By Dr Kristophe Diaz, Big3Bio East Coast Consultant
Last week, MassBio’s annual meeting was a very special gathering for several reasons, with one standing out: the nation’s oldest biotechnology trade association was celebrating its 30th anniversary, and it was an occasion to reflect and realize how far the industry has come in those 30 years – and how it must deal with the challenges ahead.
“Over the next two days, we’re going to hear about an industry that in some ways has progressed light years since 1985,” said Bob Coughlin, MassBio CEO, in his opening statement. “Today, Massachusetts is home to nearly 60,000 biopharma employees, 21 million square feet of lab space and companies with 1,500 drug candidates in the pipeline. Still, we continue to advocate for policies and regulations that incentivize innovation, and we strive to find new treatments and cures for hundreds of diseases that don’t have them. We are taking time this year to reflect back on where we’ve been and on the people and companies who have made us what we are today, while at the same time engaging in the conversations that will define who we will be 30 years from now.”
The event was one of MassBio’s best-attended annual meetings with more than 400 participants. Focusing on the many trends that are driving the state’s biotechnology evolution, the dominant themes of the event were big data, alternative sources of funding, externalization of R&D, new partnership paradigms, personalized medicine, and the redefinition of the value equation.
Kathy Guisti, founder and executive chairman of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, was the first keynote speaker, and with emotion and strength, she shared her vision of a world where patients understand their disease. She told her story of battling cancer, how she became a patient advocate, and used her business and leadership skills to change how research is done. She described the multifaceted partnerships that are managed in her foundation, and how these collaborations are a necessity for the successful eradication of complex diseases.
Panels included topics on: precision medicine, trends in healthcare technology, innovative ways to fund your early-stage company, and more. During the panel titled “Defining Value,” Sarah K. Emond, COO of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, led the conversation on this important topic: She noted that the past 12 months have seen a tipping point concerning the focus on value and health care. She pointed out that the industry must go beyond providing information to the patient, that healthcare must take in account the patient journey. Glenn Batchelder, founder and board member at Civitas Therapeutics (and chairman of the board of directors at MassBio), added that the industry understands the landscape is changing and that it recognizes that patients are waiting – and that the effort and progress can not stop.
During the Innovative Leadership Award Luncheon, a few distinguished industry and academic leaders were recognized for their contributions, notably:
- Mark Levin, co-founder of Third Rock Ventures, received the prestigious Henri A. Termeer Innovative Leadership Award for his commitment to improving patient lives and strengthening the life sciences community in the state and beyond. Third Rock launched many well-known companies including Agios, Foundation Medicine, bluebird bio, and Editas Medicine.
- Michael F. Collins, chancellor of UMASS Medical School, was presented with the MassBio Leading Impact Award for his effort to promote and develop much needed partnerships between the life sciences industry and the Massachusetts state school system.
In a highly-praised closing keynote, Dr. Andrew Lo, director of the laboratory for financial engineering at the MIT Sloan School of Management, presented novel methods to efficiently fund the discovery of new therapies and to leverage the risk of early research and development. His final comments urged the industry to connect the quality of life with the length of life and what we pay for it. Coughlin then reminded the audience about the importance of value and patient-centricity; these important concepts were mirrored in the new mission statement he unveiled: “To advance Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system and improve patient lives.”
Photo credit: Sean Browne