More than 1,100 delegates, over 30 countries represented, 90 exhibitors, 60 international speakers, 13 roundtable discussions and 6 hosted events: BioFIT has reached a critical mass in only five editions. With these figures, BioFIT has confirmed its position as the leading event for tech transfer, academia-industry collaborations and sourcing early stage innovations in the field of life sciences. BioFIT is also becoming the marketplace for seed and Series A investment.

It is the only event that gathers big pharma, biotech start-ups and SMEs, researchers and investors in the same place at the same time, focused on the same goals: Engage new partnerships, source innovative and competitive early stage R&D projects, facilitate the emergence of collaborative projects and increase licensing opportunities in life sciences.

A winning bet

In only five editions, BioFIT has quadrupled its number of attendees, convinced other organisations to host their events and has most importantly, become an annual event. To continue its growth, the organisers of BioFIT have decided to engage in a long-term partnership with the Alsace BioValley competitiveness cluster. The Lille-Strasbourg rotation began in 2015.

Choosing the Alsace region was obvious, given its European and international openness and its high research potential in the healthcare sector”, explained Mr. Etienne Vervaecke, General Manager of Eurasanté and the NHL Cluster and General Commissioner for BioFIT.

The secret of our success

The close co-operation between the economic development agency and two competitiveness clusters to ensure the successful organisation of the event is worthy of mention. This unique combination benefits the regions’ competitiveness. BioFIT is the only event that gathers public and private actors at its business convention and technology presentation sessions. The comprehensive conference programme covers on-trend topics of interest and answers key questions about the best practices in collaborative research, technology transfer and early stage financing innovation.

Identifying TT professionals at the business convention

In addition to scheduling business meetings, the partnering platform allowed participants to propose licensing opportunities. At this 5th edition, nearly 800 opportunities were published and more than 75% of them were projects to transfer licences.

With 20% of attendees coming from pharma, including the Big Pharma Top 20, 30% from academia and TTOs, 20% from emerging biotechs and 10% from investors, BioFIT has confirmed its position as the leading international event in the sector.

Participants included:

·                Big and medium pharmas: Sanofi, AbbVie, Roche, GSK, Pfizer, Bayer, Novo Nordisk, LFB, Boehringer Ingelheim, Lilly, AstraZeneca, J&J, Merck and Ipsen Innovation

·                Biotechs: Zoetis, AlzProtect, Galapagos, Hybrigenics, Nanobiotix, Yaqrit, Ixaltis, Lipigon, Cellectis, TxCell and Onxeo
TTOs, Universities: Ascenion, Max Planck Institute, CEA Tech, SATT network, VIB, Isis Innovation, Harvard Tech Transfer Office, Ramot and the University of Ghent

·                Associations, professional networks: Aviesan, European Biotechnology Network, France Biotcech, EuropaBio, ASTP-Proton, EBE-EFPIA, Réseau C.U.R.I.E., SIMV, ASEBIO, Swiss Biotech Association, LISA and the UK Innovation Forum

·                Investors: Kurma Partners, Medxci Omnes, Capital, European Investment Fund, London Stock Exchange, Fund+, Merck Ventures, Sofinnova Partners and Novo Seeds

BioFIT is also becoming the marketplace for seed investment in cutting-edge technologies.
Distinguished speakers

Pfizer, Nanobiotix, VIB, The Max Planck Society, Evotec, Roche Innovation Center, Medixci, Novo Seeds, Kurma Partners and Fund+ – These are just a few examples of the 60 international organisations (including speakers from the USA, Canada, Israel, South Korea, Japan) who discussed current topics and answered key questions about best practices in collaborative research, key issues in technology transfer and licensing and early stage financing innovation.

An exhibition that continues to grow

The Business Convention is at the heart of the event, but the exhibition is also a key part of BioFIT. It has quadrupled its attendance, from 20 international exhibitors and co-exhibitors in 2010 to 90 this year, which clearly shows the actors’ wish is to be increasingly present and visible.

