In case you missed it, the annual international BIO conference was held in San Diego last week. As usual it attracted people from around the world, as well as a variety of headliners. Hillary Clinton spoke for an hour, voicing her support for GMO’s as well as potential government-driven agendas to foster biotech growth. Richard Branson was also a keynote speaker espousing his support for biotech’s role in developing clean energy, as well as support for world heath initiatives, such as new vaccines. Although the BIO conference is perhaps best known for spawning business interaction, in general, with its partnership forum, and public policy presentations, it is always interesting to hear about scientific trends, particularly at the world level.
One session, aiming to summarize the most important trends, was entitled, BioTech Primer: Top 10 Current Science Trends, Issues and Advances. An excerpt from that session, published on the BIO website, discusses three technologies. The first is genome editing, where DNA alterations or genes associated with disease can be corrected or knocked out, returning cells to function normally. Companies, like Sangamo Biosciences, are in clinical trials, indicating that these approaches are well beyond the research phase and may soon become approved technologies. Another company to watch is Editas Medicine, a new company created by Polaris, Third Rock and Flagship Ventures. The second area where tremendous advancements have been made is in immunotherapy. In some developments, the body’s own immune system can be leveraged to effectively target tumors in new ways. Antibody-drug conjugates have also been developed to target tumors, and novel monoclonal antibodies have been developed to attack damaged tissues in other diseases, such as amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease . Some companies to watch include Kite Pharma and AnaptysBio. Kite’s IPO last week raised $128M and AnaptysBio announced a sizable deal with TESARO last March . The third area highlighted is in microbiome based therapeutics. This comes from a better understanding of the bacterial complement of humans and the link to disease, and is rooted in the aim of replacing detrimental bacteria with beneficial bacteria. Although these therapies are not based on the same exquisitely targeted approaches in the first two areas, the benefits in treating common and debilitating diseases may be profound.