November 2, 2023  Print

In June, WIMR’s Adj Professor Ruby Lin was invited by the NSW Government’s Office for Health and Medical Research to attend BIO2023 in Boston, USA. Adj Professor Lin has kindly shared her reflections and learnings from the event.

What is BIO

The Biotechnology Innovation Organisation (BIO) is a prominent global trade association representing the biotechnology industry, bringing together stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and the investment community. The aim is to foster collaboration, highlight innovation, and address challenges in the field of biotechnology (and life sciences).

The theme for this year’s BIO International Convention (BIO2023) was Stand Up for Science! To paraphrase BIO2023, this is a time to inspire, honour and recognise true value of biotech breakthroughs in society.

This year the convention was held in Boston and #TeamAustralia showcased Australia’s fast-growing life sciences sector. A 430-strong delegation from Australia attended BIO2023. This was a great collaboration and coordination between Austrade, CSIRO, the governments of NSW, QLD, VIC, WA and SA and AusBiotech. Senior leaders in attendance included Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley; Queensland Deputy Premier, Hon Dr Steven Miles MP; and South Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Hon Nick Champion MP; as well as many Australian companies, entrepreneurs, and researchers. From what people told me at the Australia Pavilion, this was one of our strongest contingents yet (post-COVID).

I was invited by the NSW Government’s Office for Health and Medical Research (OHMR), in particular, Anne O’Neill and Dr Laura Collie, as a key opinion leader. I was asked to present the efforts of our Prof Jonathan Iredell, Dr Ameneh Khatami and I, as leaders of Phage Australia, in establishing phage therapy as a clinical service in Australia. This was an opportunity for NSW to highlight the State government’s capabilities in Advanced Therapeutics.

I landed in Boston in a foggy rainy evening and had less than six hours to get over travel exhaustion and be prepared for a Monday breakfast session where NSW Health welcomed over 120 delegates.   
I was invited to speak at this breakfast session, and this was my first time presenting at a meeting like this, so I was excited. My co-presenters were Adj Prof Alison Todd, Speedx (Diagnostics) and Dr Deborah Burnett, Garvan Institute (Vaccine).

Day 1 BIOpreparedness NSW

The breakfast session was packed, including a few familiar faces from Australia. Anne O’Neill spoke first and introduced NSW’s capabilities specifically in clinical trials, advanced therapeutics such as phage therapy against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), vaccine development and diagnostics, and investment opportunities. Dr Laura Collie detailed the NSW Government’s bio-preparedness strategies and ecosystem.

I presented about phage therapy as a clinical service and gave several examples of complete eradication of AMR infection from the cases we have treated on the Westmead Health Precinct. Dr Deobrah Burnett gave an overview of AVaTAR program as a unique translational R&D initiative and Adj Prof Alison Todd spoke about the journey of Speedx from a small startup to now specialising in molecular solutions for AMR. All of us expressed our appreciation for the support from OHMR, NSW.

For the next two hours, there was a flow of questions, comments and discussion especially about sovereign manufacturing, regulatory frameworks and partnership with industry. It was a great start to BIO2023.

Many of the Australian contingent then rushed over to the Convention Centre for the group photos and real coffee from our #TeamAustralia coffee cart. Throughout BIO2023, Australian Pavilion was one of the most vibrant and crowded section and this coffee cart may be one of the reasons.
MTPConnect organised an offsite mid-morning session: Australian Women in Life Sciences Leadership – A Global Perspective. They invited women founders, CEOs, board executives, managers and researchers to discuss challenges and opportunities faced by women in the biotech/life sciences industry. We had a stellar panel who shared their journey including Australia's Consul General in New York, Heather Ridout; Dr Foley; Sanofi's Dr Iris Depaz; California Life Sciences’ Sibylle Hauser; Central Pharmacy Logistics Australia's Rima Darwiche; and Kristen Bridge from New Jersey-based Organon and Co. This event was sponsored by Sanofi.

I had no time for lunch because it was straight back to the Convention Centre for my one-on-one meetings. My whole afternoon was taken up by these meetings. Prior to BIO2023, several companies have reached out on the partnering app, so my afternoon meeting calendar was packed from Monday to Thursday. Mornings were for talks, pitch sessions and networking.

