The winners and losers of a quiet JPMorgan week


Well, it wasn’t quite the rain-soaked, networking-filled week I’ve grown accustomed to preparing for every January when trekking out to the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. But I will say I’m pretty grateful to come out of this week without a ruined pair of shoes and without the classic post-JPM cold.

Thanks to all who shared their plans for this week. I got the sense that everyone seemed to be having a slowed-down week with some meetings, but more to come spread out over the next few weeks. FierceBiotech’s Amirah Al Idrus has a good recap of how executives navigated the virtual event.
While there weren’t the typical mega-deals announced this week, we still managed to keep busy, welcoming Allison DeAngelis to the team, covering some of the presentations including a Walgreens one that teased the retail giant’s 200-person startup, and breaking some news on Walmart’s latest health-related work along the way.

Let’s dive in.

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A very virtual JPMorgan week

In the absence of any industry-shattering news, there was still plenty to cover in the world of biotech this week.

To start, I caught up with the EQRx team a year in to discuss their vision of disrupting Big Pharma by developing drugs that are cheaper. The update: the team is now 100 employees, it raised $500 million, and its CEO told me it’s moving faster than expected toward its first approval.
Andrew Dunn spoke with the CEO of Verve Therapeutics, which is working on a gene-editing treatment for heart disease. The CEO shared his 3-step vision for the one-and-done heart treatment.

And in her first (!) byline for Business Insider, Allison teamed up with Andrew for a close read of Sana Biotechnology’s initial public offering paperwork.

They found the 5 most crucial takeaways from the 271-page filing. Read them here.

An area to have on your radars this year: Microbiome-based drugs. As part of our predictions coverage from the end of last year, a top VC shared why biotechs that harness the microbiome to battle diseases could soar in 2021.

Patricia Kelly Yeo and Andrew have the story here>>

To wrap up the week, Andrew and Allison broke down the winners and losers from this year’s JPMorgan conference week.

A clear loser: the conference itself. I’ll let them explain why.

Read the full story here>>

A reinvigorated Alzheimer’s treatment and gene-therapy setbacks: 3 winners and 3 losers from the healthcare industry’s most important event of the year


There’s still a pandemic happening

I have to say, reminding myself of when I went out to JPMorgan in 2016 when the Zika virus was spreading makes me a little grateful for the quieter conference week as attention stays on the pandemic.

This week, Andrew, Hilary Brueck and Kimberly Leonard pulled together answers to your 24 most burning questions about the coronavirus vaccine, from side effects and costs to when you’ll be able to get one.

And as the UK continues to get slammed by the virus, Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce has the answers to 9 crucial questions about the coronavirus variants circulating around the world.

The US vaccine rollout has continued to be bumpy, an issue that becomes the Biden administration’s problem starting next Wednesday.

To help, President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Dr. David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner, to lead Operation Warp Speed in Moncef Slaoui’s place.
One facet that’s made the rollout slower: a high number of workers at senior living facilities have turned down the shots. Shelby Livingston spoke to one company that’s now requiring its workers to get the vaccine.

Read the full story here>>

A major chain of senior living facilities will require more than 10,000 workers to get COVID-19 shots


We got a better picture of retailers’ next big healthcare plans

While Andrew and Allison were tuning into pharma and biotech presentations, Shelby was tuned into what the health plans, health systems, and pharmacies had to say.

On the health plan front, UnitedHealthcare became the latest insurer to offer a plan that encourages members to seek out virtual care rather than in-person care. The news sent Teladoc’s stock down 3% on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Megan Hernbroth spoke with fertility benefits company Progyny about its rocky 2020. Progyny’s CEO shared with Megan how the company is pursuing an aggressive growth strategy fueled by acquisitions for 2021.

During Walgreens’ presentation, the retail pharmacy shared that it’s got a 200-person in-house startup that’s working on improving healthcare. The details were slim for now, but Shelby pulled together what you need to know here.

It was interesting to hear about coming off the heels of news Blake Dodge and Áine Cain broke earlier in the week about Walmart.

They found that Walmart’s building a new venture through its incubation arm Store No. 8 focused on using data to help shoppers make healthier choices.

Read the full scoop here>>

SCOOP: Walmart is working on a stealth health-tech venture that could change how you shop


What to expect with the next wave of healthcare startups

The start of a new year is a good time to take stock of where the digital health industry stands. From just-budding startups to newly minted unicorns to publicly traded players, it’s seeming like 2021 will be a critical year for the sector as the pandemic (hopefully) starts to ebb.

On the early-stage side, Megan spoke with Lynne Chou O’Keefe, the founder of Define Ventures, about the firm’s latest $200 million fund. She shared with Megan why she wants to back founders that are building businesses for their communities.

One type of startup to keep an eye out for in 2021: companies that sound a lot like Livongo. That’s according to CapitalG partner Sumi Das, who anticipates the new crop of startups will be fueled by the rising cost of chronic care.

Startups, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said at a Startup Health chat on Tuesday, should be wary of working with entrenched players. While talking about the work that BioNTech did with Pfizer to speed up the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Khosla said that “collaboration is generally BS-with some exceptions.

Read his full explanation as to why here>>
As some digital health startups get bigger, it’s been interesting to see how their strategies evolve.

Megan spoke with $1.5 billion digital-health startup Ro about its goal to to be your online doctor. She got a look at how its coronavirus response strategy, rooted in rapid at-home testing, fits into the new unicorn’s long-term strategy.

Also on the bigger end of digital health, Hugh Langley and Blake rounded up all the departures from Alphabet’s life sciences arm Verily in the last year.

Their final tally: 20 top execs and managers left in the past year, including its head of people operations who’s set to depart in January. Read the full list here.

And now that there’s a bigger crop of publicly traded digital health companies, it’s interesting to see which ones analysts think will take off in the coming year. Kelly reports on RBC Capital Markets’ six top stock picks, including one that could pop by 30%.

I’ll leave you with the billion-dollar+ healthcare startups we’re keeping our eye on in 2021. It’s an ever-changing list we’ll be sure to update as companies make their public debuts and others reach the “unicorn” threshold.

Read the full list here>>

The 26 billion-dollar startups to watch that are revolutionizing healthcare in 2021

I’ll leave you with some great healthcare-related stories from other desks around the Business Insider newsroom.

Hope you all have a great weekend! I’ll be back on Tuesday with more healthcare news ahead of inauguration day. Thoughts, questions, tips to tell me about in the meantime? You can find me at [email protected], and you can reach the entire healthcare team at [email protected].

– Lydia