In honor of the last trading day of 2020, let’s review this year in biotech investing.

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On March 5, six days before the WHO officially recognized COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the United States recorded 174 total confirmed cases within its borders. On that same day, the investment team at Sequoia Capital — a lauded venture capital firm with approximately $1.4 trillion in assets under management — distributed a note to the founders and CEOs of their portfolio companies entitled “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020”. Its message resembled that of another ominously titled note, “R.I.P. Good Times”, which Sequoia had released back during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Shelter-in-place orders, which were primarily intended to stave off viral spread, indirectly brought global commerce to a grinding halt. Companies of all sizes were advised to preserve cash reserves, dramatically reign in expenses, and issue debt before liquidity dried up. Even ‘hundred-year companies’ entered crisis mode as their poorly capitalized peers started to crumble. JC Penney & Co. (118 yrs. old, retail), Avianca Holdings (100 yrs. old, 2nd oldest airline in the world), and Neiman Marcus Group (112 yrs. old, luxury retail) all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy within the first half of March. …


Originally published on December 2, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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Since the emergence of “modern medicine” in the 19th century, biomedical researchers have uncovered insights that drastically improved the way we treat cancer. Surgical procedures for removing tumor-bearing organs, as well as radiation therapies, started to become widely used in the late 1800s as methods to remove solid tumors before they spread throughout the body. In the 1940s, Sidney Farber and his collaborators discovered the first chemotherapy: aminopterin, a molecule that effectively starves tumors cells of the essential building blocks required to make new RNA, DNA and protein. It was used to treat cancers that are widely distributed throughout the body, as opposed to being in a single organ. …


Originally published on October 5, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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On April 15, 2003, the Human Genome Project was officially declared “complete” after generating a reference sequence for approximately 92.1% of the more than 3.1 billion base pairs that comprise the human genome1. By meticulously cataloging the 20,000 to 25,000 genes and regulatory regions that encode for all of the diverse tissues and organs found in the human body, biomedical researchers hoped to more concretely elucidate the genetic basis of disease in a way that improves patient outcomes. Given that cancer is a class of diseases that are fundamentally driven by the accumulation of genetic defects, it is uniquely amenable to characterization and detection by sequencing. Various companies have leveraged next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies to build cancer diagnosis platforms that are intended to better inform patient care. …


Originally published on August 3, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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In a 2016 interview, Mark Zuckerberg — the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook — reflected on a particularly impactful piece of advice that he had received from a mentor: “In a world that’s changing so quickly, the biggest risk you can take is to not take any risks.” This particular use of the term “risk” isn’t intended to describe dramatic or life-altering acts, but rather to refer more broadly to any action that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are constantly evolving and, therefore, demand that their practitioners grow and evolve in kind. …


Originally published on June 24, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link) to promote the Hopkins Biotech Podcast, which we had launched ~1 month previously on May 25, 2020 (Memorial Day)

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Which career is right for me? This is a crucial question that almost everyone asks themselves at some point in their lives. In communicating with people who have attained career fulfillment, I have often encountered the admission that quite a bit of luck was involved. Yet, when questioning whether they could do it all over again, many of these same people have been quick to respond in the affirmative. It always seemed odd to me that someone could be so confident in their ability to pursue the same career that they claim to have initially established through a series of fortuitous circumstances. …


Originally published on April 21, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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In my experience, the term “smooth sailing” is an expression used to describe those rare moments that occur shortly before being bombarded by the next big wave. Challenges are inevitable, particularly for those working in STEM fields. While we can acknowledge that new challenges will crop up, each one will likely present itself with an entirely new set of circumstances that demands a unique response. Interestingly, not all challenges are inherently setbacks, although sufficiently daunting ones will certainly feel like they are. Almost every challenge is an opportunity to improve, and, if handled appropriately, you may find yourself emerging from the heat of battle more resilient than before. Whenever I find myself in the position of having to overcome either personal or professional challenges, I ruminate on situations in which people overcame razor thin odds and recall the valuable lessons that they learned along the way. …


Originally published on April 11, 2020 in Hopkins Biotech Network’s newsletter The Transcript (link)

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Memories have a curious way of rising to the surface. Some memories are so salient that even the most subtle sensations — the aroma of freshly baked bread, a wafting perfume, a chorus of light rain — involuntarily catapults those memories into the forefront of one’s consciousness. Other memories are so elusive that they escape one’s grasp, even when pressed to retrieve them. Though many have experienced the latter situation from time-to-time, patients with Alzheimer’s Disease find themselves confronting such experiences with accelerating frequency. Alzheimer’s Disease is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder that occurs in about 17% of people age 75–84 and 32% of people age 85 or older, though it’s associated with a far more rapid decline in cognitive function than the forgetfulness often found in typical ageing (Alzheimer’s Association). Disabilities associated with the condition exert a burden on both patients and their caretakers, as shown by a 60 Minutes special report that documented a couple’s experience with Alzheimer’s Disease over a 10-year timespan. Despite its high prevalence and devastating effects, there are no treatments that either slow or reverse its progression. Or, at least it seemed so until Michel Vounatsos, CEO of the biotechnology company Biogen, surprised the world in late 2019 by announcing the company’s intention to file a request for FDA approval of its Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab (Biogen press release). …


Originally published on March 13, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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Since the U.S. Congress ratified the first federal health care plan under the presidency of John Adams in 1798 (NIH), generations of legislators and medical professionals have burned the midnight oil to shape the U.S. health care system into an apparatus that delivers groundbreaking biomedical research and world-class clinical practice. Nevertheless, the modern U.S. health care system remains rife with inefficiencies that jeopardize the health and well-being of every American. One such inefficiency stands out as being particularly contentious among both federal governing bodies (FDA, HHS, CDC) and voters in the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election: the rising cost of drugs (STAT). Surprisingly, the solutions that resolve a private sector issue may ultimately come from the private sector itself. A handful of creative business leaders have reoriented the behavior of legacy pharmaceutical companies or have spawned new companies, with the aim of solving the drug pricing dilemma through innovative business models that shift industry trends in favor of more affordable health care. …


Originally published on January 14, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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In a solitary cavern located on a long-forgotten island, a group of three men sit cloaked in darkness. They are nestled side by side in a neat row and their limbs are fastened, such that they can only look forward into the inky black recesses of the cave. The three men have been locked in this position since childhood and, having only observed the cave’s interior throughout their lifetimes, know nothing of the outside world. Suddenly, a fourth man lights a fire behind the other three, dousing the cave floor in a soft orange hue. …


Originally published on November 26, 2019 in Johns Hopkins’ blog Biomedical Odyssey (link)

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The early 20th century was a period of rapid expansion in the field of chemistry. The halls of esteemed research institutions buzzed with impassioned discussions about J. J. Thompson’s recent discovery of the electron, Marie and Pierre Curie’s isolation of elemental radium from pitchblende, and Ernest Rutherford’s discovery of the fundamental basis of radioactivity. Meanwhile, a talented Italian chemist by the name of Angelo Angeli toiled away in his studies of nitrogen-containing compounds. In 1901, he described a method of obtaining a rather peculiar molecule called nitroxyl (HNO) through the decomposition of nitrohydroxylaminic acid, commonly referred to as “Angeli’s salt.”1 …

About

Roshan Chikarmane

Analyst at Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures (JHTV) | Founder & Director of Hopkins Biotech Podcast | PhD Candidate at Johns Hopkins Medicine

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