Developers zero in on the new 'bio-better' strategy

The Wall Street Journal's venture blog focuses on three upstart biotechs plotting to push programs on new "bio-betters," essentially second-gen biologics that can pull the market rug out from under some blockbuster meds. It's a simple strategy: find a new biologic that is safer and more effective than a top earner already on the market-perhaps delivered more easily for greater compliance--and you have a potential billion-dollar therapy on your hands.

At Femta Pharmaceuticals the target is Actemra, an IL-6 receptor inhibitor (an antibody) for rheumatoid arthritis. Femta thinks it can go one better by blocking IL-6 altogether with an antibody that could be self-administered rather than injected. The UK's PolyTherics is focused on pegylation technology to ramp up the duration of a new and improved interferon alpha-2a for hepatitis. And Itero Biopharmaceuticals in San Mateo, CA is switching from biosimilars to bio-betters, though it isn't saying exactly what its first program will be.

For the venture backers, one of the chief attractions of these bio-better programs is that they offer a classic de-risking for their investors. If you know the technology better and you've seen how it works in the clinic, they reason, chances are you have a better shot at goal. Bio-betters still require a long and very expensive trial program, though, which are always risky. And investors will also need to make sure that the new therapies offer a significant advantage over anything on the market, as payers are profoundly unhappy about anything that fits the profile of a me-too drug.

- here's the WSJ report