Meeting reflection - BIO2023, Boston, USA, 5-8 June 2023
Ruby CY Lin
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.I 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. My co-presenters at this breakfast session were Adj Prof Alison Todd, Speedx (Diagnostics) and Dr Deborah Burnett, Garvan Institute (Vaccine).
The road to BIO2023
OHMR team (Michelle Havill, Dr Julia Warning) organised regular meetings leading up to the breakfast session. We worked on our respective presentations, strategy, optics and discussed replies to questions, and techniques to avoid any comments that are deemed too political. The team who was presenting (Anne, Laura, Alison, Deborah and I) met in person, in May, to finalise the talks.
It took more than 24 hours, including a short stop over at San Francisco, to get to Boston from Sydney. I landed in Boston in a foggy rainy evening – not the best first impression of the city, but it quickly grew on me. I 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 to breakfast from 7am onwards.
I was invited to speak at this breakfast session. This was my first time presenting at a meeting like this, so I was excited.
While I was waiting for my luggage in Boston, I checked my WhatsApp from #TeamAustralia contingent (organised by Shaun McAlpine – Director of Trade & Investment, Americas, Investment NSW) and reconciled that I have missed Kevin Rudd (current ambassador of Australia to the US) by a couple of hours! MTPConnect organised this Australian Global Network and Business Reception on Sunday evening to bring #TeamAustrali’s biotech leaders and international guests together but I can tell you that, from LinkedIn, Twitter/X and WhatsApp posts, everyone just wanted a photo with Kevin Rudd!
The program for BIO2023 is scheduled here: https://www.bio.org/events/bio-international-convention/schedule and here are my highlights.
Day 1 BIOpreparedness NSW
It was a 6am start and I desperately needed a coffee, before taking an Uber to Westin Seaport Hotel for our breakfast session. I thought about walking there for a few seconds, but it was freezing. Considering it should be summer in Boston, everyone I saw thus far were wearing long coats. I did not pack well.
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 an 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. The audience laughed at my phage spray on bacon joke. In fact, Dr Merran Cooper (CEO of Touchstone Life Care) told me weeks after, that quite a few people who attended that breakfast was talking about the bacon* and phage spray at the Australian Pavilion afterwards. I was approached afterwards by several companies wanting to either collaborate or make phage products for us. 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.
It was also the first time I have coffee that came out of a carton, and I had a brief chat with Dr Foley but forgot to take a photo! I will write a reflection about this session later. I probably would not get a meeting with Dr Foley regularly but here at BIO2023, I saw her almost every day. I am starting to appreciate face to face meetings again.
I had no time for lunch because it was straight back to the Convention Centre for my one-on-one meetings. My registration was premier access which meant I had access to the BIO’s One-on-One Partnering system (on the website and as a phone app) that enables scheduling of meetings with delegates who are looking for potential partners or investment opportunities. The meetings are scheduled for 30 minutes and at 25 minute mark, a bell would go off to signal wrapping up, and the next lot of meeting would take place. Business Forum Zone A-C of the Boston Convention Centre were constructed as the meeting place, each zone had at least 4 rows of about 20 booths in tandem, and each booth contains one round table and 4 chairs. You go to the designated room e.g., BF-C652 to take a meeting. The scheduling app tells you where the next meeting would take place. The app algorithm is quite good so my meetings for one afternoon would all be in one Zone for example. My whole afternoon was taken up by these meeting and I clocked up more than 20k steps each day.
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 travelled with Dr Julia Hill but met with several CEOs including Lisa Nelson, Mario Pennisi, and folks who works in Boston (there are too many to name individually). 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.
Myeloid Therapeutics is a clinical stage mRNA-immunotherapy company who just completed a $73 million USD financing led by Hatteras Investment. Daniel Getts is the CEO and co-founder and he has a very close connection to NSW. His successful journey from Sydney to the US, and back to Sydney resonated so well amongst the start-up crowd.
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. I took a photo (with permission) and joked with Laura that this corner of the room is worth more than $6 million. She found my enthusiasm amusing as I chuckled quietly at all the latest (and expensive) gadgets they had in this massive warehouse. Their working spaces were of similar design to offices I’ve seen at Google, each had marine themes on the glass door, fully stocked kitchen with fancy drinks and sleep/work pods.
In the afternoon, #TeamAustralia held an Australian Wine Tasting event at the Australian Pavilion (booth 2765) 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).
