Bridging the Valley of Death Through Financial Innovation2019
Congressional testimony prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee Hearing on Examining Private Market Exemptions as a Barrier to IPOs and Retail Investment, held on September 11, 2019.
Professor Lo discusses proposed legislation intended to allow innovative companies to gain greater access to investors who are comfortable with the higher risks (and rewards) of private investments. He highlights the "Rare Disease Fund Act" sponsored by Representatives Juan Vargas (CA-51) and Scott Peters (CA-52), which proposes the development of a "megafund"—created under the full supervision of the SEC—to acquire the development rights to multiple rare disease therapeutic candidates. Such a public-private fund focused on rare diseases could serve as a viable pilot project for further development of the megafund concept. Professor Lo remarks, "With more innovative financial and business structures, and the already existing close partnership between orphan drug developers and government agencies like the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, we can make even greater progress in easing the burden of disease for millions of Americans."
Risk and Reward in the Orphan Drug Industry2019
Thanks to a combination of scientific advances and economic incentives, the development of therapeutics to treat rare or orphan diseases has grown dramatically in recent years. With the advent of Food and Drug Administration–approved gene therapies and the promise of gene editing, many experts believe we are at an inflection point in dealing with these afflictions. In this article, the authors propose to document this inflection point by measuring the risk and reward of investing in the orphan drug industry. They construct a stock market index of 39 publicly traded companies that specialize in developing drugs for orphan diseases and compare the financial performance of this index, which they call ORF, to the broader biopharmaceutical industry and the overall stock market from 2000 to 2015. Although the authors report that ORF underperformed other biopharma companies and the overall stock market in the early 2000s, its performance has improved over time: from 2010 to 2015, ORF returned 608%, far exceeding the 317%, 320%, and 305% returns of the S&P, NASDAQ, and NYSE ARCA Biotech indexes, respectively, and the 83% of the S&P 500. ORF does have higher volatility than the other indexes but still outperforms even on a risk-adjusted basis, with a Sharpe ratio of 1.24 versus Sharpe ratios of 1.17, 1.14, and 1.05, respectively, for the other three biotech indexes and 0.71 for the S&P 500. However, ORF has a market beta of 1.16, which suggests significant correlation to the aggregate stock market and less diversification benefits than traditional pharmaceutical investments.
A Portfolio Approach to Accelerate Therapeutic Innovation in Ovarian Cancer2019
We consider a portfolio-based approach to financing ovarian cancer therapeutics in which multiple candidates are funded within a single structure. Twenty-five potential early-stage drug development projects were identified for inclusion in a hypothetical portfolio through interviews with gynecological oncologists and leading experts, a review of ovarian cancer-related trials registered in the ClinicalTrials.gov database, and an extensive literature review. The annualized returns of this portfolio were simulated under a purely private sector structure both with and without partial funding from philanthropic grants, and a public–private partnership that included government guarantees. We find that public–private structures of this type can increase expected returns and reduce tail risk, allowing greater amounts of private sector capital to fund early-stage research and development.
Annals Issue in Honor of Jerry A. Hausman2019
It is a rare privilege for students and friends to celebrate a scholar’s accomplishments even as he remains as active as ever. This volume marks just such an occasion, a permanent tribute to Jerry A. Hausman’s positive life-changing impact on so many over the years. The wide range of contributions of ‘‘Jerry’s kids’’ is a direct consequence of the extraordinary breadth and depth of Jerry’s interests, expertise, and generosity. No part of econometrics and economics more broadly was uninteresting to him, and every subfield Jerry touched was materially better for it. It is the hope and aspiration of every author in this volume that our scholarship measures up to the high standards that Jerry set with his remarkable example.
Machine Learning with Statistical Imputation for Predicting Drug Approvals2019
We apply machine-learning techniques to predict drug approvals using drug-development and clinical-trial data from 2003 to 2015 involving several thousand drug-indication pairs with over 140 features across 15 disease groups. To deal with missing data, we use imputation methods that allow us to fully exploit the entire dataset, the largest of its kind. We show that our approach outperforms complete-case analysis, which typically yields biased inferences. We achieve predictive measures of 0.78, and 0.81 AUC (“area under the receiver operating characteristic curve,” the estimated probability that a classifier will rank a positive outcome higher than a negative outcome) for predicting transitions from phase 2 to approval and phase 3 to approval, respectively. Using five-year rolling windows, we document an increasing trend in the predictive power of these models, a consequence of improving data quality and quantity. The most important features for predicting success are trial outcomes, trial status, trial accrual rates, duration, prior approval for another indication, and sponsor track records. We provide estimates of the probability of success for all drugs in the current pipeline.
Acceleration of Rare Disease Therapeutic Development: A Case Study of AGIL-AADC2019
Rare-disease drug development is both scientifically and commercially challenging. This case study highlights Agilis Biotherapeutics (Agilis), a small private biotechnology company that has developed the most clinically advanced adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy for the brain. In an international collaboration led by Agilis with National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital and the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) program of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health, Agilis’ gene therapy for aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency (AADC), AGIL-AADC, was granted biologics license application (BLA)-ready status by the FDA in 2018 only 18 months after being licensed from NTU by Agilis. Here, we highlight the factors that have enabled this remarkable pace of successful drug development for an ultra-rare disease.