In the 700m² exhibition area, participants could meet Northern French SMEs such as OCR, 4P-Pharma, Aquilab, E-Zyvec or Genoscreen, the Dutch ASTP-Proton, ALCAMI Corporation or MyCartis, the Finnish Admescope, the Czech CzechInvest, the Estonian GeneCode, the Swiss Baccinex and Bachem AG, the Belgian KIC-Europe, EU-Japan, or structures such as the SIRIC ONCOLille, the SIMV and EGID.

Six hosted events: BioFIT brings numerous organisations together

Once again, BioFIT hosted six events, with one objective: Support and facilitate collaborative research by fostering public/private collaborations.

Between 29th November and 1st December, the following events took place: The 4th edition of IDEA Summit, the 2nd Techno Market and Licensing Opportunity Presentations, the Start-up Slams, the AFSSI Conference, the SIRIC ONCOLille Days and the 4th edition of the EGID Symposium.

 

Save the date for the 6th edition of BioFIT:

28th and 29th November 2017 in Strasbourg, France

Europe has never been a better place for innovation in life sciences, yet the USA is still regarded as the go-to country for serial entrepreneurs: Where is the future of life sciences?

Although location is important, in my opinion, there is no specific place for innovation. The US is still a good place to generate innovation, but Europe also has key advantages compared to America. We have to highlight that European biotech is growing. The US started long before Europe and we are now seeing the emergence of big companies that may deliver some excellent results. Europe is reaching critical mass, we are just waiting for a few key successes to drive the whole sector. One of the main differences that we need to take into account is the amount of capital injected into the US compared to Europe. There is a huge discrepancy between the two and an issue to be resolved if we are to encourage high potential projects.

Nanobiotix has been raising money both in Europe and in the US. If you had to give one piece of advice to a young entrepreneur looking to spark the interest of VCs, what would it be?

One single piece of advice does not exist, however it is important to focus on investors who are specialized in life sciences and establish a track-record of trust with them. This will increase your chances of receiving funding.

How can we foster the emergence of unicorns?

I think that European innovation is as progressive as what we are seeing in America. In my opinion, it is a question of mindset – Europe is just as good as the US. We need to start projects and think big immediately. Whether it is in France, Spain, Germany or the UK, think global not local. If you don’t, your project will not reach its full potential. You have to develop your company and expand your business internationally as quickly as possible. This should be done in terms of financing but also in terms of development and distribution of your technology – this is a pre-requisite for success.

You came to Paris to create Nanobiotix from the University of Buffalo. Did you always plan to engage international partnerships?

This was not part of the original plan but situations evolve. This is normal when you start a business or develop technology – you learn as you go. You don’t have a predefined business model. It has to evolve over time, so it was not something that was planned as such.

If you had to do it again, would you do things differently?

That is a good question. I think I can only give a theoretical answer as no two experiences are the same. If the question was “Is it better to start in the US or in Europe?”, I would say that there are different risks in each region. We often think of the US as a final target market for healthcare products but Europe has some additional advantages. One of these is the highly educated and motivated workforce. Europeans tend to stay with companies longer.

 

You are an experienced entrepreneur: How are you personally involved in supporting today’s life sciences start-ups?

The most valuable thing that we can do for start-ups is to help them understand the environment and prevent them from making mistakes. Our value add is advice and mentoring to accelerate good projects. When I find a good team with a promising project, I personally try to push them in the right direction. I am also involved with the European nanomedicine technology platform and we have created a large scale translation hub for Europe. Our goal is to transfer ideas to patients as fast and as efficiently as possible. This has been working well and we are starting to obtain excellent results. We’ve already helped 50 projects and we think that there are at least five that could become unicorns!

What would be your three pieces of advice for early-stage companies looking to access capital?

Entrepreneurs who are looking to raise capital must be very well prepared to meet with VCs.

This means ensuring that the project is already fundable, having a solid presentation and pitching with the right mindset. How can early-stage companies achieve this? The first and most important step is to deliver their project to business and science experts. Companies should ask the experts to be very critical, as sweet talk is not constructive. Multiplying these meetings with the right people will help identify the project’s real strengths but also its weaknesses, which is key. Advance awareness of these axes of progress will make the project much stronger and credible.