On Monday, as soon as the partnering meetings had finished for the day, we were off to the Myeloid Therapeutics’ cocktail function at M Fine Arts Galerie. I thought it was clever to have art and science all in one room. The goal of this cocktail function was to network, so I spent the next 2.5 hours talking.

Considering I only flew into Boston less than 24 hours ago, I was doing well and soldiered on to the next networking session. I ended up getting back to my room after midnight - perfect timing to talk to my kids as they just finished school back in Sydney.   

Day 2 Gingko Foundry tour & Australian Wine Tasting and Networking event

Dr Laura Collie and I took up the Pedi-cab offer from Gingko Bioworks and we toured the Foundry which was situated close to the Seaport District. Ginkgo Bioworks is an American biotech company, and its foundries offers automation and scaling process of organism engineering. I visited out of curiosity, but also to look at possibilities of engineering prototypes of thousands of phages. I was mesmerised by all of their high throughput robotics, chromatography gadgets and in one corner they had about four Illumina sequencing machines. That corner of the room was worth more than $6 million.

In the afternoon, #TeamAustralia held an Australian Wine Tasting event at the Australian Pavilion, serving Australian wine. It was so well attended that people from other booths were taking aerial shots of the crowd that had spilled over to their respective booths. This event was supported by Brisbane Economic Development Agency; NSW Health; Queensland Brain Institute (UQ); and Institute of Molecular Biosciences (UQ and TRI Australia).

Monday was hectic and I was now existing on pure adrenalin, lack of sleep and excitement of giving a talk, having great feedback, plus the fact that I was in Boston.

In the evening, BIO BASH 2023 took place at the Moakley US Courthouse, which is close to the Seaport District and within walking distance of the Boston Convention Centre.

Day 3 BDO Biomanufacturing Breakfast Panel & Cytiva site visit

I attended a Biomanufacturing breakfast session organised by BDO. The panel discussed the changing landscape of biomaufacturing capacity for human therapeutics, including manufacturing technologies, supply chain resilience, manufacturing costs and talent mobilisation. It was good to hear FDA and pharma companies’ experience in biomanufacturing.I took the learnings back to Phage Australia, especially in our conversations with the TGA.

As soon as this breakfast session was finished, we headed just out of Bostome for a Cytiva site visit. We met the Cytiva team who took us through their operations, with careful considerations and detail. Each one of the Cytiva team is so passionate about their work – it was lovely to have such an immersive experience. It was very useful to see the placement and functionality of the machines in a workflow which will help with our phage production pipelines here at Westmead.  

Day 4

Last day of BIO2023. I went to a morning session: Fireside chat with Prof Ernst Kuiper who talked about collaboration between healthcare and biotech, and innovations that guide public health in the Netherlands. A statement he made resonated deeply with me: data is future. He gave many examples from his experience as a gastroenterologist, a former CEO of the largest hospital in the Netherlands and currently the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport in the Netherlands. Dr Branwen Morgan (CSIRO) asked a poignant question on parallels in our respective countries dealing with AMR.

I attended my last few meetings in the morning and decided to help out at the Australian Pavilion. It was an interesting experience from the perspective of fielding great questions from people about Australian life sciences and biotech companies.

It was a memorable trip, and I can’t possibly list the number of people I’ve met and spoken to. I’ve collected so many business cards and scanned so many LinkedIn QR codes that, even now, I am still processing them. I’ve made new connections, many of whom I now catch up with regularly as a mentor or as friends. Some of them I also see at AusBiotech and BioNSW events.

BIO2023 by numbers

  • 20,559 registrants
  • 57,044 partnering meetings
  • 47 States (from USA)
  • 73 countries
  • 1,540 Exhibiting Companies
  • 37% C-Suite Level Attendees

My top tips for attending a BIO International Convention

  • Prepare your meetings and, if possible, bring your business development manager to meetings.
  • Don’t be shy. People expect you to network so walk up to people and start talking.
  • Deals are not made in one meeting – build relationships that last. I’ve met people who told me they met their investors four years ago, but opportunities aligned much later. Maintaining the relationship is key.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – you will be doing a lot of walking.
  • Drink lots of water and have breaks often – don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Sometimes useful conversation happens through serendipity.
  • Check with Austrade about functions before, during and after BIO, and get yourself to these functions – you never know who you will meet.