I took advice from experienced folks who have been to BIO every year for over 10 years who always managed to meet all the folks at the Australian Pavilion, so I rescheduled my meetings in order to have at least some break. At this wine tasting event, I caught up with Dr Richard Alm (CarbX), Dr Erica Kneipp (CSIRO), Professor Julie Cairney (USYD Pro Vice-Chancellor), Dr Julia Hill (CMRI), Dr David Lloyd (Southern Star Research Pty Ltd. He gave the best pre-departure briefing!), Hanh Hoang (Investment NSW), Daniel Barton (Garvan Institute), Sam Adamson (PharmaSols CRO), Marcin Los (Phage Consultant), Dr Dharmesh Patel, Joseph Dang (Cell Therapy & Gene editing process development), Barbara Kienast (Graythan Regulatory Services) and many others. Caroline Duell (Director of Media and Comms, MTPConnect) interviewed Australian delegates during this function, including me for the MTPConnect’s Podcast series, https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/team-australia-doing-business-at-bio-2023-in-boston/id1453637211?i=1000622889609. Kylie Ahern (STEM Matters) also made a video of KOLs from NSW, including me talking about phage therapy for OHMR press release.
In hindsight, Monday was crazy and 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. We meandered through check points including a metal detector and arrived at a function with food, open bar, live band, and sponsor booths. The dress code was 80’s themed. Laura and Anne were on point. One of the memorable conversations that evening was with Mario Pennisi who told me that he organised a young artist, William Barton to play didgeridoo on the mezzanine of the Courthouse at BIO event almost a decade ago and the delegation loved the fact that the sound reverberated through the whole space. It turned out I met William recently through Dr Natasha Kumar at the Opera House. What a small world!! Mario also introduced me to some great contacts from Japan.
I was told that as long as you have a BIO2023 badge, you can crash almost all related parties in Boston and they love Aussies. It is so true. Some people rolled on to a party close by, but I needed sleep if I was going to make the 7.30am breakfast session the next day.
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, I met with Jon Ince and Stephen O’Sullivan (Cytiva) who organised a 45 min Uber ride out of main Boston for a Cytiva site visit. I had a quiet chuckle that Sartorius is right next to Cytiva when we drove into this industrial area (pity I didn’t get a chance to take a photo). We met the Cytiva team who took us through their operations, with careful considerations and detail. The tour took longer than expected but I didn’t mind because my feedback to Jon Ince was that 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.
Back at the Convention Centre, I queued up for a free juice and entered a competition to go to BIO2024 in San Diego. While in the queue I also listened to the folks who were doing pitch sessions next door.
Unfortunately I must have caught something as I fell quite ill in the evening and missed out on going to both the C14 Foundation’s Annual Charity Gala, https://thec14foundation.org/charity-gala-2023/ and the BIO2023 evening reception at MGM Music Hall at Fenway.
Last day of BIO2023. I was feeling better and 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.
Considering the prior evening’s parties didn’t finish until 2am, this session was well attended. I attended my last few meetings in the morning and decided to help out at the Australian Pavilion with Lorraine Chiroiu (CEO of AusBiotech and Anne O’Neill (acting Director, OHMR), as one of the supports caught COVID. It was an interesting experience from the perspective of fielding great questions from people about Australian life sciences and biotech companies. Plus, they all wanted to grab a koala clip-on.
I finally had a sit-down meal at the Barking Crab, with Anne, Laura and Deborah before I flew out of Boston. I realised that I had not eaten properly during the last 4 days (no time). I did manage to have the famous Boston seafood chowder and lobster, finally.
The only tourist thing I did was going into the Boston Tea Party shop to get some souvenirs for folks at work and my kids, and I walked part of the Heritage walk through a section of Boston Common on the way to pick up my luggage from my hotel, and then to airport. I slept most of the way back, but I binged on John Wick 1-4.
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 as I write this in October, 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 the numbers
- 20,559 registrants
- 57,044 partnering meetings
- 47 States (from USA)
- 73 countries
- 1,540 Exhibiting Companies
- 37% C-Suite Level Attendees
AusBiotech released a report on 3rd of August 2023 on increasing investment from US into Australian biotechs. See here: https://www.ausbiotech.org/news/new-ausbiotech-report-shows-increasing-us-investment-in-australian-biotechs
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.
- Pack comfortable clothes suitable for day to night events – you won’t have time to change!
- 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. Note to self – I’d like a photo with Kevin Rudd next year.