#BIO2018: KWM report from the Bio 2018 Convention

Couldn’t make it to #Bio2018? This week, Anna Feros reports on her insights from the BIO International Convention in Boston, hosted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), which represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations. 

The first full day at BIO2018 kicked off with an inspirational keynote session led by BIO president, Jim Greenwood, who raised his key theme of inclusion by way of the “BioDiversity Initiative” to drive diversity at the executive level in the industry and “truly embrace meritocracy”.  He then also touched on some of the hot biotech topics of gene editing in terms of CAS and CRISPR and the new applications to not only turn genes off and on but to “dial them up or down” and how this can be applied to many sectors including being viewed as an extension of traditional breeding of livestock.

Turning to introducing the first gene editing patient survivor who was greeted with a standing ovation, Greenwood focused in on transitioning the clinical approach from patients as subjects to “partners as partners” in the development of new treatments. Then to sprinkle some celebrity dust, Robin Roberts from ABC’s Good Morning America inspired the audience with her story of not only surviving cancer but then going to survive MDS (myelodysplasia) and profusely thanking the biotech community for the gift of stem cell technology without which she believes she would not have survived.

With 16 tracks of sessions plus super sessions and keynotes, there is even more to choose from at BIO this year.  The tracks embrace everything from digital health, IP, translational research, biofuels and renewables, opioids, regulatory, corporate best practices though to personalised medicine and diagnostics.  Where to start?

The vaccines supersession produced invaluable insights from its panel of big pharma and smaller biotechs emphasising the value proposition and working with public health organisations.  Also stressing how vaccines are often the unsung heroes as they work away to protect people in the background. Many issues abound including lifecycle management and the continuing hunt for a universal flu vaccine.  Mixed in with emerging infectious diseases and outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika, management of vaccine development and manufacturing levels has many issues including the continuing debate about what sort of model is best placed to access innovation.  Debating how to deal with public malcontent and fear of vaccines was also touched upon with a plug for the way the Australian government stood firm on the HPV vaccine representing a stable position of “science backed by government”.

Another supersession on deal trends in the last 10 years picked up the usual themes of the continuing no.1 popularity on immune-oncology with the microbiome and CAR-T also trending highly.  Small molecules and humanised antibodies are now considered to be on the wane as low hanging fruit that has largely been picked. Interestingly it was speculated that 2018-2019 may match the highpoint of dealmaking done in  2015.  In music to industry ears, apparently M&A is up, VC fundraising is at unprecedented levels in terms of the size of funds all raising the query are we in a golden era of biotech?  Apparently money is pouring into the industry also with China endorsing the trend with a clear intention to be a big player in the pharma market.  Early-stage in-bound deals are getting harder though but the “IP sweet spot” is after proof of concept.  Encouragingly for the Australian biotech industry both AbbVie and Genentech singled out Australian research as a pipeline source that is much overlooked and that they should be encouraging players to not forget about looking outside the US for partners.

And so with the myriad of today’s evening networking events completed (for most of us at any rate), we now look forward to kicking off Wednesday’s sessions with  a keynote session with the director, Rob Reiner and the chemistry of addiction.  BIO knows how to draw a global crowd and this year is no exception … the closing event tomorrow is to be headlined by Diana Ross.  Perhaps the industry really is entering a golden era …

Stay tuned for Anna Feros’ updates as #BIO2018 continues!