Need to recruit multilingual, creative problem solvers experienced in working in teams and on a wide variety of challenges?

Go Dutch.

In 2015, Sophianum school in Gulpen were keen to work with a life sciences research centre in Cambridge. Harriet Fear, CEO of OneNucleus was approached and she worked hard to find an appropriate partner which would commit to a long term and hopefully, symbiotic relationship.

She succeeded – thank you Harriet.

The Babraham Institute accepted the challenge and a team of their scientists are presenting projects, in English, to the students in Gulpen (near Maastricht) as this is typed. The Dutch students are fluent in English and study at least three languages including their own. Communication throughout the exercise continues via email, weekly videos and Skype.

The Sophianum school sits on the border of Belgium and Germany and accepts students from the local area regardless of home address or nationality. They join at 12 and go through to pre-university.

There is a strong International outlook involving links and exchanges with schools in Hong Kong, Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Spain. Despite their best efforts it has proved very difficult to maintain links with English schools.

Students engaged in their national Technasium scheme are required to respond to real life challenges set by a company or institution. This is not extra-curricular or an add on. It is very firmly part of the school’s approach and is nationally managed.

Dutch education has undergone some major changes in recent years. The Technasium approach recognises the demand for students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure they can contribute and be happy as global citizens in the 21st century. The course called, Research and Design, places an emphasis on research, communication and team skills.

In 2016 the projects involved three diverse challenges set by the Babraham Institute, all of which developed in conjunction with staff in the Institute’s animal facility and related to the Institute’s openness about their use of animals in research:

Challenge 1: Design a solution to allow the top and bottom rows of cages in a rack to be efficiently checked with the minimum of risk to the technician.

Challenge 2: Communication between units in the facility

Challenge 3: Investigating legislation and public opinion

The projects for 2017 include a repeat of Challenge 1 from 2016, with new projects relating to the Institute’s research and one of its science facilities.

During the exercise the competencies of each team member are reviewed as they develop their own skills and support the group process. Assessing collaborative activity is notoriously difficult but the Technasium approach is innovative and works. 50% of the final grade is awarded for process actions – how effective they are at managing and executing the research and design activity.  The review involves an assessment team, self-assessment, peer review and teacher assessment.

None of the elements of Technasium are unique but the combination is globally, uncommon. Key factors are that each school accepts and commits to the ethos, and the firmly evidence based, learning approaches required. Teachers are carefully selected and given specific training in teaching and ‘scaffolding’ creative problem solving – not all teachers have the attributes necessary.

The assessment methods employed also recognise that traditional methods are inappropriate. Students peer review their work and teachers grade and approve attainment in key and transferable competencies using an established, carefully devised, European Union (EU) scheme. The competencies are hierarchical, accumulate, and can be used to support university and employment applications.

Of the eight EU competencies, three are key: Learning to learn – the ability to effectively manage one’s own learning, either individually or in groups, Social and civic competencies and a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship.

Boo, Mike and Dori Malcom BlogBoo Virk, Dori Horkai and Mike Hinton, from the Babraham Institute, brief the Dutch students in the newly-opened Technasium facilities at Sophianum School, Gulpen

In Sophianum the curriculum is broad and balanced and the accommodation for the Technasium groups is new and inviting.  An industrial design facility including 3D printers, systems and electronics kit and hand tools, together with well-equipped science facilities, ensure that students are using up to date, appropriate equipment.

The students are fortunate and enthusiastic. The Babraham Institute should be commended for their wisdom in engaging with this.

Why? Because the writer of this article has experience of students tackling real life, company inspired projects, including one which was adopted and resulted in a significant increase in production for a medical device. Collaboration enriches us all.

Our young people are creative and able – they only need to be offered the opportunities. Harriet, Mike and their teams are inspiring our scientists and technologists of the future – we need them!

