On Day 3, the Good Day BIO Team brings you exclusive interviews with BIO’s Phyllis Arthur, Novavax’s John Trizzino, and BioGENEius winner Okezue Bell, who developed a new prosthetic for amputees. Plus, we have clips from the not-to-be-missed BIO Unbound.
Transcript Bio Convention Day 3 – Wednesday
Welcome to day three of Good Day BIO live coming to you from the 2022 BIO international convention in San Diego, California.
I’m Tetiana Anderson.
This week is about a return to togetherness so we can solve the challenges of today and the future.
It’s thanks in part to the delivery of 12 billion vaccines worldwide.
Now, thousands of innovators, experts in immunology, biotech business leaders, federal officials, young BioGENEiuses, right here on earth, and astronauts in outer space are digging in.
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren is docked at the International Space Station doing experiments on the effects of microgravity.
Dr. Kjell Lindgren, NASA Astronaut: I would encourage those of you who are at the conference today to think about how this orbital laboratory, how the weightless environment could serve as an inspiration or a great environment for your field of research.
TA: As private space travel ramps up, companies are increasingly conducting research in orbit in order to launch product development on Earth.
And speaking of Earth, experts are anticipating the next pandemic.
Some say it’s not a matter of if, but when.
I spoke with John Trizzino of Novavax about how prepared he is for what might be next and how he felt when he realized his company had a vaccine that could combat Covid-19.
Interview with John Trizzino of Novavax
TA: When did you first realize you had a vaccine that would work against COVID and how did you feel when you heard that?
JT: We had signals that we were going to have a good vaccine for COVID. We had experience already with a coronavirus for SARS and MERS several years before, a combination with our technology platform or recombinant protein nanoparticle, so we took that to the discovery team and we knew that we had the foundational elements for that to be a success. We certainly didn’t know for sure until we started our Phase I/II trial in Australia.
TA: How big a role do public-private partnerships play in developing these vaccines, whether it’s COVID or something else?
JT: For us it was a significant benefit. We received early money from an organization called CEPI. They were there from the very beginning, funding that Phase I/II trial, and making sure that we had manufacturing scale-up work being done. And then, of course, later on from the US government, some initially $1.6 billion. All that allowed us to develop at a significant pace and do things in parallel. We took development and clinical risk by running those activities in parallel that normally would take 6 to 8 years. Therefore, we were able to accelerate all this work and do it in a period of one to two years.
TA: Speaking about acceleration, we’ve heard talk about developing the next vaccine for the next pandemic in about 100 days. How possible do you think that is?
JT: I think it’s extraordinarily possible. The reason for that is we knew we had a vaccine that went into a Phase I/II trial. Now, I always like to say that good ideas are only as good as their execution. So, a hundred days is a great idea. But you have to be prepared for that. You have to have manufacturing support. You have to have regulatory support. You have to have some prior experience with some of these emerging infectious diseases. But if those elements are in place, then certainly that’s possible.
To vax or not to vax. That’s a question for Phyllis Arthur. She’s an infectious disease expert for BIO. With hesitancy in some communities around COVID and other vaccines, I asked her about tech innovations that could change the way some people think about getting immunized.
Interview with Phyllis Arthur from Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO):
TA: What kind of vaccine innovations have struck you most? What are you paying attention to?
PA: I’m actually really excited about many of the technologies that came out of COVID. So, obviously we’ve all talked about mRNA – a very unique technology that’s been in development for a little over a decade and has revolutionized the ability to develop vaccines for multiple different viruses very quickly.
In addition, it actually is applicable to building therapies. Otherwise, there are other technologies that are older that are actually getting a reinfusion, like protein recombinant technologies, things we’ve used for vaccines in the past, but now they’ve become more exciting and more interesting. So, there’s a lot happening that could lead to great vaccines in the future.
TA: What’s your advice to people who may still be hesitant?
PA: I think the thing I’ve been saying to people for the last couple of years is “ask the questions.” And to a provider, it’s okay for someone to have questions.
We shouldn’t be defensive as vaccine advocates for someone having a perfectly legitimate question about why they should get something, or why a family member should.
Instead, we should listen and understand what’s underneath the subtext of why someone is concerned. Is it that they had an adverse event, or they know a family member, or is it that they think they’re not at risk? Is it that they think that something’s being done to them that’s not fair in the healthcare system?
Understanding that actually gets people to “yes.” And I think it’s the same thing we apply to any other ‘convincing’ we need to do on something.
McKinsey & Company showcase their latest research on venture investment trends in technology. Senior partner Olivier Leclerc says that, while the market represents challenges right now, it also presents opportunities for companies with innovative science.
Olivier Leclerc from McKinsey & Company: This is a difficult market and a difficult environment. Of course, funding has pretty much dried up for many biotech companies. This being said, we see two things.
One – Many biotechs were savvy enough to raise money at the right time. And so, if you look at biotech at the end of 2021, for those who had IPO’d, about 40% of them had about $250 million in cash or more. So, they have actually some runway to go through that cycle.
Two – Ultimately science matters.
I see some very small companies that actually still get funded because they have exciting science; they have an exciting team.
And you see some deals happening, some big pharma actually buying or partnering with small companies today.
So, I would say, yes, it’s a tough environment. It’s actually a challenging environment, but essentially the people who are getting funding right now are probably very promising, and ultimately they have promising science.
