Reflections from BIO 2011
Last week’s flagship biotechnology industry conference, the BIO International Conference held in Washington D.C., lived up to its promise of bringing together industry thought leaders, technology pioneers, entrepreneurs, and established service providers. Communication forums ranging from informal “meet-ups,” information-rich break-out sessions, partnering sessions and business forum presentations, to the vast exhibition hall with three on-floor theaters, enabled attendees to interact extensively, learn about new technologies, identify potential business opportunities, and understand the current and future drivers in the biopharmaceutical industry.
BPTC was present throughout the conference, including participating in the kick-off 5K run/walk in nearby Bluemont Park, VA, chairing a break-out session on the biomanufacturing capacity, leading a lively panel discussion on the challenges of manufacturing cell therapy products, and participating in several engaging one-on-one partnering meetings. We found the mood at this year’s conference to be optimistic and upbeat giving us the sense that after weathering the significant economic, regulatory, and technical challenges of the past few years, the industry has emerged leaner, stronger, and poised for success in the 21st century marketplace.
Both large and small companies highlighted their efforts to create platform technologies and discover new products that will enable the industry to develop and supply the world with life-saving, cost-effective medicines ranging from vaccines to reduce childhood mortality in developing countries to high tech autologous cell therapies to improve the outcomes for late stage cancer patients. The podium presentations in the biomanufacturing capacity conundrum session highlighted the impact of improvements in manufacturing technology as well as mergers and acquisitions and the globalization of the biopharmaceutical industry that have resulted in an industry-wide aggregate overcapacity. However, with most of this capacity controlled by a few select companies, supply and demand discrepancies could limit smaller companies’ access to production capacity in the future. Following the presentations, a lively discussion ensued as audience members speculated on whether the large-scale manufacturing facilities designed for low titer processes and recently mothballed or shut down by some companies could be re-purposed or recycled for use in manufacturing future biopharmaceuticals using today’s high productivity processes. Session participants also debated the various economies and diseconomies of scale of today’s facilities and processes and the technology barriers and breakthroughs that may change the manufacturing landscape in the future.
The emergence of biosimilar products was also a predominant theme at this year’s conference as it was last year. As we listened to the ever growing number of companies presenting their plans for developing and marketing these products, we begin to wonder what impact this will have on the industry over the next few years. We think that the large number of companies developing biosimilar products will lead to significant competition with many of the smaller companies in this space which will be forced to partner or license their products to compete as it is likely that only those companies with strong financial and marketing resources will be able to achieve any significant market share. Finally, as investors cautiously return to the biotechnology industry, we encourage them to take a long-term view, not hampering product and technology development with unrealistic short-term goals focused more on financial gain than truly adding value. It is important to remember that biopharmaceutical development is a highly risky and unpredictable endeavor that requires careful attention to the day-to-day details of product development without losing sight of the long term goal of bringing new and innovative products to the marketplace to help patients with devastating or life-threatening diseases live longer and healthier lives. By keeping this goal in mind, investors, inventors, and the industry as a whole can and will achieve the “Leadership, Partnerships, and Breakthroughs” which were the objectives of this year’s conference and reap the economic and social benefits of directing our knowledge and energy towards improving overall global health.