IBD Innovate: Uniting Scientists, Investors, and Patients to Shape the Future of Care


IBD Innovate 2024 Crowd

In 2016, during an interview with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, then Chief Scientific Officer Caren Heller, MD, asked Andrés Hurtado-Lorenzo, PhD, now Senior Vice President of Translational Research & IBD Ventures, a pivotal question: “What would you do to make the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation a hub for translational research?” Dr. Hurtado-Lorenzo shared his ambitious vision for an IBD medical product development conference that would unite biopharma, academia, patients, MedTech startups, investors, payors, and regulators, creating a dynamic network that would quickly turn scientific discoveries into practical IBD treatments.


Embracing the adage, “Innovation without execution is a hallucination,” Dr. Hurtado-Lorenzo accepted the challenge. Equipped with a rich background from his tenure at Pfizer and Proteostasis Therapeutics, where he led critical drug discovery projects for cystic fibrosis and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, he was well prepared for this role.


He quickly went to work, spearheading the creation of IBD Ventures shortly after his appointment. This venture philanthropy initiative aimed to propel the development of groundbreaking drugs, diagnostic tools, and devices tailored for IBD patients by providing crucial financial backing. 

Andrés Hurtado-Lorenzo, PhD
Andrés Hurtado-Lorenzo, PhD, Senior Vice President, Translational Research and & IBD Ventures 


Since 2017, IBD Ventures has invested in 26 companies and academic institutions, catalyzing new product opportunities that have attracted more than $700 million in subsequent funding. The success of IBD Ventures set the stage for the IBD Innovate conference, an event that grew directly from its goals. Now a key gathering for IBD innovation, the sixth annual conference held at MassBio in Cambridge, MA, attracted nearly 200 participants this April. The two-day event featured keynote speeches, panel discussions, and interactive sessions on synthetic biology, fibrosis treatments, and new clinical trial strategies. A standout was the “Shark Tank” session where innovators vied for a $25,000 prize by pitching their solutions to a panel of biotech investors, showcasing the vibrant network Dr. Hurtado-Lorenzo had envisioned.


Day One: Pioneering Solutions and Diagnostic Advancements

The conference kicked off with Dr. Hurtado-Lorenzo outlining the pressing need for new and differentiated products to address the complex challenges in translational research for IBD. The foundation of this initiative, as Dr. Hurtado-Lorenzo articulated in his presentation, was built on IBD Ventures, a venture philanthropy program that has significantly advanced a diversified pipeline of new product opportunities through substantial investments in research and development of novel therapies, diagnostics, and medical devices. 


Erica Barnell, MD, PhD, co-founder of Geneoscopy, a life-sciences company that develops gastrointestinal diagnostic tests, discussed a product she is developing, which is a noninvasive stool RNA biomarker that can inform therapeutic response for patients with IBD. 

Erica Barnell
Erica Barnell, MD, PhD, Co-Founder, Chief Medical Officer Geneoscopy 

“We’re in an amazing place for IBD right now, the same place where we were for cancer 15 years ago,” said Dr. Barnell. “As we see more and more biologics hit the market, identifying the right treatment for each patient has become a significant challenge.” Barnell’s talk underscored the importance of a biomarker strategy in navigating this new landscape.


Florian Rieder, MD, Vice Chair, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, addressed the significant challenge of intestinal strictures in IBD, specifically Crohn’s disease. Intestinal strictures, which are narrowings of the intestine that can block the passage of food, lead to symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, bloating, and cramping. Despite the prevalence of strictures in more than half of those diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, there are currently no direct treatments for them, leaving many patients reliant on surgical interventions that may need to be repeated over time.


Highlighting efforts at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Rieder detailed how his team is advancing research into new treatments for strictures. They use in vitro models to mimic human intestinal fibrosis and study “creeping fat,” and the inflammasome’s role in stricture formation in Crohn’s disease. In addition, his research also focuses on defining measurable clinical endpoints for trials, crucial for developing anti-fibrotic therapies. Dr. Rieder’s work signifies a promising shift towards targeting the underlying causes of strictures, aiming to reduce surgical needs and enhance the quality of life for IBD patients.


Christophe Mellon, CEO of Giiant Pharma, and Mitchell Jones, Chief Medical Officer of Palisade Bio, discussed the development of PALI-2108, a promising new drug funded by IBD Ventures. This innovative therapy targets the pro-inflammatory protein PED4, which has shown potential in ulcerative colitis clinical trials but often comes with side effects like nausea. Giiant Pharma is refining this treatment by creating a modified version of the PED4 inhibitor that specifically targets the colon. This strategic delivery minimizes absorption in the small intestine, thereby reducing systemic exposure and the side effects associated with it. The funding from IBD Ventures is instrumental in supporting preclinical activities and propelling this targeted therapy towards clinical development, offering hope for more effective and safer treatment options in ulcerative colitis.


Patient Perspective: Living With IBD

Jordyn Burger, a patient advocate and ulcerative colitis patient, shared her personal and poignant insights at IBD Innovate, emphasizing the day-to-day challenges and broader implications of living with IBD. Highlighting her 15-year journey with the disease, Jordyn discussed how humor has helped her cope with the often isolating nature of IBD, which involves not just the physical symptoms but also the mental and social hurdles. She vividly described how patients must adjust their lives to accommodate their condition, from ensuring access to restrooms to dealing with complex medication regimes. Jordyn’s talk underscored the necessity for more effective, affordable, and accessible treatments for IBD patients.


