• John Storella

Copy of Five Take-Aways From BIO 2017

I just got back from BIO 2017 in San Diego. BIO is crowded and chaotic. But it always leaves me energized and inspired about biotechnology. Here are five take-aways from my BIO 2017 experience.

1.     Low Sequencing Costs + Computing Power + AI = Magic

The highlight of my BIO experience was Craig Venter’s keynote speech at the Personalized Medicine track. Venter’s company, Human Longevity, is taking advantage of decreases in sequencing costs, increases in computing power and artificial intelligence to uncover profound connections between genotype and phenotype. Human Longevity has sequenced 44,000 human genomes. No doubt, this large number significantly reduces noise and boosts signal in genomic data. Besides identifying genes correlated with a number of disease states, Human Longevity is able to predict complex phenotypes. In one astounding example, Venter projected a photograph of a face and a nearly identical picture of the face as predicted by artificial intelligence from genetic information. We can only guess what other secrets lie there.

2.      Section 101: It Will Take An Act Of Congress

Patent attorneys who work in biotech are all struggling with Myriad-Mayo-Alice-Ariosa line of cases. These decisions have significantly narrowed the scope of subject matter eligible for patent. At a session dedicated to the current state of the law, the speakers talked about its impact, and where we go from here. One speaker told of a university that was unable to finalize a licensing deal on a diagnostic invention because the patent application had been rejected under Section 101.

The panel agreed that the courts are not going to improve the situation, and that real improvement can only come with an act of Congress to change the law. Both the AIPLA and the ABA have proposed changes to Section 101 that would, essentially, overrule these cases. Will Congress act? Former Director of the USPTO, David Kappos, said that members of Congress pay attention when they learn that both Europe and China are issuing patents on inventions currently ineligible in the US. But he also pointed out that your position on 101 depends on whether you are a producer of technology or a consumer of it – Consumers of others’ IP are more comfortable with new regime. This is consistent with my experience -- many producers of multiplexed genetic tests want a free genome.

3.      “The Process Is The Product”

Speakers in two different sessions said something I’d never heard before: “The process is the product”. That is, making complex biomolecules, such as antibody-drug conjugates, requires significant know-how, as knowledge of process details is necessary to make a marketable product. The know-how constitutes a company’s trade secrets. Therefore, procedures to protect trade secrets are critical to any company in which the devil of manufacture is in the details. Protections can include limiting the number of employees who know the trade secrets, monitoring the transfer of files out of the company and impressing upon departing employees their responsibilities of confidentiality. Finally, trade secrets should be distinguished from confidential information, which, in the context of a non-disclosure agreement, may have a time limit to remain confidential.

4.      Is Biotech At An Inflection Point?

Is it just me, or do you also have the feeling that biotech is at an inflection point? Advances in personalized medicine, oncology and the microbiome are accelerating and were all on display at BIO 2017. It's about time that biotech improves our lives as dramatically as the progress in the electronic technologies have over the past two decades.

5.      The Serendipity Effect

Whenever you get 16,000 people together in one place, there’s bound to be some serendipity. You run into into friends you haven’t seen in years, meet new people working in areas you know very little about, and get a chance to talk with luminaries in the field that you otherwise might never encounter. Of course, it's all lubricated at the numerous receptions and parties. Have you ever heard of PABNAB (“Party At BIO Not Affiliated with BIO”)? BIO is an expensive trip, but it's worth it.