The first fully virtual Bio Integrates got off to a flying start with interviews with Steve Bates, Chief Executive Officer, UK Bioindustry Association, and Sean Marett, Chief Business & Commercial Officer, BioNTech.
With the recent, positive news of BioNTech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial results, it was acknowledged that although there was much left to be done on the vaccine front, the past nine months had led to new, innovative and agile ways of doing things.
‘Never before has the life sciences sector had the ear of government to the extent that it does now’ commented Steve Bates. ‘We need to be prepared for future pandemics and to engage at a national and strategic level, when it comes to vaccine manufacturing and diagnostics, in order to be prepared for the future’.
This year’s three conference streams were: Treatment, Growth and Strategy:
The ‘Treatment’ stream began with a panel discussion on gene therapies and how best to maintain the UK’s momentum in this area, with technologies like viral vectors. The panel was chaired by Jonathan Appleby, Chief Scientific Officer of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and covered the potential of technologies like CRISPR and AAV particles for use in both accelerating drug development and directly in therapeutics and drug targeting. The panel discussed the challenges we need to overcome, including scale up, high costs and the potential risk of biohacking.
The body fights back
Another highlight was ‘The body fights back’ session, which looked at the promise of immunotherapy in cancer treatment. James Spicer, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at King’s College London, shared his first-hand experience of the revolutionary improvements immunotherapy has delivered to lung cancer patients in living memory, but also reflected on the challenges that remain. The panel discussed the potential for combination therapies as well as the challenges in proving efficacy for both patients and payers.
Diversity driving decisions
With diversity at the forefront of everyone’s mind in 2020, the session on reflecting demographics in the biotech industry was both timely and interesting. Not only was the importance of expanding clinical research to include all genetic backgrounds discussed, but the panel shared the benefits of harnessing diversity of thought when running a business, by working with a team featuring diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and genders. Recognising and overcoming internal biases is the first challenge but will undoubtedly show dramatic benefits for both businesses and patients.
State of the nation/what state is the nation in?
Challenges and opportunities posed by Brexit and the pandemic was the focus of a session facilitated by Innovate UK’s Head of Health and Medicine, Richard Hebdon.
Implementing Covid-secure working practices, maintaining momentum with clinical trials, accessing labs and offices and overcoming barriers to recruitment were just some of the challenges faced by companies ranging from early stage biotechs to more established players.
Noor Shaker, CEO of early stage biotech Glamorous AI spoke of her concerns for early career researchers whose work has been disrupted, whilst the closure of the University within which SME, Biosystems Technology was based, forced a permanent move off-campus. Tom Mander from Domainex, highlighted the importance of clarity of decision making for employees affected by change.
“Martino Picardo, Chairman of the Discovery Park opened the conference with these resounding words ‘The patients are waiting’. This sentiment echoed throughout the day’s events as Senior Leaders across Biotech came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the sector, all with the common goal to benefit patients.”
“As the Industry has had to adapt to COVID-19, so have our events and it has actually meant we have had been able to reach more people, giving them the platform to debate ideas and build their networks.” Christopher Watt, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Life Science Integrates
“We learnt at the event that the challenges facing the Industry cannot be tackled in isolation and we are proud that our events provide that opportunity to spark new collaboration opportunities.” Samuel Thangiah, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Life Science Integrates