Dynamic Alpha: A Spectral Decomposition of Investment Performance Across Time Horizons2019
The value added by an active investor is traditionally measured using alpha, tracking error, and the information ratio. However, these measures do not characterize the dynamic component of investor activity, nor do they consider the time horizons over which weights are changed. In this paper, we propose a technique to measure the value of active investment that captures both the static and dynamic contributions of an investment process. This dynamic alpha is based on the decomposition of a portfolio’s expected return into its frequency components using spectral analysis. The result is a static component that measures the portion of a portfolio’s expected return resulting from passive investments and security selection and a dynamic component that captures the manager’s timing ability across a range of time horizons. Our framework can be universally applied to any portfolio and is a useful method for comparing the forecast power of different investment processes. Several analytical and empirical examples are provided to illustrate the practical relevance of this decomposition.
Estimation of Clinical Trial Success Rates and Related Parameters2019
Previous estimates of drug development success rates rely on relatively small samples from databases curated by the pharmaceutical industry and are subject to potential selection biases. Using a sample of 406,038 entries of clinical trial data for over 21,143 compounds from January 1, 2000 to October 31, 2015, we estimate aggregate clinical trial success rates and durations. We also compute disaggregated estimates across several trial features including disease type, clinical phase, industry or academic sponsor, biomarker presence, lead indication status, and time. In several cases, our results differ significantly in detail from widely cited statistics. For example, oncology has a 3.4% success rate in our sample vs. 5.1% in prior studies. However, after declining to 1.7% in 2012, this rate has improved to 2.5% and 8.3% in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In addition, trials that use biomarkers in patient-selection have higher overall success probabilities than trials without biomarkers.
Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive?: A Bayesian Decision Analysis of Clinical Trial Design2019
Implicit in the drug-approval process is a trade-off between Type I and Type II error. We propose using Bayesian decision analysis (BDA) to minimize the expected cost of drug approval, where relative costs are calibrated using U.S. Burden of Disease Study 2010 data. The results for conventional fixed-sample randomized clinical-trial designs suggest that for terminal illnesses with no existing therapies such as pancreatic cancer, the standard threshold of 2.5% is too conservative; the BDA-optimal threshold is 27.9%. However, for relatively less deadly conditions such as prostate cancer, 2.5% may be too risk-tolerant or aggressive; the BDA-optimal threshold is 1.2%. We compute BDA-optimal sizes for 25 of the most lethal diseases and show how a BDA-informed approval process can incorporate all stakeholders’ views in a systematic, transparent, internally consistent, and repeatable manner.
On Black’s Leverage Effect in Firms with No Leverage2019
One of the most enduring empirical regularities in equity markets is the inverse relationship between stock prices and volatility. Also known as the “leverage effect”, this relationship was first documented by Black (1976), who attributed it to the effects of financial or operating leverage. This paper documents that firms which had no debt (and thus no financial leverage) from January 1973 to December 2017 exhibit Black’s leverage effect. Moreover, it finds that the leverage effect of firms in this sample is not driven by operating leverage. On the contrary, in this sample the leverage effect is stronger for firms with low operating leverage as compared to those with high operating leverage. Interestingly, the firms with no debt from the lowest quintile of operating leverage exhibit the leverage effect that is on par with or stronger than that of debt-financed firms.
What Do Humans Perceive in Asset Returns?2019
In this article, the authors run experiments to test if and how human subjects can differentiate time series of actual asset returns from time series that are generated synthetically via various processes, including AR1. In contrast with previous anecdotal evidence, they find that subjects can distinguish between the two. These results show that temporal charts of asset prices convey to investors information that cannot be reproduced by summary statistics. They also provide a first refutation based on human perception of a strong form of the efficient-market hypothesis. Their experiments are implemented via an online video game (http://arora.ccs.neu.edu). The authors also link the subjects’ performance to statistical properties of the data and investigate whether subjects improve performance while playing.
Optimal Financing for R&D-Intensive Firms2018
We develop a theory of optimal financing for R&D-intensive firms. With only market financing, the firm relies exclusively on equity financing and carries excess cash, but underinvests in R&D. We use mechanism design to examine how intermediated financing can attentuate this underinvestment. The mechanism combines equity with put options such that investors insure firms against R&D failure and firms insure investors against high R&D payoffs not being realized.
Competition and R&D Financing: Evidence from the Biopharmaceutical Industry2018
What is the interaction between competition, R&D investments, and the financing choices of R&D-intensive firms? Motivated by existing theories, we hypothesize that as competition increases, R&D-intensive firms will: (1) increase R&D investment relative to assets-in-place that support existing products; (2) carry more cash; and (3) maintain less net debt. We provide causal evidence supporting these hypotheses by exploiting differences between the biopharma industry and other industries, as well as heterogeneity within the biopharma industry, in response to an exogenous change in competition. We also explore how these changes affect innovative output, and provide novel evidence that in response to greater competition, companies increasingly “focus” their efforts—there is a relative decline in the total number of innovations, but an increase in the economic value of these innovations.
This two-volume set brings together a unique collection of key publications at the intersection of biology and economics, two disciplines that share a common subject: Homo sapiens. Beginning with Thomas Malthus–whose dire predictions of mass starvation due to population growth influenced Charles Darwin–economists have routinely used biological arguments in their models and methods. This collection summarizes the most important of these developments, including articles in sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral ecology, behavioral economics and finance, neuroeconomics, and behavioral genomics. Together with an original introduction by the editors, this important research collection will appeal to economists, biologists, and practitioners looking to develop a deeper understanding of the limits of Homo Economicus.
Alzheimer’s Disease is About to Become a Crisis. Here’s How California Could Lead2018
Opinion article by Andrew W. Lo and Kenneth Kosik on the potential role of California in the space of Alzheimer's Disease research.