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Venrock VC Cami Samuels biotech predictions: Moderna plunges

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Venrock partner Cami Samuels has a bold prediction going into 2019: “Moderna will exit at a $3 billion valuation next year.”

Moderna debuted on the public market on December 7 after raising more than $600 million in the biggest initial public offering in biotech history. While the IPO valued Moderna at $7.5 billion, it’s currently trading well below its IPO price with a market value of $5 billion.

By the end of 2019, Samuels expects that to drop even further to a market value of $3 billion, less than half of its valuation at the IPO.

“It’s hard for me, looking at their pipeline, to figure out why they’re valued 5x, 6x other companies with the same pipeline,” said Samuels, whose firm Venrock makes investments in technology and healthcare companies.

Moderna is developing medical treatments based on messenger RNA, and the company is still in the early days of human trials for its treatments, which include cancer treatments as well as a vaccine for cytomegalovirus, or CMV. The idea is that by putting messenger RNA into the body, it can turn the body into a drug factory, pumping out the proteins needed to fight a particular disease.

Which isn’t to say she’s not interested in the science.

“Having said that, I do think that they’re at the beginning of RNA and gene-editing RNA being emphasized almost as much as DNA gene-editing, based on all the startups I’ve been seeing,” Samuels said.

Read more: 6 top VCs give their best 2019 predictions for healthcare, from a biotech correction to a ‘shadow cash economy’ stepping into the light

Samuels joined Venrock in 2014 and is currently invested in Unity Biotechnology, a company developing treatments related to aging. She has a few other predictions as well for the coming year.

For one, she’s ready to get back to the basics in biotech.

“I’m enthused by the correction,” Samuels told Business Insider. Over the past five years, the Nasdaq biotech index is up 25%, though recently stocks have taken a tumble, putting them well into correction territory, a term which refers to a 10% or greater decline from a stock’s most recent peak.

In 2019, she said she’s anticipating a return to the basic biotech business model. That is, instead of a broad platform with six or more potential drugs in the works, a more straightforward focus on one or two lead programs that a company knows super well.

The correction, in turn will drive that because there will be less available capital pouring into early stage companies, forcing them to have a more zoomed-in approach.

“I remain an optimist on the fundamentals of biotech, but the industry has gotten so enthusiastic as to be undisciplined,” Samuels said.

On the policy side, Samuels said she expects to see the biopharma industry make a concession on drug pricing to appease the Trump administration. That said, she doesn’t expect it to have broad implications.

Lastly, she sees exhaustion with financing cancer-drug makers sinking in, with interest picking up for other diseases that have been left at the wayside.

Two of the scientific areas she’s most interested in at the moment: mitochondrial RNA-based medicines (a similar area to the work Moderna’s in) and anti-aging biology, particularly an area she refers to as “inflamm-aging.”

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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