New Horizons for Bio Innovation: Top takeaways from OnHelix 2023

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One Nucleus’ On Helix Conference 2023, provided insight into the current climate for Biotech companies, including the international outlook, and what to expect in the future.  

The past few years have been tough for the international Biotech market, with funding, Brexit, new regulations, trade agreements and supply chain issues. Additionally, valuations have fallen and consequently IPO’s have slowed down. However, the number of Life Science and Biotech companies has been growing rapidly, with the UK leading innovation in Europe and is second only to the US.  

Despite these difficulties, the UK and US make up 70% of all VC deals, and the UK has posted a 26% increase in emerging companies, positioning itself well for further investment. 

New Horizons in Genetic Screening 

Genetic screening has become an invaluable resource, ranging from Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), Gene Editing and Therapies to Machine Learning and AI Integration. The ability to analyse multiple genes simultaneously to determine specific conditions has given rise to improved diagnoses and personalised treatments and better patient outcomes.  

As personalised medicines become more common, privacy and ethical concerns around data protection and patient wellbeing are heavily scrutinised. Conversations between patients, data banks, clinical trial sites and companies is essential as patients require, and deserve, transparency on where and what their data is used for.  

Despite all the positive advances seen with genetic screening, it is an expensive exercise and there is no guarantee it will work.   

New Horizons in Paediatric Medicines 

Paediatric medicine is extremely important. However, there is a lack of understanding and research in this area. Most available treatments are tested on adults and their effect on children is not often considered. Children have different physiological and metabolic characteristics compared to adults, which can affect drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. As we continue to understand the nuances of paediatric medicine, researchers need to develop a paediatric plan/adaptive design to run in parallel with the adult clinical trial using age-appropriate formulations and dosage forms to ensure proper drug delivery and safety in children of different age groups. 

Many believe that paediatric medicine legislation should be introduced to protect children against the possible side effects of medications that have only been tested on adults.  

New Horizons in Precision Oncology 

Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADC’s) and cancer vaccines dominate the precision oncology space. These areas have made great strides in the past few years. ADCs represent a significant advancement in cancer treatment, and ongoing research continues to explore new ADC constructs and therapeutic strategies for improved patient outcomes.  

Cancer vaccines have become an extremely attractive area of research. This new method of treatment has the potential to target cancer cells while sparing healthy cells or stimulating the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.  

Despite their potential, it must be noted that challenges remain. In ADC’s, with antibody-antigen binding, selecting the appropriate cytotoxic payload, and managing drug resistance mechanisms, are key issues.  

Cancer vaccines also present obstacles where cancer cells can develop mechanisms to evade the immune system, limiting a vaccine’s effectiveness. Additionally, not all cancers express easily targetable antigens, and the complexity of the immune response to cancer requires personalised approaches. 

Nonetheless, as this area of science continues to expand and advance, patient outcomes will also improve. 

New Horizons in AI-Based Prediction & Prevention 

AI continues to develop at an exponential pace, and the Life Sciences industry is vigorously embracing it.  

AI has the potential to accelerate the drug discovery process by analysing large amounts of chemical and biological data to identify potential drug candidates. AI algorithms are constantly improving and can also predict a drug’s safety profile and efficacy, streamlining the drug development process and bringing new treatments to patients faster. Additionally, AI has the potential to save pharmaceutical companies millions of pounds, whilst shortening timescales.  

However, will these benefits and cost savings reach patients?  

The AI panel also discussed the topic of patient data security. Could it become harder for patients to access their information? What ethics and governance will be involved?  

As AI is still relatively new, these questions can only be answered as we further explore its uses and understand its true potential. 

Longevity Depends on Understanding the Biology 

Understanding Bio-longevity is crucial in understanding how to extend life span without diseases. Further understanding the mechanisms involved in the cellular aging processes, including cell exhaustion and cellular reprogramming, will help to identify potential targets for intervention that may slow or reverse aging-related damage. 

A consideration is that younger and older people react differently to cellular changes. Young people can extend their life through exercise and diet. However, older people cannot put on muscle, and so  drug intervention may be a better route.  

AI can be used to help determine the chronological age of tissue to within a couple of years, helping to choose the correct course of action. These interventions lead to multiple ethical implications and the potential societal challenges related to increased lifespan and population aging. 

When Do Good Neighbours Become Good Business Partners? 

The day ended with a discussion on company location and the help given and received by neighbours.  

The golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London accounts for the majority of university partnerships, but the stake a university holds is often not disclosed, which can put off investors. The panel agreed that the UK does not have an issue with investors, but rather a shortage of capital.  

The panellists discussed the UK’s Life Sciences footprint with data showing that Cambridge University spins-out companies at the same rate as MIT. Unfortunately, the UK does not have the infrastructure to commercialise all these ideas, leading to some companies having to leave.   

There is still a lot of cross border interest in companies and the many deals concluded  each day  supports this, with up to 60% of big pharma’s revenue over the last 10 years coming from partnership deals.  

The discussion ended on AI and Tech. Life Science companies and AI go hand in hand, as AI can speed up many processes. Nonetheless, traditional roles such as biologists/chemists and engineers are still in high demand.  

In conclusion, for there to be successful partnerships there needs to be more transparency and investment, and infrastructure needs to be improved across multiple areas for there to be fruitful collaborations.