On the topic of back-end loaded deals, Shelagh Wilson, a GlaxoSmithKline vice president who heads the European arm of the drugmaker’s Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery, said Glaxo is making a point of adding milestones for achieving reimbursement, not just for achieving regulatory or sales goals. "What is driving all of this is the pressure from the payers for us to produce differentiated medicines, and the risk associated with that,” she said. “We’ve got to be innovative, not just in the drugs we bring forward, we’ve got to be innovative in the early stages of drug discovery, and that means taking more risk."
Of course, a perennial wild card for investors is gauging the FDA's next move, not only as a result of safety scandals - can you spell Vioxx or Avandia? - but with the hiring last year of FDA commish Margaret Hamburg, who continues to insist the agency will become more responsive to such problems. "The biggest issue with us for our in-licensing deals (for our portfolio companies) is misprojecting where FDA is going with regards to safety or efficacy," said Brian Atwood, managing director of Versant Ventures, explaining why his firm doesn't make investments in cardiovascular or metabolic opportunities.
Hoyoung Huh, meanwhile, garnered the day's biggest laugh. The chairman of BiPar Sciences, which Sanofi-Aventis acquired last year for $500 million and now operates as a wholly owned, independent subsidiary, confessed that retaining BiPar's culture can be challenging. So what did some employees do to underscore the point? "If you walk into the BiPar offices, the first thing you do is walk up to a hand sanitizer and it's called 'de-sanofizer,'" he said with a big grin. "It's not that we're trying to be rambunctious or nasty, though." And who was sitting two seats away? Sanofi's Philippe Goupit, vice president of corporate licenses.