Discover more:

The Technasium Network

https://www.technasium.nl/netwerken/overzicht

Babraham Institute Report on the Project

http://www.babraham.ac.uk/search/results?q=sophianum

Sophianum School, Technasium

http://www.sophianum.nl/atheneum/technasium/

EU Lifelong Learning key competences

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Ac11090

Written by Malcolm Moss with the support of the partners

The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

 

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Posted in March 2017 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Unlocking the Power of Genomics

The speed of Next Generation Sequencing now enables us to read every letter of every gene from DNA samples of patients in medical research. This is a significant advance on previous technology, which could only detect common differences between people at a much less precise level. For the first time, it is possible to uncover very rare differences between individuals – even ones found in only a single individual. These rare differences are what scientists believe lie behind common disease like asthma, diabetes and common cancers and could answer the question: “Given humans are all very alike, why do some get sick and some stay healthy?”

A unique partnership

AstraZeneca believes that embedding genomics across its research and development platforms will deliver novel insights into the biology of diseases and enable the identification of new targets for medicines. It will also support the selection of patients for clinical trials and allow patients to be matched with treatments more likely to benefit them.

As a result, the company entered into a long-term partnership with Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) in April 2016 to harness the power of genomic data as part of the launch of its integrated genomics initiative to drive the discovery and development of novel medicines across AstraZeneca’s main therapy areas.  HLI is a company founded by Dr. Craig Venter, a pioneer in human genomics. HLI is creating one of the most comprehensive genomic databases available in the world, comprised of up to one million integrated health records including whole genome, phenotype and clinical data. HLI is also a world-leader in machine learning, pattern recognition and analytical techniques to help interpret genomic data.

The collaboration aims to drive new drug target and biomarker identification and identify specific patients who can respond to treatment. It is unprecedented in scale and scope – the partnership will focus on the genomic sequencing and analysis of hundreds of thousands of samples drawn from AstraZeneca’s clinical trials over the next ten years.

Strategically, the partnership means that validation of targets and biomarkers and personalised medicine can begin and end in humans. For many centuries pharma R&D has relied on pre-clinical models for validation – models that are consistent only in their inconsistency in predicting human disease related events. To have information from human genetics coupled to human phenotypic data that leads to treatments in human diseases means there is less need to translate across species to build confidence in drug discovery approaches. Diseases are often polygenic – caused by a number of gene sequences – and this collaboration will be able to mine out these complexities and point to areas of converging biology where interventional tactics can be applied.

Patient privacy at the forefront

Protecting patients’ privacy is a responsibility that both partners take very seriously and the commitment to maintaining privacy forms a central theme of the collaboration.

AstraZeneca and HLI have set up a number of combined precautions that work to ensure no one who donates a genomic sample for this initiative will be identified from either their genomic or their clinical data.

  • Data access: there are strict rules to restrict access to sensitive data, so that researchers who work with patients’ genomic data are not able to access their personal details.
  • Data security: the database is protected by robust, state of the art security measures.
  • De-identification: Data fields will be removed or aggregated to reduce the risk of identification while preserving the scientific value of the research.

As partners, AstraZeneca and HLI will also ensure that each individual who donates a genomic sample to this initiative has given their consent to do so. Patients already have to give their consent when taking part in a clinical trial, however, AstraZeneca will seek their further optional consent to use samples they provide for genomics research, so that patients can make a properly informed choice.

A commitment to innovation

AstraZeneca and HLI have a shared commitment to develop the most innovative and impactful treatments for patients. By utilising each other’s complimentary expertise and capabilities, the two companies are able to collaborate on an innovative approach that is directly geared to patient benefit.

The collaboration will help build HLI’s extensive expertise in sequencing genomes and enable it to advance the understanding of this data in ways that have not been possible before. By accessing AstraZeneca’s samples, it will also be able to drastically expand its existing genomics database.

The partnership also has the potential to transform AstraZeneca’s drug discovery and development. The deal forms a key element of its recently announced initiative whereby, in addition to working with HLI, it is forming new collaborations with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, and The Institute for Molecular Medicine, Finland.

AstraZeneca has also established an in-house Centre for Genomics Research which will develop a bespoke database comprising genome sequences from an unprecedented two million samples donated by patients in its clinical trials together with associated clinical and drug response data.  Ultimately, data from these genome sequences and associated phenotypic data will mean a better understanding of the underlying drivers of disease and as a result more effective treatments for patients.

AstraZeneca’s partnership with Human Longevity won the 2016 Scrip Awards’ Best Partnership Alliance of the Year category – a fringe event of the Genesis conference taking place in London today.

