Yang Hu on AAV-mediated genetic manipulation of the optic nerve; 4) Dr. Matthew Porteus on genome-edited stem cells as next-generation medicines, the basis of GRPH; and 5) Dr. Judith Shizuru on improving blood stem cell transplantation with targeted therapy, which led to JSPR.

We were encouraged by Dr. Kyle Gano, Head of BD & Strategy at NBIX as he articulated his team’s BD capabilities and contribution to the mission of NBIX by sustaining a balanced portfolio with a constellation of assets driving a cadence of new drugs so there is always something moving through development. Head of Neuroscience, Dr. Casper Hoogenraad, provided an impressive overview of CNS research and drug development at Genentech/Roche and its current pipeline.

AMGN’s VP of Biologics, Dr. Alan Russell, described how despite the enormity of time and capital invested in drug discovery, current scientific methodology has failed to eliminate “grand challenges” of therapeutic protein engineering. He outlined a vision for “new science” to enable us to drug challenging targets with high precision and specificity. DNLI’s CSO, Dr. Joseph Lewcock, outlined DNLI’s diverse pipeline composed of four late-stage and three early-stage programs.

A panel discussion on Hot Topics in Emerging Biotech moderated by Selina Koch, BioCentury, featured: Andy Chan, Genentech/Roche; Srinivas Akkaraju, Samsara BioCapital; and Martin Oft, Synthekine. The conversation centered on immunology and how it intersects with other diseases. Our panelists were excited about the potential for various novel modalities, being evaluated first in oncology, such as bispecific antibodies and cellular therapies, in autoimmune diseases. They believe many learnings from oncology could apply to autoimmune diseases.

We hosted a panel discussion on financing and investing in biotech during volatile markets, featuring: Cayce Denton, Tamasek; Wendy Lam, Franklin Templeton; Heath Lukatch, Red Tree; and Stefan Loren, Oppenheimer Healthcare Investment Banking. We also hosted a fireside chat with our colleague Jared Holz to discuss biotech investor sentiment, recent trading dynamics, and the near-term outlook. These discussions support our optimism for biotech investments.