Blog: How to make BIO International work for you

Picture: Sandhya Tewari with Melanie Thomson for her initiation to BIO, where the whole of the Petco Park Stadium was converted into party ground for the Welcome Reception.

In June 2017, our General Managers of International and Government, and Education, Skills and Events, Dr Sandhya Tewari and Dr Mel Thomson, went to the 2017 BIO International Convention in San Diego with over 16,000 international contacts in the industry - catch up on Sandhya's insights and tips on how you can get the most out of the valuable and slightly overwhelming experience!

BIO is a party that no one who is even remotely associated with biotech wants to miss. BIO is unparalleled, and has perfected the art of making delegates work hard and play hard. I have been attending BIO for almost 18 years now, attending with my BIO-virgin colleague Melanie Thomson this year. As an academic, she has attended large conferences, probably even double in size than BIO. But boy, did she discover that BIO was something else! The impressive bit is not the 16,000 delegates or 41,000 partnering meetings or thousands of square meters of exhibition space - it is how business gets done in a fun and enjoyable setting. And with my years of experience, I am happy to share my 3-point formula for getting the best out of BIO.

Picture: Sandhya and Mel at the MTPConnect stand in the Australia Pavillion at BIO 2017.

1. Connect and reconnect

Go in early and plan your meetings well in advance. Use the partnering system or your existing connections and lock in those core, critical meetings to give your schedule some structure. Some of our planned meetings included connecting with our counterparts and partner organisations from across the world, as well as big pharma and other organisations looking for opportunities in Australia. For example, through meeting with MilliporeSigma we learnt that they are interested in licensing or collaboration with Australian companies and universities in a range of areas from chemical synthesis design tools, through to expression systems for large molecule drugs. Through this connection, we can now link them up with relevant Australian companies to share learnings and collaborate.

2. Allow yourself the luxury of attending at least some sessions in the Conference Program

These sessions often provide insights about the latest trends, issues or opportunities, and are a great way to get up to date with what’s happening. The Digital Health Summit at BIO was initially at the fringes at BIO, but I was delighted to see how it has developed into one of the mainstream sessions. Leading lights in digital health shared insights on trends and opportunities, such as Steven Steinhubl, Director, Digital Medicine, Scripps Translational Science Institute, who highlighted how they are recruiting one million volunteers for the “All of Us” study as a part of the $120 million grant for precision medicine. I also attended a session organised by the US Department of Commerce that provided an overview by Dave Thomas from BIO on “The State of Life Sciences in the US” highlighting how there are about 6000 drug development programs ongoing although venture capital, down from 6.9 billion. From Elaine Tseng, Partner at King & Spalding LLP, we learnt about the US Life Sciences Regulatory Framework and recent changes in legislation, including how new regulation clarifies and expands requirements for registration of results and adverse events for applicable drug and medical device clinical trials.

Did you know that the The 180,000 sq. feet US Department of Defence (DoD) Biomanufacturing facility has the capability to support development from research through to scale up and licence? Another very useful session that I attended taught us about the DoD/Industry partnership for mutual benefit. The Medical CBRN Defense Consortium (MCDC) which was formed to support DoD’s medical pharmaceutical and diagnostic requirements. The MCDC is currently recruiting a broad and diverse group of interested parties and almost 100 members have already joined. I am sure there is room for a few Aussie organisations/clusters.

3. The most important trick to making the most out of BIO is to leave some unstructured time

Time for Serendipity. Time when you can come back “home” to the Australian stand and reconnect with fellow Aussies and others who just might walk over to the Australian pavilion to look for opportunities in Australia. It was one serendipitous moment when I was having a meeting at the stand when I saw someone walking towards me with a huge smile asking “is this you Sandhya?” It turned out to be my friend from a lab I was working at 25 years ago. Madhu is now running a regulatory and clinical trials consulting business and was invited by Simone Quinn of the MPR Group to come by the Australian stand for the famous wine tasting event. After catching up on what’s been happening in our lives, we were discussing opportunities for clinical trials in Australia and I bet we will see a lot more of her clients look at opportunities to do trials in Australia.

Another serendipitous connection I made was at the DLA Piper organised breakfast session by Lisa Hallie. Lynne Benzion from the Montgomery County in Maryland connected me to Michael Salgaller, from NIH. I visited the National Cancer Institute in Rockville and learnt about the amazing opportunities for companies to engage with the NIH. There are many opportunities for joint projects. Michael’s team does tech transfer for 11 NIH institutes (National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Ageing; National Institute on Minority Health & disparities; National Centre for Complementary & Integrative Health; Centre for Information Technology; National Institute of Drug Abuse; National Library of Medicine; National Institute of Child Health & Human Development and National Eye Institute). If you want to find a researcher who might be interested in your project that you want to do, Michael is the person to connect you to the right contact within any of these or any of the 27 NIH institutes. For projects that are aligned with NIH priorities, it can provide world-renowned researchers and expertise, equipment, materials. NIH can validate your technology and /or test in humans (they have one of the largest clinical trial centres -with a 1000 bed facility). The Tech Transfer office signed 3864 CDAs/CTAs/MTAs and 132 licences in FY2016 so you can bet you are dealing with a well-oiled machine.

Networking events, receptions and parties are when serendipity is at its best at BIO, and Australia put on some of the best. Queensland was in full force with their delegation led by the Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk and their popular networking lunch and reception. the Victorian reception was opened by John Brumby and Michael Kapel. The ever-popular Australian Wine Tasting always takes the cake, with Australian and international delegates alike attending the Tuesday afternoon reception -one day before the other exhibition hospitality receptions kick off. We love this special privilege that BIO bestows upon us, maybe recognising that Australia is ahead of the rest of the world…

Now go forth, and book your hotel in Boston for BIO 2018 - the 25th anniversary of the Convention. Armed with these tips you will be able to embrace the exciting and overwhelming nature of what is set to be an even bigger party.