Written by Iain Comley, Business Development Director, Scientific Partnering and Alliances, AstraZeneca

The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

 

Posted in December 2016, November 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Your Company Culture as You Hire and Expand Into New Markets

I joined the life science talent search sector after a rewarding period as a teacher. It was clear to me in the classroom that if you created the right environment then the students were much more receptive to the curriculum being delivered. This was never easy as you not only had to convince a sceptical group that you were acting in their interests whilst considering that each child would learn and develop at different speeds throughout the course of the year. I often reflect on how similar this is to creating a new company and then forming the right culture.

New people joining a business can have a big impact on the overall performance of the group. If the culture is strong then the existing team will gently re-inforce the expectations, behaviours and key messages of the business when new people come on-board. If the culture is weak then what can get passed on is the individual line manager’s views, which may not be aligned with the leadership.

Great culture and corporate identity are crucial parts when it comes to the successful retention of staff. Understanding exactly what you want your company culture to represent and stand for is the first step. The raw energy of a start-up culture is what can drive the team to work beyond any contractual hours and have them preach passionately about the company’s mission to the taxi driver, friend or relative. It is also what keeps them loyal in a highly competitive market.

Staff will be looking for a culture where they feel they belong. I still recall the powerful Apple TV campaign from 1997 “Think different” and it making me feel comfortable being part of the “Apple” family. Who doesn’t want to be associated with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso or Kermit? Shire pharmaceuticals have got the right idea with two core messages for the business – “to be as brave as the people we help“ and “enabling people with life-altering conditions to lead better lives.” These are noble phrases and make it easy for employees to feel proud to be part of the company and to defend the mission.

The particulars of how team culture is enacted might change and evolve over time, but as long as staff remain motivated by the core values then the culture will persist. That said the culture that has been so instrumental in getting the business to where it is today, may be the very thing that holds it back in the future. Keep an open mind. Be prepared to accept that there are aspects of your culture that may need to change. Disruptive market changes may take the company in a new direction.

One local firm that has successfully transitioned from just 45 to nearly 1,000 staff and from one to 10 offices in a decade is Abcam. How have they maintained their culture? According to Jane Cooke,  Director People & Organisational Development, the key focus has been; scalability, flexibility, adaptability and making sure they kept their entrepreneurial focus by hiring staff who could continue to drive innovation and keep them ahead of the game. They also built a formal culture assessment into their recruitment process. If you can clearly articulate your culture then you can begin to piece together interview questions and assessments that will unearth the presence of these qualities in potential employees. This will seriously help mitigate the risk of hiring the “wrong” person particularly when you may have to hire people who might be working remotely for you.

Don’t be afraid to base culture-related decisions around behaviours that are already delivering unique value to your company. If you’re planning a big office move and the team is spending half their time collaborating in the kitchen, this might be the cue to create more inviting communal areas. If the staff is composed mostly of millennials who always hit their targets, then instituting early-morning start times might work against productivity instead of for it.

Preserving culture in a company that is several times larger than it was a few years ago is difficult and it might not even be a realistic goal. On the positive front culture is a moveable feast. It is adaptable and renewable. Rather than mandating company-wide practices, embrace the notion of individual team culture. Having recently read the excellent “Small Big” by Steve Martin (ex-life science industry) and Robert Cialdini it is clear that small changes can spark big influence and that different units or country teams may need to be allowed to generate their own distinct personalities, as long as they’re all moving in a unified direction in tune with the vision.

Look outside your sector as this may help you spot new ways of supporting employees that will help highlight what top talent is looking for in terms of culture, benefits, compensation and lifestyle. It is useful to remember that culture is made of people – their attitudes, work ethics, and personalities. It is not made out of processes and checklists. Hire well and be open to take on new people who will not only fit with your culture, but who will also add to it.

When bringing on new people take time to introduce them to the history of the company and get them excited about where the business is going.  Inductions are an incredibly important part of this communication. Ensure that the induction takes time to introduce the company and culture to every employee. As businesses grow, one of the biggest problems experienced is that the company starts to develop silos. It is part of human nature to develop connections with people that we feel we have most in common with, however, this can cause problems and weaken the culture at work if the “division” makes others feel alone or not part of the ‘it crowd’.