BIO and the global nonprofit AUTM released a report that details the economic contributions of university and nonprofit inventions. The report found that licensing of academic patents contributed up to $1.9 trillion to the US economy and supported 6.5 million jobs in the last 25 years.
This whole week has been about partnerships.
I spoke with BIO’s Peter Pellerito about what it takes to strengthen the biotech workforce.
Peter Pellerito: Talent is incredibly important for our industry of the future. It is the people that will make the difference in making products, doing research, and providing opportunities in the workplace for a variety of audiences.
“Public-private partnerships to support our industry are incredibly important, and for us to be successful in the future, we need to strengthen those partnerships, both in the public sector and private sector environments,” Pete Pellerito stated.
And BIO’s Mackensie Vernetti says that industry partnerships are important too.
Mackensie Vernetti: These partnering meetings really bring about the collaboration and innovation that is necessary to bring medicines and cures to patients. They’re a path to partnership whether that’s securing a licensing deal for a drug or funding for a brand new compound, or even introducing a new biotech to the next great manufacturer. It’s really all about bringing cures and relief to patients faster. We already have over 44,000 meetings scheduled and that number is growing by the hour. But we’re having more and more meetings out here on the floor as well. I’m seeing business cards being traded on the fly very often.
And a cautionary note to all you adult geniuses out there. Your future competition is here.
Okezue Bell a 16 year old from Pennsylvania is officially on his way to a stellar career in biotech.
He won the $7,500 BioGENEius award. I caught up with him post-victory. He told me about his plans for the future and about his current work developing a new kind of prosthetic for amputees.
Announcer: It’s a pleasure to be here this morning in person to announce the grand prize winner of the 2022 International BioGENEius Challenge.
OB: So what my project did was I designed and developed a low-cost and robust prosthetic arm for individuals with below-the-elbow amputations, called trans-radial amputations. Despite them actually being a small portion of the amputee population, trans-radial amputations are sort of like a difficult slope to overcome for bio technicians because of the fact that the hand is so complex. What I did was I sought to investigate why prosthetics today aren’t achieving adequate functionality and why they’re so expensive. I then developed a low-cost prosthetic that could achieve really high functionality with a minimal amount of materials.
TA: So, how did you even think to do this? I mean, what was your inspiration behind this project?
OB: Both my parents are engineers and I’ve always been really interested in bio, so I had the lucky experience of being surrounded by technology. But then I was an organization volunteer for Billion Strong, which is a global disability organization. Through there, as this kind of youth mentor, I get to speak to a lot of individuals with disabilities. So, I was on a Zoom call with the rehabilitation hospital and I met an amputee who had fallen off of his motorcycle and gotten gangrene. Because of that infection, his arm had to be cut off. He talked about how $15,000 and three months of rehabilitation later, he received a prosthetic that was painful and difficult to use. So, I thought, with the wealth of technology we have available to us today, why not create a solution?
TA: That’s so amazing!
OB: Thank you!
TA: Where are you hoping all of this takes you? Do you see a future for yourself in the biotech industry?
OB: I definitely hope so. I hope to major in something biotech-related. Perhaps a mixture of biomechanical engineering and computer science. So, I’ll have that research aspect. And then perhaps a minor in policy. It’s a very ambitious college experience, but I hope to really mix this science and technology that I’m so interested in.
TA: Before we get to what we’re watching today, we’ll leave you with some highlights from the BIO Unbound Speaker series on Tuesday.
Seema Kumar from Johnson & Johnson: This morning’s speakers are disruptive thinkers. They are doers with audacious ideas that I think will change the way you look at human mortality, global security, and science as a force for good and for social change.
Laura Deming, The Longevity Fund: We certainly don’t know whether death’s inevitable, and it likely is. But the linkage between chronological age and health is certainly empirically malleable. We should be doing more to preserve function in the portion of our population that suffers the most from ill-health. A dichotomy only made them more clear during the past two years. The last 50 years of your life can be the first 50 years of the next phase of your career; a world of limitless potential.
Dr. Alaa Murabit, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: In Valerie Hudson’s Sex and World Peace, she highlights that the most significant predictive factor of state stability is not GDP or military strength, but rather the status and rights of women. So, the exclusion of women from decision-making creates greater insecurity for all of us.
And restricting women’s reproductive rights impacts health, limits economic mobility, erodes trust in government, and makes women less inclined or able to take on positions of leadership.
Online Speaker: Tell me about your new book.
Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO: We need to start demanding immediate benefits all over the globe. And that’s what the book is about. It’s taking the stories of so many BIO member companies and shows how their technologies, properly harnessed and distributed, can be a fuel for justice. And we call it ‘just science.’ So, I hope that this humbling moment we’re facing as a globe makes more people turn to the promise of science. To get us up off of our knees.
On the convention schedule today, we’ll hear from four time Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams. Emmy nominated sports reporter Erin Andrews will talk to her about a health journey that changed the tennis star’s life. The vital transformation session is set to look at bringing new therapies for unmet health needs to the market. There’s a discussion on the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance and a conversation on the role of regulatory policies in driving drug development. And be sure not to miss the closing reception. It’s aboard the USS Midway starting at 7PM tonight.
Remember, you can get all the convention’s highlights in Good Day BIO or BIO.news and right here with me on the next episode of Good Day BIO Live. It airs at 7AM. Pacific. And if you are not already getting Good Day BIO in your inbox, visit BIO.org or BIO.news for all the top stories. And if you’re posting on social media, don’t forget to use the hashtag #BIO2022.
We’ll see you right back here tomorrow.