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Despite Low Funding, Biotech Productivity Remains High In 2013

February 15, 2013
At the 2013 BIO CEO & Investor Conference, John Milligan, President and COO of Gilead Sciences, spoke in a standing room only fireside chat with Joel Sendek, Managing Director of Stifel Nicolaus, who moderated the discussion. Nicolaus noted that Gilead’s market cap has grown at an astounding 40 fold over the past 15 years, and asked Milligan to speak about the current state of the biotech industry.

Milligan explained that biotech is not becoming more like big pharma, and instead has noticed two trends: the first is that “there is a remarkable amount of productivity in small companies” as a result of the past decade of research, which has led to the development of promising new compounds and biological molecules. At the same time, he noted that there is less funding for small biotech companies than there has ever been for the development of these emerging ideas.

Some of the highlights of the discussion included:

  • The number of people on HIV treatment will likely grow as new research surrounding the benefits of medication in preventing transmission evolves.

  • There will be more people diagnosed with HIV over the next few years as home testing kits and better PR campaigns raise awareness of the importance of testing.

  • Ten years ago, 300,000 people with HIV took medication (Truvada), and that number has now doubled to 650,000. Milligan predicts that the number of patients on HIV medication will double again in 10 years.

  • The growth of hepatitis C drug sales has reached the point where Gilead will soon need a dedicated hepatitis C sales force of around 100-150 people.

  • In response to the question of why only 4% of the 4.5 million patients worldwide that have been diagnosed with HCV are on interferon treatment, Milligan said that while there are many reasons why an HCV patient might not be on therapy, it is important to remember that “you give up a year of your life” when you’re on interferon because of the side effects, and many people choose not to take it. It is also a burden on doctors and staff to treat patients for so long, and some doctors will limit the number of patients on interferon each year because of that.

  • Once safer HCV therapies are developed, and access to doctors who can treat HCV patients increases, there will be a push to diagnose more people, and more patients will seek care.

  • Single-tablet regiments consistently lead to better outcomes for patients at lower costs overall (due to factors such as decreased hospitalization times), and Milligan predicts that single-tablet regiments will become the trend in the future.

  • Gilead aspires to take as much of the market share for HCV treatment as new medications in the pipeline (especially competitive single-tablet regimens such as GS-7977 and GS-5885) develop.

  • Finally, Milligan mentioned that there is a long shot chance that Gilead could get on market for indolent NHL w/ph2 data.

Milligan stated that Gilead is “becoming a biologics company” as they grow, and said:

“What I’m seeing at Gilead is very interesting…  it’s a real explosion in productivity. We’re seeing great molecules coming through in our HCV portfolio. I think I’ve seen some of the best things that will probably never be drugs come out, because I think the field is moving that fast that we won’t need them.”

Milligan concluded that in the future Gilead is investing in diseases that affect the aging population, and is confident that they will be able to make an impact in that area in the near future.