Think about ways you can still treat people differently so they feel like individuals as you expand. Flexible benefits systems can be very useful in allowing staff to choose benefits that they want during a particular stage of their working life – swapping pension contribution for paid holiday can be a powerful motivational tool. Consider offering events and activities that encourage interaction such as sports clubs, outings or a social committee. These activities can help create friendships and positive working relationships between different departments.

Ultimately culture is a living thing that will change over time and will alter with the number of people and partnerships the company is involved with. Get it right and you can create an environment that will help retain your best staff, energise your innovators and drive sales growth in the business. But be watchful because it can go the other way too.

Written By Tarquin Bennett-Coles, Client Partner, Euromedica

Tarquin.bc@euromedica.com

 The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

 

 

 

Posted in May 2016 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Translating discovery to patient benefits

ON HELIX_corpsite web banner
As a relatively new conference, ON Helix is rapidly becoming established as the key event for translational research in the UK. With a focus on the life science sector, it explores how to turn early stage inventions and ideas into innovative health treatments and provides an ideal forum for industry leaders and experts to share their work and ideas in this rapidly developing area of research.

Nick Lemoine

Today we spoke with Professor Nicholas Lemoine, one of the keynote speakers for this year’s ON Helix. Having completed a physiology degree, medical qualification, clinical training, and a PhD in molecular biology, Professor Lemoine became a group leader at Imperial College, and went on to became the first Clinical Scientist appointed by Cancer Research UK to develop research into molecular biology and cancer therapeutics. He now works as the Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network where his team conducts clinical trials in the NHS, for the NHS; Director of the Barts Cancer Institute in London; and Director of Research & Development for Cancer & Surgery at Barts Health NHS, the largest NHS trust in the UK. Ahead of his keynote at ON Helix, we asked Professor Lemoine a few questions:

Can you tell us a bit about what drove your interest in translational research?
I started my research at the start of the molecular revolution, at the beginning of the true understanding, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Pancreatic cancer was always of particular interest to me, since due to its nature it is particularly hard to detect in its early stages, and just as challenging to treat. This highlighted the need to translate the discovery of malignancy drivers in order to enable early diagnosis and the development of novel therapeutics. Similar work was successfully being undertaken in parallel in other disease areas, which helped to demonstrate the results of this investment to the public (who essentially fund the research through taxes and charitable donations). It’s important that the public can see and understand that this research really makes an impact on the patients.

How do advances in translational science impact the research being undertaken at Barts Cancer Institute?
The Barts Cancer Institute is committed to translating basic discovery into tangible benefits for the population at risk of developing cancer. We take discovery from the lab and move it directly into early phase clinical trials – direct to the unmet clinical need, where we can see the impact on real problems, something that is very important to us as scientists and clinicians.

Have you attended ON Helix in the past? What made you decide to be a keynote speaker this year?
No I haven’t attended the conference in the past, but it looked like it provided a unique opportunity to network with a blend of academic and commercial leaders who are all making advances accessible to people in the real world.

Can you tell us a bit about what you plan to discuss in your keynote address at ON Helix?
Of course – without giving too much away, I plan to talk about harnessing the power of the NHS for clinical research and how the NIHR clinical research network can translate discovery to implementation in healthcare. My address will touch on the major global advances including the scope and scale of the clinical research network and how we provide direct access to patients for clinical studies. This will then be supported with some examples of where progress has been made to improve outcomes for diseases (infectious disease, cancer, etc)

What are you hoping to take away/learn from ON Helix?
I see it as providing a unique opportunity to learn from world leaders across the academic and commercial sectors – where there has been real translation from science to clinical impact.

To find out more from Professor Lemoine, be sure to attend his keynote address during ON Helix 2016 http://www.onhelix.com/ Follow us on twitter @OneNucleus using #onhelix16

Contact Nadia or Polly to learn more about ON Helix.

Posted in April 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Russian Biotech: Bringing Opportunities and Seeking Collaborations

The biotechnology sector is a priority for Russia. Much effort has been made by a range of stakeholders over the last decade in order to accelerate the sector’s development in Russia. This has led to various initiatives, including governmental programmes, a unique system of developmental institutions and infrastructure projects, which have resulted in the creation of emerging biotech startups, venture capital and industry collaborations. However, there is still a lot to be done. This blog aims to showcase the potential for opportunities and collaboration.

