Partnerships are Key to Driving Innovation and Value in Drug Development: A View from the Top
by Dr. Andrea Spezzi, International Biotech Executive, Entrepreneur, and Founder
Ultra-rare diseases and the impact they have on the lives of patients and their families is something very close to me. From an early age, I grew up close to and saw what it was like for a person to face a rare disease with only limited or no treatment options. This had a great impact on my choice of a professional career as a physician, and importantly, it influenced my mission to develop new medicines for patients suffering from rare diseases and gave me the passion to become a founder of biotechnology companies.
Throughout my career, I have been driven to find solutions for those who unfortunately suffer from diseases for which there are no treatments, and, in some cases, there are no diagnoses for their conditions. The impotence of having to tell a patient, or even worse, the parent of a young child suffering from a rare condition, that there is nothing we can do but manage symptoms and make them comfortable, is unbearable. Luckily, we live in an era where our understanding of the human genome is advancing at an incredible speed, and with it, the development of new tools to diagnose and treat genetic conditions.
The pandemic has accelerated this healthcare revolution as we have been forced to embrace the technologies that enable progress. As a result, over the past two years, technology has been advancing exponentially, healthcare is becoming human-centered, and digital innovation and artificial intelligence are working together to allow for better healthcare across a number of areas. As human data continues to be gathered remotely, both clinical trial design and the patient experience for those participating in trials have improved. In addition, disease management is gaining momentum as healthcare shifts to prevention, early diagnosis, and precision treatment with the aim of preventing, curing, or halting disease progression.
Over the past 6 years, I have had the pleasure of working with a variety of innovative professionals who are driving new scientific hypotheses and developing potential new medicines that can change the treatment paradigm of debilitating conditions, many of which are ultra-rare and affect very young children, but also for more prevalent diseases and diseases of aging, which we all can expect to face as medical advances are allowing us to live longer.
Through this adventure, I have witnessed the creativity, curiosity, and tenacity of the pioneers of the gene therapy field, who for 30 years pushed the envelope and strove to make the world believe the potential they had in their hands. Thanks to those pioneers, today’s young researchers, and academics have grown up with these amazing new gene therapy tools as part of their medical and scientific training, and now they are the ones pushing those discoveries even further. Seeing the gene therapy treatments that have been approved in recent years, some of them truly transformational for patients, I realize, once again, the necessary and unique partnership between academia and industry to advance science, medicine, and healthcare. Nowhere is this more evident than with the COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed at an unprecedented speed thanks to the leverage of partnerships.
I believe another critical component for the successful development of science and new medicines is having the right investor partnerships. Without them, scientists and pharma developers would not be able to support the breakthroughs in the lab that are transformed into new therapeutics. In my case, I had the pleasure to create a company that was backed by a fantastic group of investors. More than merely a funding resource, these investors were in the trenches with me and unconditionally supported the team from the company’s creation through its journey to an IPO.
Based on this experience, I have embarked on the creation of a new company, Rejuvitas. Today, I am fortunate enough to have met and partnered with the very patient-centric team at Medical Excellence Capital (MEC), a venture fund born from Medical Excellence Group, a patient-centered alliance that has been providing medical care for the last 20 years to patients in need around the world. With a diverse network of global expert physicians and institutions, they built their venture capital business from the patient’s point of view. In fact, many patients were behind the idea of creating MEC, ensuring that they are informed and part of the new wave of treatments available around the world. I believe the MEC team is a group of humble, hardworking, and dynamic entrepreneurs, who keep patients at the core of their business. Their collective expertise spans multiple disciplines key to being a good investing partner, with backgrounds ranging from top venture firms that pioneered investing in biotech, to biotech entrepreneurs who successfully developed innovative new therapies and built sustainable companies. These attributes are so important to founders like me, as their experiences enrich their understanding of the needs of everybody involved in this equation.
Today more than ever, we see investors and innovators working closely together, many of whom are biotech entrepreneurs who made the leap into venture firms and vice versa. This cross-pollination provides a diversity of viewpoints, making the dynamic that much more productive and providing a holistic understanding that, in whatever we do, patients’ lives are at stake. Their voice and their needs are at the core of all we do in academia, biotechnology, and venture capital. Together with MEC, we are working to harness the collective power of these amazing pioneers, along with the passion of our upcoming future scientific movers and shakers, patients, regulators, and biotech experts, to move beyond gene-by-gene correction. We are unlocking a new treatment paradigm by affecting common pathways where several gene defects converge and, hopefully, addressing several diseases of great unmet need. I am so very fortunate to have MEC as a partner on this journey and I look forward to continuing to serve those patients and families who wait with hope for us to bring new medicines to bear against these diseases in order for them to live better, healthier lives.