#BIO2018: Gene therapy, AI in healthcare, precision medicine and Diana Ross – The power of biotechnology

As we wrap up our week of insights on the biotech industry and coverage of #Bio2018, what is clear is that for many biotech innovations, the story is just beginning. From landmark developments in genetic engineering techniques, the integration of AI and digital technologies into health care products and services and the increasing investment in genomics based medicine, perhaps the words of BIO president and CEO, Jim Greenwood, best captures the future of this industry: My friends, this is the power of biotechnology”.

For those interested readers, the following articles are also available on IP Whiteboard:

We hope you will continue to follow our blog and LinkedIn posts as we continue to report on key biotech trends and issues.

– Kim O’Connell

#Bio2018: Our “live” report from Anna Feros

For those readers following our program on IP Whiteboard,  Part 1 of our #BIO2018 update focussed on sessions and industry updates.  This Part 2 will focus on the other benefits of BIO – partnering and partying (aka networking).

BIO’s popularity has not waned.  This year, it officially broke the Guinness World Records title for the Largest Business Partnering Event (yes, that is a thing).  Partnering is a major reason why people come to BIO.  Partnering is literally getting down to business with companies signing up to pitch ideas, products and services and companies signing up to be pitched at.  The most obvious ‘pitchees’ are big pharma, who are very popular with full partnering meeting diaries but are also very keen to hear from smaller companies with licensing opportunities to help big pharma build their pipeline.  My vendor contacts tell me that partnering has become more aggressive in that many companies actively screen out vendors from partnering – which is a disappointing development as a good service provider can be worth their weight in gold.

Before the partying, a little on some of Wednesday’s sessions.  The keynote plenary session included the CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals who touched on how there had never been a more favourable regulatory environment for drug development with a choice of truncated pathways to approval and how “real palpable innovation ultimately means real patient impact”.  The CEO of Alkermes spoke about the patient perspective being enormously important and this led nicely into a discussion about the very topical opioid crisis being the “public health crisis of our time” and that medicines alone are not sufficient to fix the crisis – comprehensive support and the understanding of the patient’s and their family’s point of view is vital.  The director, Rob Reiner, was then introduced and after a highlights reel of his works, we moved on to discuss the very real impact of prescription drug addiction and his son.  Out of this experience, he and his son, Charlie, worked together to make the film “King Charlie” which is an honest look at addiction, the lucrative industry of unregulated rehab, and discrimination regarding substance abuse disorders.

The super session on precision medicine focussed on the possibilities of patient electronic records, “real world data” and AI.  Real world data is the data currently held but in general, most of it is not particularly usable so there is a need to determine what data to collect and how to better collect it.  The promise of electronic patient records is also problematic as much of it is unstructured and many physicians still work in a world of handwritten notes with test results simply included in a patient file with no comprehensive analysis.  Therefore, the challenge is how to take that data and raise it to the level of quality of patient data that results from clinical studies so it is reliable and of real value.  If we can get it right, the real world data can be used as an evidence base to feed into real world care and ultimately the hope is to have “synthetic control arms” in clinical trials which will greatly reduce the cost of studies.  This is where the potential of AI comes into play but at the moment, it is still very much in the realms of potential.

Lastly, although many are dubious about the term “networking”, it is a mainstay of industry conferences and BIO is no exception.  BIO presents an opportunity to catch-up with interstate and international clients and contacts who all converge for a few days in the one city with the primary intention of having meetings.  In addition, although it sounds counterintuitive, the best networking is often done with your home crowd as you are all in the one place at the same time with no distractions so everyone is more convivial and willing to catch-up over drinks.  Just the act of hanging out at the Australia pavilion (thank you #AusBiotech) and having chats with those there in between sessions and other meetings, provides many opportunities that cannot be planned but have borne fruit.  In fact, it is this informal networking that is far more effective than the large formal events but then who is going to turn down some international disco with Diana Ross?

Thank you Bio2018 for another great event.  We’re already looking forward to BIO2019!