The non-profit Skolkovo Foundation is one of the Russian developmental institutions which oversees the creation of the Skolkovo Innovation Center, composed of companies and startups, developing innovative technologies (currently numbering over 1,400), a Technopark, the Skolkovo Institute of Technology (Skoltech), a new graduate research University established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Skolkovo city, located near Moscow. Charged with providing the catalyst for the diversification of the Russian economy, the Skolkovo Foundation’s overarching goal is to create a sustainable ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation, engendering a startup culture and encouraging venture capitalism. All Skolkovo residents receive independent expertise and advice and gain access to various advantages, such as tax exemption, non-dilutive grant financing usually with 50% co-investment and private investment, industrial partners, technopark services and a range of other benefits. Together these entities are establishing a vibrant ecosystem of technology innovation and entrepreneurship. The cumulative revenue of Skolkovo’s startups through June 2015 reached $1 billion. The companies brought in more than $270 million in investment, creating 17,500 jobs and filing over 1,800 patent applications along the way. Over 80 startups placed their offices and laboratories in Skolkovo Technopark. The Skolkovo Foundation has approved 416 grants for the total amount of $236 million. By 2020 over 2 million square meters of residential and office space will be built in Skolkovo with 35,000 people working daily in the Innovation Center.

One of the five key areas of potential growth identified by Skolkovo Foundation is biological and medical technologies. Today the Biomedical Cluster includes over 290 startups, about half of which develop new therapeutics; one-third create new devices; and the rest work in bioIT and cell tech. The main therapeutic areas include oncology (about one-third of all projects), cardiovascular diseases, infections and immunity, neurology, traumas and many others. These companies generate annually growing revenues and IP applications. Many projects have already reached the clinical stage or even entered the market both in Russia and worldwide. Furthermore, last year Skolkovo opened its doors to agricultural and industrial biotech, which has already brought 15 companies into the community.

The whole idea of the Skolkovo Innovation Center focuses on collaborations and integration into the global biotech community. That is why we are encouraging our startups to explore international opportunities and for them to go out with their business, as well as for us to attract many companies all over the world to bring their R&D activities to Russia and receive support for their own business development. Being the most convenient gateway to enter the Russian biotech sector, we welcome collaborative research initiatives and technology transfer. It is also of great importance to us to provide educational and partnership opportunities for those involved in our ecosystem. We arrange multiple events, the most significant of which is the annual StartUp Village https://startupvillage.ru/ which gathers over 10,000 people from around the world.

International collaboration is one of our priorities, and we appreciate our cooperation with UK companies and associations, as well as having a great opportunity to organise joint events with NICE. This year will be significant as we are hosting our first joint workshop with UK Trade & Investment on the pharma and biotech industry in order to identify major mutually interesting areas and to explore business opportunities both for Russian and UK companies. Participants will share their success stories and demonstrate the areas of strong competences which are of high value in external collaboration. Please find the detailed information at http://sk.ru/events/3173.aspx, registration is open at https://biomed.timepad.ru/event/314847/.

So what advantages can one expect when collaborating with the Russian biotech sector and is it worth seeking business development opportunities or scouting for new drugs and medical devices emerging from Russia?

If you’re interested in finding out, do join us on 24-25 May 2016 for the UKTI workshop in Skolkovo, come to the Startup Village from 2 to 3 on June or do feel free to contact us directly at grantbmt@sk.ru.

Written By Krstina Khodova, MD, PhD, Head of Oncology and Immunology Projects in the Biomed Cluster of the Skolkovo Foundation

 The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

Posted in April 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Stock Exchange: Chris Mayo’s view on JP Morgan and the industry at large

In the recently released film ‘The Revenant’ Leo DiCaprio is savaged in grisly (or grizzly) fashion by a bear. Life science executives across the globe had a similar feeling in recent weeks as they faced threat of the onset of a more general bear market and the ensuing (temporary) closure of the IPO market.

Perhaps the tone at industry conferences going forward such as the bellwether JP Morgan Healthcare conference will be more subdued. From an industry perspective, the focus of conversation and meetings at these conferences may increasingly pivot to partnering with industry players rather than pitching investors on the latest capital raise.

