The two-day Global Forum on Life Science Innovation came to London last week, bringing together participants from industry, academia, and advocacy charities. The program’s speakers included a number of Directors of Research who set out the pressing global issues facing the life sciences sector and showcased some exciting new innovations for combating these challenges.
One theme of the meeting was the exponential growth of AMR (antimicrobial resistance), the cost of which is predicted to reach a staggering $100 trillion worldwide by 2050. Kai Stoeber, VP of Global Innovation at Shionogi of Japan, discussed the use of big data to monitor global infection rates and geographic spread of resistant bacteria to drive the targeted development of new antibiotics. This more patient- and microbe-specific approach shows great promise for reducing adaption and resistance to both new drugs in development and traditional “drugs of last resort.”
Peter Waggett, IBM’s Director of Emerging Technology, extended the data theme and charted the move from automation to understanding thanks to state-of-the-art computing. Drawing on experience from IBM’s Watson computer system, Peter spoke of the huge power of quantum-computing systems to extend one of IBM’s current projects, namely detecting behavioral abnormalities in the population before they escalate into health problems. Also debated was the importance of well-classified training sets to decipher the huge volumes (up to zettabytes!) of unstructured data resulting from such population-scale health projects.
Hubert Haag, Director of Global Sourcing at Sanofi-Aventis, explored the benefits of data sharing in the often-secretive world of big pharma. A number of innovative projects were covered, focusing on creating synergy across the molecule libraries of rival manufacturers with sharing initiatives and exploratory licencing deals. Bayer Head of External Innovation Technologies, Stefan Jaroch, spoke of efforts to bring innovative ideas in-house from academia and start-ups with a Bayer’s accelerator and targeted grants program.
David Reynolds and Arthur Roach, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK and Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK respectively, introduced the monumental scale and scope of these neurodegenerative diseases. Together, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are responsible for a large, and rapidly growing, fraction of the global clinical burden—they have no cure, and patients currently suffer from an almost complete lack of treatment options. The challenges to innovation in this area are vast, including detecting and treating a disease that often takes decades to develop, and the corresponding ethical implications for any clinical trial management and patient recruitment efforts.
Conference participants were given a glimpse into the future of human-machine interaction with a session on cyborgs. Patrick Kramer from Digiwell gave a live demonstration of a microchip implantation in the hand. The chip can be programmed with the identity of an RFID card and be used to open secure doors, replace public transport charge cards, and act as a secure identification—all offering a “human upgrade” and the possibility of a secure, but keyless, life.
A major theme of the conference was building an environment of synergy that is conducive to collaboration. Focusing on academic-industry synergy, Christian Tidona from BioMed X discussed innovative pitching and bootcamp models for collaborations that lead to radically different ways of thinking and extraordinary new solutions to old problems. Yu Xiong and Sanjeev Krishna brought the academic perspective to the table, discussing the scaling-up of academic research and the vital role of industrial partnerships to the process.
Sumitra Rajagopalan, CEO at Bioastra Technologies, addressed the opportunities for smaller companies to form partnerships with industry giants, including balancing open innovation and commercialisation to leverage the benefits of disruptive tech. The R&D team from Pfizer continued the collaborative theme and shared the benefits of the company’s strategic partnerships across a wide range of treatment areas. Finally, Mark McKechnie, Chief Information Officer at Merck Sharp, detailed the integration of digital innovations in healthcare that are being used to drive the development of new cancer therapies.
Overall, the event in London presented some exciting innovations for the future of the Life Sciences sector, and brought together senior decision makers currently shaping the collaborations that will bear these fruits.
Conference info page: Global Forum on Life Science Innovation