Jordyn concluded her talk by emphasizing the critical role of patient advocacy in healthcare. She outlined three key takeaways for healthcare leaders: the importance of listening to patients to truly understand their experience, the power of involving real patients in discussions to ensure healthcare solutions are grounded in reality, and the need to celebrate even small victories in patient care.


Day Two: Fueling Progress: Venture Capital’s Role in Shaping the Future of IBD

Tom Shehab, MD, Managing Partner of Arboretum Ventures, a healthcare venture capital firm, presented on the critical role of venture capital in advancing treatment and innovation in IBD care.


IBD Innovate Panel 2024

Central to his talk was the exploration of funding mechanisms within the IBD landscape, particularly focusing on venture capital’s impact. Dr. Shehab highlighted the substantial investments made in healthcare by VC firms, which play a crucial role in propelling the development of innovative medical technologies and therapies. He outlined the various stages of venture funding—from early seed rounds to later-stage growth capital—and discussed the strategic importance of integrating venture capital with patient care needs to foster a robust pipeline of IBD solutions. By investing in smart therapeutics and diagnostic technologies, along with advocating for a holistic approach to patient care, venture capital not only accelerates medical advancements but also ensures these innovations reach the patients who need them most.


Shehab also provided valuable tactical advice for companies seeking venture funding, particularly emphasizing the importance of looking beyond FDA approval to consider insurance reimbursement strategies. He stressed that gaining regulatory approval is only part of the journey; securing reimbursement from insurance companies is crucial to the successful adoption and commercial viability of new therapies and technologies. Dr. Shehab advised companies to develop a clear understanding of reimbursement landscapes and to incorporate potential insurance challenges into their business strategies early in the development process. This approach ensures that once a product is approved, it can be effectively accessed by patients, thereby enhancing the company’s ability to achieve market success and deliver real health outcomes.


Following his presentation, Shehab served as a moderator on a panel featuring the funding landscape for IBD with venture capital leaders. Leaders from the healthcare venture capital space shared diverse perspectives on the current state and future of IBD treatment and innovation. The panelists debated the “marathon mile marker” analogy to describe progress in IBD treatment, with estimates ranging from early stages to significant advancements, reflecting both optimism and the immense challenges that remain. Key hurdles identified included the need for better disease subtype identification and management, the complexity of healthcare systems, and insurance hurdles that impact patient care continuity. Collectively, the panelists acknowledged the long road ahead but remained hopeful about reaching significant milestones in IBD treatment by 2050, driven by innovation and diligent effort from all stakeholders in the IBD community.


IBD Clinical Trials: Challenges and Innovations

Alan Moss, MD, Chief Scientific Officer at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, addressed the pressing challenges and opportunities in IBD clinical trials during his keynote presentation. He highlighted declining enrollment rates, exacerbated by strict criteria and logistical barriers, which hinder patient participation. Stressing the importance of innovative trial designs, Dr. Moss advocated for incorporating patient feedback to make trials more relevant and appealing. He emphasized the need to broaden endpoints beyond clinical remission to include quality-of-life measures, utilizing digital technologies and partnerships with innovative clinical research organizations (CROs). By aligning research more closely with patient needs and leveraging advanced technologies to streamline recruitment and data collection, Dr. Moss underscored the potential to significantly enhance the efficacy and patient-centered focus of IBD clinical trials.


IBD Innovate Shark Tank: Spotlight on Breakthrough Solutions

IBD Innovate Check

The first-ever IBD Innovate Shark Tank, hosted by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, featured a dynamic competition where five innovative companies presented their IBD-focused products to a panel of investors. The event showcased a range of pioneering solutions aimed at improving the lives of those with IBD, including a noninvasive sensor for real-time monitoring of inflammatory biomarkers in sweat, an AI-powered biomarker tool for differentiating between drug responders and nonresponders, a therapeutic food product derived from breast milk designed to enhance the gut microbiome, a digital platform integrating nutrition, psychology, and hybrid care for IBD management, and a robotic scope that operates without the need for anesthesia.


The competition concluded with Yan Zhao, MD, PhD, CEO of Drive Medical, winning the $25,000 prize from the Foundation’s IBD Ventures. Dr. Zhao’s winning entry, the Pollywog robotic enteroscope (a flexible tube, attached with a camera used to examine the small intestine) for Crohn’s disease, is notable for its ability to perform procedures without general anesthesia, making it suitable for outpatient settings. This innovation represents a significant advancement in the treatment and management of IBD, promising to enhance patient comfort and accessibility to essential diagnostic procedures. The event highlighted the ongoing commitment to innovation and progress in the field of IBD care, celebrating the groundbreaking contributions of all participating companies.


The scientific organizing committee of IBD Innovate 2024 consisted of Dr. Tom Shehab (Arboretum Ventures) and members of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation IBD Ventures team, including Dr. Andrés Hurtado-Lorenzo, Dr. Russ Wyborski, and Dr. Nicole Schwerbrock.