The British contingent I have encountered at recent conferences appear to be showing typical resolve perhaps used to a more capital constrained environment in the past but also comforted by the fact that the UK sector has benefited in recent years from an influx of patient capital whose strategy is to take a long view and ignore the short term gyrations of the stock market.

This longer term more upbeat view was also in evidence at the 2nd Future of Healthcare Investor Forum held at the London Stock Exchange a few weeks ago and ably supported by industry partners like One Nucleus, BIA and MedCity. A packed audience of investors and life science industry stakeholders were treated to a broad discussion of life science industry trends with a particular focus on what will be driving investment into the sector. We also heard from a selection of innovative private companies who could in future become standard bearers for the sector on the public markets.

When you consider the recent sizeable private rounds for Inivata and Mission Therapeutics, then it is clear that capital is still flowing into sector. Indeed a key player underlying this investment activity has been Imperial Innovations who themselves raised another £100m in a stock market placing this week.

There are probably two key takeaways from the recent developments in the sector. One, you need to have a plan B when it comes to having strategic financing plan, public market windows open and close without warning but remember, once listed, it is by far the most efficient way to raise equity capital – we saw a substantial rise in life science follow-on offerings from £0.8bn in 2014 to £1.1bn in 2015 and more than 60% of 2014’s UK life science IPO class have already raised follow on capital. Second, you need to take a long term view – go online and take a look at the 5 year index performance charts for the NASDAQ Biotech Index and the FTSE AIM Healthcare Index (+75% over the five years to the end of 2015) – pretty impressive stuff.

We have had more than £2.5bn raised in the UK public markets in the last two years in the sector, representing the best life science issuance environment in over a decade, this capital is now being put to work. I would hope that when we are looking back in 5 years time that we will see that the amount of capital accumulated by UK life science companies in the past few years resulted in stunning innovation and a number of notable successes in the UK public markets.

As for Leo DiCaprio, he survives the bear attack and then what happens to him? I couldn’t tell you, I only saw the trailer but as for the UK life science story probably many twists and turns but as in Hollywood we are hopeful for a happy ending.

Written By Chris Mayo, Primary Markets, London Stock Exchange Group

 The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

Posted in February 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 2015: A Bioscientist’s View

Since the turn of the millennium, the Genesis conference has become one of the highlights of the UK biotech and pharmaceutical industry calendar. It is held in central London every December, always coveres the full range of these industries, covering the basic science behind technological breakthroughs as well as the commercial landscape for developing them. The format has evolved as the sector develops, and now features a mixture of plenary talks and parallel sessions with plenty of time for discussion and debate.

The 2015 Genesis meeting, which was the fifteenth, was held at the prestigious QEII Centre in Westminster on December 10. The conference strapline of ‘Taking Bio-Innovation to a Global Market’ was reflected in different ways in each of four parallel streams that ran through the conference, as well as in the well-attended and interesting plenary sessions. These covered deal structures; empowering technologies; nurturing the innovation pipeline; and international growth. As an academic bio-scientist as well as a writer, I chose to follow ‘Strand B’, empowering technologies, throughout the day and this blog post will reflect on what I learned there.

Genesis_10Dec2015-025

The conference opened with an introduction from Harriet Fear, CEO of One Nucleus that led into the first plenary session. Despite an early start, even this first plenary was extremely well attended: at one point there was standing room only in the largest room in the conference suite. It included short talks on the state of the industry by Richard Mason from Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Mike Ward, Global Director of Content at strategic analysis company SCRIP Intelligence, and a panel debate about the role of technology transfer funds. 2015 had been a year of mixed success in pharmaceuticals, in particular: despite a near record number of FDA approvals of novel drugs, eight of the top 10 global pharma companies were struggling to fill their pipelines. Ward’s talk, in which he summed up the winners and losers in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries in 2015, was particularly interesting. His list of 2015’s winners included rare disease company Alexion Pharmaceuticals, developer of the world’s most expensive drug, and ‘cancer patients’ in general (provided that their insurers or healthcare providers can afford the most innovative new medicines). Losers included Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who became the ‘most unpopular man in America’ when the price of his company’s anti-parasitic drug, Daraprim, from $13 to $750 per tablet.

