Your BIO2015 guide: Biotech in space, a BIO name change and more
We're here in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. But it hasn't all been cheesesteaks and hoagies.
This year's BIO convention has catalyzed fascinating discussions on everything from precision medicine to the drug prices to the role of venture capital. Here are some of the highlights from Wednesday's sessions and speeches:
1) An out-of-this-world update from astronaut Scott Kelly
In one of the most, quite frankly, awesome presentations we've ever seen, Greg Johnson, president of the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) did a live interview of Commander Scott Kelly, a renowned astronaut. Oh, and Kelly was in space, in the International Space Station, flying over Australia at the time:
Kelly spoke on the types of research that he and his twin brother, fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, were participating in from space and the implications that it could have for biopharma. For instance, Kelly said that there were about 400 experiments being done to test the human body's reaction to conditions in space, including measurements of bone loss, muscle fatigue and atrophy and more. The hope is that this data will lead to new innovations for physiological conditions that may mimic the effects of space travel, among other developments.
There is also a genetic component to the experiments, as twins Mark and Kelly's various physical responses to space will be observed.
Next week, BioPharma Dive will be interviewing officials from CASIS about this project, and how it can help the industry down here on Earth.
2) Collins and Topol praise precision medicine—but say much is left to be done
The two main speakers at BIO's morning sessions on Wednesday were NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Eric Topol, the renowned physician executive.
Collins praised the promise of personalized medicine, including President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative, as the wave of the future. He pointed out that, as genome sequencing becomes increasingly cost-effective, personalized therapies will continue to grow in number.
But there's a high mountain to climb. "We know the molecular basis for 5,500 conditions," said Collins. "Yet we only have therapies for approximately 500 conditions."
Collins said that the main barrier to creating these therapies is the extraordinary cost of drug development, which has limited therapeutic potential. But he also expressed cause for optimism, and said that measures such as the 21st Century Cures initiative could go a long way towards spurring innovation.
Topol also praised the Precision Medicine Initiative, but pointed to major problems in the age of wearable medical devices: Namely, that simply acquiring and storing the data isn't enough. The next big challenge is figuring out what to actually do with all this information, and how to translate data into better health outcomes for the population.
3) Nanomedicine: The next big thing in biotech?
Precision medicine. Immunotherapy. Monoclonal antibodies. These are the big buzzwords and driving forces behind the current biotech innovation boom.
But what comes next?
That's the question that a panel of experts including Celgene VP Neil Desai, former BIND Therapeutics CTO Jeff Hrkach, and Nanobiotix CEO Laurent Levy tried to answer Wednesday during a panel discussion. And the answer, according to them, is nanomedicine.
This is a concept that already exists in biotech, through the binding of large molecule drugs to receptors and antibodies for more targeted and effective delivery of therapies. It forms the basis of precision medicine approaches, immunotherapy and monoclonal antibody technologies.
But in the future, more advanced forms of nanomedicine could comprise the "third pillar" of drug development, according ot Hrkach.
Desai broke down the concept into several iterations, mentioning his company's pancreatic cancer therapy Abraxane, which binds to albumin. The next-gen goal of nanomedicine is to apply these same principles to monoclonal antibody therapies, using the antibodies to deliver the toxic, cancer-killing molecules directly into tumors and having them destroy themselves.
"That’s the idea of nanomedicine here," he said. "The tumor needs to feed itself. Let’s give it the food, then send in an agent to destroy it."
4) BIO gets a name change
It seems that name changes are in vogue these days, and BIO announced one of its own on Wednesday: it's going from the Biotechnology Industry Organization to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
We'll stick to just calling it BIO.
We'll have more updates Friday from this year's convention.