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8th Boston Bioforum - 2015 CABA Annual Conference

May 9, 2015

Reported by Carrie Liu, Daniel Dai, Ellen Fan

The 8th Chinese-American BioMedical Association (CABA) Annual Conference - Boston BioForum, was held on Saturday, May 9th, 2015, at the Double Tree Suites Hotel Boston. The theme of the Conference this year is “Shaping biomedical industry through collaborative innovation”. More than 300 CABA members, guests, and representatives of event sponsors were gathered together, discussing hot topics in global biomedical innovation and business development, rare diseases, and the pharma- and biotech- industry in China.

Conference Chair, Eric Shi, gave opening remarks, first welcoming all of the attendees from the US and China, followed by a brief overview of the day’s agenda.

Following CABA-president, Zhiyong Yang’s introduction of the organization, the Consul of China, from the New York City, Ms. Xiaolin Guo, stepped on the podium. She commended the continuous efforts of CABA in bringing scientists and professionals together to share ideas and business opportunities. She said Chinese pharmaceutical sector showed the highest growth rate for the recent years. A favorable environment will position it to have even greater growth in 2015 and beyond. Consul Guo concluded her speech by indicating that CABA has played and will continue to play an important role in information exchange and global collaboration.

Session chair Wendy Yang started the morning session, Innovation in Industry and Academic Research, and introduced the first speaker, Dr. Seng H. Cheng, Head of Research and Early Development-Rare Disease Science at Genzyme. Dr. Cheng outlined the programs of Genzyme’s Rare Disease business unit leveraging both in-house development and strategic acquisitions/parternership. Then he gave more details about Gaucher disease, a type of Lysosomal Storage Disorder (LSD ), for which Genzyme recently developed the only first-line oral treatment, as an alternative to conventional intravenous infusions of enzyme replacement therapy.

The second talk in the morning session was given by Dr. Peter H. Reinhard, Director of the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Reinhard explained that IALS has been exploring a horizontal structure that ties together all university departments; once areas of translational research (instead of basic research) are determined, the institute connects the academic research with various industrial partners to foster innovation. IALS serves as training institute for students to become biomedical entrepreneurs as well as providing contract research laboratories for industrial partners who seek for more resources.

Continuing the innovation theme, Dr. Craig Wegner from AstraZeneca talked about AZ’s Open Innovation Program. AstraZeneca made its early clinical and discovery compounds available to private investigators and government agencies; this has resulted 19 new projects many of which will have clinical readouts in the near future.

For the first time, a new Luncheon Seminar was added this year, accompanied by the usual vendor show. Hosted by Dr. Daniel Dai, two Chinese CROs and one local scientific organization showcased their services and products to the audience.

Attendees to the CABA conference were inspired not only by advances in scientific research, but also by the most recent status and emerging trends in pharma- and biotech-industries in China. The early afternoon session chaired by Dr. Yihan Wang featured speakers from two well-known CROs in China. Dr. Hui Cai and Dr. Jim Li shared their perspectives on collaboration, convergence and the contract research market in China. Dr. Cai, VP of Wuxi AppTec, gave her perspectives of the future drug R&D and personalized treatment and precision medicine in the business plan of Wuxi AppTec. Besides “pills”, disease-prevention and diagnostics are the future, she concluded. When answering a question about what Wuxi would look like in ten years, Dr. Cai was very confident that Wuxi would continue to be the large integrated platform company bringing global health to the next level.

Dr. Jim Li, CEO of Sundia summed CROs the best by saying: “we (CROs) don’t make drugs, but we make drugs cheaper and faster.” Considering the many challenges ahead, he emphasized that both favorable Chinese government policies and favorable industry trends would support future sustainable growth of the CRO market.

Continuing the innovation theme, the second session of the afternoon looked at innovation from different perspectives, but with same driving forces. Dr. Katherine J. Turner, SVP & CSO of Scholar Rock, told her story -- from academia to a start-up company. She emphasized the importance of tumor microenvironment for the cancer therapy and explained the challenges and sophistic means of targeting some key signaling proteins, such as TGFβ.

Dr. Zhong Zhong, VP of External Research and Innovation at Vertex then held the attention of audience by comparative case-studies of drug discovery innovation - between Boston and Shanghai. Both cities play leading roles as the hub of new drug R&D in the US and China, respectively.

The popular panel discussion on career development again attracted many young professionals as well as experienced scientists, who would like to venture out in developing their careers in the US or in China. Panelists from area pharmaceutical companies and China returnees shared their personal experiences.

Lauren Celano, CEO of Propel Careers said the key is to be open about ideas and keep networking. She also said if you felt too comfortable at your job, it is time to make a change. Dr. Yihan Wang, who recently returned to China, to establish his own drug discovery company after spending 16 years at Ariad, encouraged the audience to open their eyes for opportunities beyond their own area/subject. Opportunities do not just come to you, all panelists agreed. Pursuing it with passion is the very first step toward your dream.

After an hour of networking , around 100 people joined the dinner seminar session. Dr. Shiwen Lin and Dr. Zhiyong Yang, who are serving as CABA Board Chairman and President, respectively, summarized their work in the year of 2014-2015, and then announced the new leadership team of 2015-2016.

After a short celebration, Dr. Lin was introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Feng Zhang, W. M. Keck Career Development Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at the MIT. Dr. Zhang is one of brightest stars in the life sciences in recent years. As a young post-80s professor, his pioneering research several fields made essential contributions in life sciences, such as TALE technology, optogenetics, and the CRISPR-Cas9 system for gene editing.

Dr. Zhang shared with the audience, his early life journey as a young immigrant from China to Iowa, US, when he was in middle school. Then he described how he fell in love with life science, from his early internship in a hospital for the gene therapy studies during his high school years, and then as an undergraduate at Harvard University, and Ph.D. at Stanford University. Finally he gave a brief summary on his scientific studies and most recent developments on in vivo genome editing. Everyone was inspired by Dr. Zhang’s impressive achievements and enthusiasm in life science. His speech was greeted with a round of applause.

In CABA’s signature one-day event, every attendee enjoyed the excellent lectures; and social networking with old and new friends. This 8th Annual Meeting also was the pilot of a new format for global as well as local communication. Utilizing the newly established WeChat discussion group, for the first time, the CABA team was able to broadcast the conference live during the entire day’s events. Virtual attendees from the US and China who joined the WeChat group could also read the instant messages to understand the brief summary of each talk, and experience as the audience via pictures or short videos.

The 8th CABA Bioforum and Annual Conference was another successful event, due to the dedication and hard work of the CABA team. The number 8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture. It represents a new beginning in the Bible. New leaders, new team, new members, new partners, new friends, a new social media WeChat group, new program, new ideas -- with all the "new"s, CABA will continue to offer its excellent services to the communities in the coming new term.