Genesis_10Dec2015-055   Genesis_10Dec2015-074

Each parallel strand included three panel discussions with linked themes. In the ‘empowering technologies’ stream, those themes were data-driven discovery with ‘omics technologies; the future of immuno-oncology; and new antibiotics and anti-cancer agents. The format differed between sessions, but all included a long time for discussion, and all the sessions I attended had lively discussions with a wide range of opinions voiced.

The ‘omics session was chaired by Abel Utreta-Vidal from Eagle Genomics, based on the Babraham Research Park near Cambridge, UK. He described the rapid advance of human genome sequencing from the first draft ‘reference genome’ in 2000 to ‘population scale’ genomics with, potentially, hundreds of thousands of sequenced genomes. However, today’s bottle-neck is in the analysis of all that sequence data. Integration of data sources across company and country boundaries will be essential if we are to take full advantage of these ever richer genomic data resources. Rachael Ritchie from Genome British Columbia, a not-for-profit research organisation that aims to develop genomics technologies for clinical applications; Tom Weaver from Congenica Ltd and Michael Barnes from the not-for-profit Farr Institute in London gave short presentations, each focusing on a different aspect of the computational, data and analytical infrastructure that will be necessary if the ‘genomics revolution’ is to lead to significant clinical benefit. Several contributors picked up on the leading part that the UK is playing in this industry, thanks to strong collaborations between government, academia and industry and the generous funding awarded to Genomics England.

The second enabling technologies session, on immune-oncology, was chaired by Robert Wilkinson from MedImmune, the biologics arm of pharma giant AstraZeneca. He explained that immuno-oncology – or the development of drugs that target a patient’s immune system and boost its natural ability to respond to cancer cells – is one of the fastest growing areas of cancer drug discovery, with dozens of promising molecules now being tested in hundreds of clinical trials. The rest of the session took the form of a discussion led by Wilkinson and by three panellists, all representing companies involved in developing immune-oncology agents: Tom Lillie of Amgen, Roberto Pierini of APCure, a French company developing therapeutic vaccines, and Namir Hassan from Immunocore. This company, based in Oxfordshire, has developed novel molecules called ImmTACs that bind to both cancer cells and T cells, thus re-directing the T cells to attack the cancer cells. The wide-ranging discussion focused on the need for more specific and less toxic immunotherapies for many cancer types, the value of current pre-clinical models and some of the current scientific and clinical challenges involved.

The pharmaceutical industry in 2015 does, indeed, have many challenges, but there is no shortage of potential drugs. There are almost too many molecules in pre-clinical development and early trials; selecting the best candidates and taking them into the clinic is proving more problematical, not least because of funding difficulties. The third panel session in the ‘emerging technologies’ strand discussed some of these issues, focusing on two important therapeutic areas: cancer and infectious disease. Session chair Flic Gabbay from TranScrip Partners introduced the topic before handing over to her panel. Nicola Thompson, formerly of Roche but now talking in a personal capacity, discussed the problem of funding innovation in infectious disease, until very recently regarded as the ‘poor relation’ of pharmaceutical research. Now, with the Ebola crisis and the threat of antibiotic resistance in the forefront of people’s minds, there is renewed interest in the topic – even by industry – but funding difficulties remain. The EU Innovative Medicines Initiative ‘New Drugs for Bad Bugs’ programme, which funds large-scale public-private collaborations in this area, is one example of a possible way forward. Renata Crome from Cancer Research UK described CRUK’s collaborative approach to ‘de-risking’ the early drug development stages to ensure that the most promising candidates are taken forward into advanced trials. Finally, Richard Pye from Oxford-based Summit Therapeutics compared his company’s strategy for developing a novel treatment for Clostridium difficile treatment with a parallel program to develop disease-modifying therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

This short post can only give a partial view of a very rich conference programme that would have had plenty to offer anyone with an interest in the pharma and biotech industries. Other accounts will doubtless be appearing elsewhere, and I, for one, have already put the date of the sixteenth Genesis conference – 1 December 2016 – in my diary.

Written By Clare Sansom, Freelance consultant and science writer

 The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.

Posted in January 2016, November 2011 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment