Reinventing Investment: The Future of Healthcare VC

Shannon Beeman
May 24, 2016

Investment Opportunities in Healthcare Look Much Improved, Says MGCS Keynote Speaker James Flynn

JamesFlynn_0690Healthcare is going to reinvent itself over the next decade in terms of the therapeutic options available and how health care is delivered, predicted James Flynn, managing partner at Deerfield Management Company, during his keynote remarks on May 18 at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. That’s good news for healthcare investors seeking opportunities in the sector.

Historically, returns on investment in life science have disappointed venture capital investors, Flynn said. Between 1998 and 2008, the average rate of return was 2.7%. The successful sequencing of the human genome in 2003 rekindled investor interest. Big pharma, biotech and venture capital poured millions of dollars into the development of promising new drugs, hoping to reap big returns. However, medical researchers did not fully understand the underlying diseases they were trying to treat, and the drug-development process was far from perfect. “We ended up with 1,600 drugs approved that either didn’t work or didn’t work so well,” Flynn explained. “Off-target effects (side effects) were another problem in drug development.”

Since then, things have changed dramatically. “We now have a fundamental grasp of the biological mechanisms and pathways of many diseases,” Flynn reported. “In parallel, tools have been developed to try to target that biology more exactly.” The Internet also has come into play, he added. “Now a lot of academic institutions are putting their research online immediately, so people all over the world who are studying the same thing can gain access to it. That has led to an eight-fold increase in the generation of knowledge.”

The regulatory landscape, which historically has been challenging for the life science industry, also has changed significantly. “During the 1990s and 2000s, the FDA was a watchdog agency,” Flynn said. “The FDA removed drugs from the market because of their side effects, and required long, intensive, extensive clinical trials.” Greater understanding of diseases and targeted biological pathways has recalibrated the regulatory process. As a consequence, the FDA has developed four approaches to expedite the development and review of drugs that treat serious diseases.

The bottom line is that the investment prospects for healthcare investors in therapeutics, particularly drug development, look much improved, according to Flynn. “By knowing the biological pathways, you have a higher probability of success. By targeting the drug better, you have a lower probability of side effects. If the drug treats something with significant unmet need and you have a biomarker, the regulatory pathway is quicker and less expensive.

“That all adds up to a much more favorable equation than I have seen in any period over the last 20 years,” Flynn concluded.

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