Monday, January 28, 2013

Drug discovery unable to attract big money! - Is innovation, rather the lack of it to blame?

Some interesting observations on early-stage funding for healthcare from the 2012 Venture Capital Activity Report published by CB Insights (report abstract at this link);

  • Healthcare gets a not-so-insignificant share of 23% of all venture capital in 2012, but the overall investment into healthcare is lower than 2011 numbers, inline with the overall decrease in VC funding from previous year
  • The year also saw overall deal-sizes within healthcare fall from 2011 levels,  again like in other industry segments
  • Within healthcare, medical device & equipment related investments took 40% of the total dollars distributed and this shift of money towards devices & equipment segment has gotten stronger in 2012
  • Within the remaining 60%, drug discovery, development & biotechnology seemed to have got ~35% share, of which chemistry based drug discovery/ development got ~20%
  • and finally, within the 35% share share towards drug development, a majority seemed to have gone towards late-phase funding (>60 %?)

Thus the funding received in 2012 by individual companies towards early stage (discovery pre-clinical et al) seems much lower than the 2011 average (while ~10mio USD seems to be the average deal-value for all phases included, ~2 million USD could be the average value for early phase funding) - I don’t see any reason to believe that 2013 will be any different and if this trend indeed continues, the introduction of new candidates into clinic will continue to lag as before and economizing the cost of discovery & early-development will continue to be a rational strategy to be employed by the small & virtual discoveries - not sure if that'd compromise on innovation further....

The tilt of VCs towards medical device/ equipment segment looks like a commonly employed de-risking strategy of most investors. It also simultaneously suggests a seemingly prevailing weak-sentiment in investor universe towards the quality of innovation happening in biotech & chemical drug development.

While innovation domain should go through its own disruptive innovation now...., any major positive swing from 2012 trend would happen only if GPs (& LPs of course....) innovate their conventional low-risk investment strategies resulting in a) significant increase in number of deals and b) an appropriately incremental average funding on each deal and both towards drug development. 

So when is the new paradigm shift in drug discovery happening & who is going to drive it?