Franco-American biotech ties flourish
By Joe Panetta11:55 A.M.MAY 4, 2015
San Diego delegation and PACA partners outside the offices of Innate Pharma. — Biocom
(Editor's note: This is Part 2 of Biocom CEO Joe Panetta's return trip to southeastern France with a delegation from Biocom and French BioBeach, to strengthen the partnership between the region and Southern California. You can read Part 1 of the trip to Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, or PACA, here)
For two days since arriving here in Marseille to continue our Biocom and French BioBeach delegation trip, we have been awed by the growth of this life science cluster within the second largest city in France. We have visited clinical research hospitals and life science parks, an incubator and biotech companies including one that has been quite successful, as well as met with regional political and business leaders and potential partners.
It has been a whirlwind two days in which our hosts and Biocom partners – Eurobiomed and the South Bio Alliance – have gone to extraordinary lengths to extend their hospitality and a unique perspective on all that this region can offer in the life sciences arena.
We began yesterday with a visit to the Luminy campus of Marseille Immunopol, the subcluster for immunology in Marseille. It has unique positioning for immunology as a key technology here and has created an alliance that brings together all of its stakeholders within a collaborative ecosystem for innovation in immunology. The Immunopole includes hospitals, research institutes, academic labs and biotech companies.
Marseille has a 40-year history of discovery and development in immunology beginning with Beckman Coulter Innotec which led to 60 spin-offs and other start-ups such as Innate Pharma, now a very successful company that we visited within the Immunopole. Innate has raised $185 million and has completed $1.8 billion in deals since 2006 including its most recent with AstraZeneca worth $250 million in initial payment with milestones worth up to $1.3 billion.
A second company that we talked to was HalioDx, a spin-off of Qiagen Marseille that has a unique biomarker portfolio for use potentially by large pharma in developing companion diagnostics.
Also within the Luminy Park is the Association Grand Luminy, the sole biotech incubator in the south of France which has operated since 1985. It has 2 missions: to sustain the local economy and to create and grow companies. Since 2009 Grand Luminy has also run a Biotech Nursery to host start ups from the incubator within a structure that includes support services, an entrepreneurship manager, strategic partnership development, patenting, communications management and corporate identity.
To obtain a better understanding of the ability of the Marseille cluster to conduct clinical trials we visited AP-HM, the 3rd largest university hospital in France built on the concept of combining a high-technology hospital with research training. The hospital is now running more than 300 clinical trials.
The day ended with expert presentations on human resources management, drug regulation in France and company financing at the 400-year old Palais de la Bourse, which is now home to our hosts for the afternoon and evening, the International Chamber of commerce of Marseille.
The leaders of the Regional Council, Stephane Richard of French BioBeach and I exchanged greetings and addressed guests representing life science companies, the media and business leaders followed by a networking event held to welcome our delegation. While the event lasted well into the evening we knew that we could not end the day in this great city without once again sampling the remarkable bouillabaisse that is so expertly prepared within a few great establishments here, and at 10 PM in the evening we descended upon Le Rhul Restaurant. By midnight we were satiated and exhausted, and returned to our hotel.
Today's schedule began even earlier in the morning with a visit to the IPC Paoli Calmettes cancer treatment center. It is one of a group of cancer treatment and research centers created by the great French President Charles de Gaulle after World War II, of which there are 20 in France.
IPC Paoli is unique in that it includes a new unit called IPC Drug Discovery which works primarily in technologies that can detect blood levels of antibodies in an attempt to better identify weaknesses of cancer cells and DNA repair mechanisms. It also has a strong epigenetics group and a group working on metastasis. The unit is trying to find partners in pharma and biotech to conduct Phase I trials and to establish start up companies.
Investment funding is available in Marseille as we learned in a presentation on PACA Investissmente, which sponsors a capital investment fund of 19.45 million Euro,managed by Thurenne Capital. Since its first investment in 2011, it has made investments in 38 companies and created 32 partnerships in the PACA region. To apply for funding a company must be early stage and incorporated in the region.
This trip would not have been complete without a visit to NeuroService, a contract research firm located outside Marseille in Aix-en-Provence. The company has ties to San Diego as the region's first Biocom member firm here, and does 60 percent of its business in the US. NeuroService specializes in pharmacological assays based on electrophysiological recordings of acute brain and spinal cord slices, and cultured neurons to support early phases of CNS and pain R&D programs.
Our second long day in the region ended with an informative tour of Aix-en-Provence city center and a farewell dinner with our most cordial hosts. It has been a truly incredible visit here from the standpoint of experiencing just how similar this area is to San Diego in its life science collaboration, diversity and innovation.
A two-year gap in visiting our partners here perhaps provided a better perspective on their progress, but we talked over dinner about the opportunity to work together more closely in the future as the bridge we are building attracts more traffic.
SOURCE: UT SAN DIEGO