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BIO 2018 – the world’s premier Life Sciences event

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BIO is undoubtedly the world’s premier Life Sciences event and a great opportunity to network with colleagues across multiple disciplines and gain access to global pharma and biotech leaders. The dust has settled and it’s back to business as usual for most of those who attended BIO 2018, but what did we all learn from this event?

The word 'Life' surrounded by science images of H20, temperature, atoms.

BIO 2018 offered multiple opportunities for anyone in Life Sciences

Ideally you are looking at opportunities for; investment, export of products and/or services, access to new partners, boosting visibility of your brand and/or technology and showcasing thought leadership.

In fact there is not enough time in the schedule to go to all the sessions that might be of interest so you’ll need to be selective and plan ahead.

Learning surrounded by images of test tubes and atoms.

My top four take-homes from Bio 2018

Here are my top 4 take-homes from BIO 2018 which might help your planning for Bio 2019

1) Cell and Gene therapy - stand to transform patients’ lives

The sector was given a big boost with the approval of GSK’s gene therapy Strimvelis to treat children with the rare disease ADA-SCID.  The first two CAR-T cell therapies for cancer (Kymriah from Novartis, and Yescarta from Gilead), together with Spark’s Luxturna to treat a genetic mutation that causes blindness, are now approved in the US and will soon be in Europe. Cell and Gene therapies stand to transform patients’ lives

The first patient to receive gene therapy

Ashanthi De Silva, the first patient in the world to receive gene therapy was presented the first BIO History Award on the main stage which was a very inspirational moment.  It provided the platform for the session on - Delivering on the promise of Gene therapy.

Delivering on the promise of Gene therapy

The session highlighted some major challenges around:

  • delivery in terms of precision, efficiency and specificity
  • how to make these novel therapies as drug like as possible for users to enable faster adoption
  • the potential for allogenic off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies hence no need for the patient to wait  three weeks to get their cells back following an invasive procedure before treatment can start
  • business model
  • ensuring health markets are better prepared for these therapies and regulation

I was left with a quote though from one of the panellists:  ‘Every day is an adventure in gene therapy and every step a challenge.’

2) Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) - forging antimicrobial R&D pacts

The session brought together several large biotech industry groups including the Bio industry Association (BIA) who are all members of the AMR Industry Alliance to discuss the market challenges around the need to develop novel medicines to address AMR.

Highlights included the need for reimbursement based on value rather than volume.  There was unanimous agreement that partnership is key to successfully deliver new antimicrobial medicines.   For me this underpinned the thinking behind the recent Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) funded Innovate UK competition for UK-China collaboration to tackle AMR.

The word innovation surrounded by sciences images, H20, test tubes, atoms and measurement.

3) Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning – data safety and security concerns

Everyone is doing AI and machine learning.  This is because of its promise to accelerate the use of big data in drug discovery and development as well as in patient care.  The ultimate potential is the ability to help prevent diseases even before diagnosis by understanding the risk factors.

The key challenge is around data safety and privacy.  Some questions were raised on the potential impact of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on patient recruitment into clinical trials.

4) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/ Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)

The session on the National Institute of Health (NIH) SBIR/STTR highlighted the value of SMEs using such seed funds to accelerate technology development and secure further private follow-on investment.

Similar to our own Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

The SBIR program is open only to US-based SMEs is similar to the UK’s Small Business Research Initiative. The NIH SBIR/STTR programme increased its spending limits to $980M in 2017 and revised its eligibility to include small businesses majority owned by VC operating companies (

The role of venture capital and large pharma

The important role VCs and large Pharma partners can play in helping to refine the technology development was also highlighted.   This multi-partnership approach reflects the model of delivery being employed for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

BIO 2019 – prepare to book soon

This year’s BIO convention in Boston saw a whopping 18,289 attendees from 67 countries, over 7000 companies, 1800 exhibitors, over 1000 speakers and 46, 916 partnering meetings which set a new Guinness World Record for the largest business partnering event.

For SMEs in the UK the question is then not if but when you should attend and how to ensure you extract as much value as possible from your attendance largely because registration either as an attendee or exhibitor is not cheap.

BIO 2019 will be held in Philadelphia in June 2019.  The call for sessions starts in September 2018 (just two months from now), accommodation can be booked from October 2018 and registration opens from January 2019.

So get thinking, and get booking!

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  1. Comment by yogi posted on

    For SMEs in the UK the question is then not if but when you should attend and how to ensure you extract as much value as possible from your attendance largely because registration either as an attendee or exhibitor is not cheap.