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Life-science challenges: Attracting capital, keeping top talent

By Doug Storum

BOULDER — The venture-capital and government-funding landscape has changed for life-sciences companies, making commercial biotech companies and university research institutions rethink where to look for their next round of financial backing. Equally vexing is the ongoing competition to hire and retain top talent, said participants of BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on Life Sciences held Tuesday, April 18, at the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building on the University of Colorado Boulder’s East Campus. “Funding for life-sciences companies has experienced negative growth since the third quarter of 2013, and that’s tough,” said David Traylor, senior managing director of Centennial-based Golden Eagle Partners, an investment bank that serves the life-science and cannabis sectors. “The big VC deals are getting bigger, but the smaller deals are going away,” he said. All agreed that is has become more difficult to obtain funding, hindering efforts to take ideas for new drugs to market and advance research for new drugs and therapies. “It’s always a race to revenue before the VC runs out,” said Rob Jenison, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Great Basin Scientific, a diagnostics company he co-founded in Longmont in 2007 before it was moved to Salt Lake City at the urging of investors. Jenison said it’s tough to find venture capital early to flesh out a proof-of-concept. “It’s hard to get someone to listen to the whole story. Having a proof of concept to show makes a difference in obtaining funding,” Jenison said. Misha Plam, chief executive of 18-year-old AmideBio LLC in Louisville, said his company is “still trying to make it.” The company makes peptides that are used in research and discovery of therapies for diabetes. Plam said the company has begun working on a therapy to treat a small market — babies whose pancreases create too much insulin. The condition is considered an “orphan disease” because it affects fewer than 200,000 young people, and patients generally grow out of the condition by the time they are 10 years old. “By then, the pancreas can rebuild itself,” Palm said. Plam said developing a drug for an “orphan disease” is appealing because it requires less investment. But obtaining funding to advance the drug has been negatively affected by government budget cuts, Plam said. “The National Institute of Health has given us a high rating, but when we applied for an SBIR grant, we were not funded. … Seems the freeze on hiring has stopped the issuance of grants,” Plam surmised. Small Business Innovation Research grants are part of a U.S. government program, coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, intended to help small businesses conduct research and development. Diagostics companies, such as Jenison’s, are having a difficult time finding funding, while digital health is expanding and computational biology is on the increase, said Brynmor Rees, interim director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s tech-transfer office. Computational biology is the science of using biological data to develop algorithms and relations among various biological systems. Prior to its advent, biologists did not have access […]

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Source:: BizWest

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