Firstly, it will help to assess if the project is ready to be financed. Secondly, it will allow the early-stage company to build a plan to show that these areas for attention can be addressed and therefore, build its credibility. By definition, the interlocutor should never discover these potential issues at the presentation – they should always be disclosed upfront. The presentation must include and disclose all relevant positive and negative data. It is important to build trust, based on total transparency with the audience.

From a VC perspective, what is the place of crowdfunding in the seed capital market?

Crowdfunding is a great source of funding but I don’t think it is adapted to the healthcare sector. Selecting good projects in this particular field requires industry specific expertise. The percentage of failures for non-professionally selected projects is very high as is the size of investment per project.

 

How can we increase the number of VCs investing at the seed stage?

Seed investment requires a lot of work, expertise and time because we want to put these early stage projects on track for success from the start. However, generally, these projects lack an experienced team at this stage, so VCs have to be more involved and hands on than with more mature projects. For this reason, you cannot just decide to increase the number of VCs investing at the seed stage. It requires a certain organisation that meets these needs. I believe that what we are missing today is a higher number of experienced early stage entrepreneurs with the appropriate drug development expertise that can handle early stage projects. I see this as the major hurdle towards creating an early stage market.

 

On 30th November, you will discuss “How to create a seed capital market” at BioFIT. This is the focus of your work at Medicxi. In your opinion, why is it crucial to cover this topic?

Creating a seed capital market would help translate the right science into well-developed projects. Consequently, this would increase the number of valuable investments and therefore the number of successes in the EU. This would have a positive domino effect on the European biotech ecosystem.

 

Which type of investors will be the most important for biotech early stage companies in the next five years? Who is shaping the future of investment in life sciences?

I think the answer to this is any investor with experience in selecting promising science and supporting early stage projects. People expertise, in additional to capital, is the right combination to engage in early stage investment.

 

 

This month Ivan Baines Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Board Member of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Germany, shared his thoughts and advice about the evolution of the Life Sciences sector, collaborations and BioFIT’s contribution to this ecosystem.

  • Ivan, you are Chief Operating Officer of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, and have served on numerous biotech boards. How do you believe that public/private collaborations have changed the course of Life Sciences industry?

Public / private partnerships have impacted the Life Sciences industry in two important ways. Firstly, they typically have a specific and valuable goal. The constraints of the industry of having the correct approach for a successful outcome means that the experimental design, its execution and data interpretation are important ‘reality checks’ about the performance of fundamental explorative research. Secondly, the creative design of explorative research provides opportunities for innovation that would be considered too ‘extravagant’ by industry to pursue but are nevertheless essential drivers of innovation and discovery.

  • How do you see the Life Sciences sector in the next 10 years? Which evolutions do you think will take place? What progression would you like to see?

Research and development in the Life Sciences sector is increasing in complexity as more comprehensive technologies are developed, which allows for completeness. Technologies are now often assembled into pipelines (CRISPR/Cas9 is a good example) that generate very large data sets that are increasingly difficult to analyse. I believe the Life Sciences sector will evolve to meet this challenge by a larger propensity of public/private partnerships, more open innovation to share research tools (which is very important) and other networks to address the complex areas of expertise, technology and funding.

  • Do you believe that cross-sector collaborations will drive the future of Life Sciences?

Absolutely

  • What regulation would you like to change or introduce in order to improve industry/academia collaborations and advance innovation in Life Sciences?

Collaboration between industry and academia may be hampered by the lack of appropriate commercial and legal benchmarking by the academic partners for a potential partnership. Likewise, there are lessons to be learned by industry regarding certain aspects of corporate culture that are challenging for academia to embrace. A good forum for dialogue between academia and industry is essential in order to achieve common understanding and language.

 

  • What would be your advice to researchers who would like to establish collaborations in the Life Sciences industry?

My advice would be to build on real scientific opportunities, never to contrive a relationship simply to receive funding or for the on-paper value of having a collaboration with a specific partner. The most important ingredients in a collaboration are trust and enthusiasm, and these are only achieved over time with a mutual commitment to performing high quality research.

 

  • You attended BioFIT  What were your favorite events and why?

The plenary was good. I also enjoyed the session ‘Best practices in collaborative research’, which provided an excellent overview of the recent enthusiasm of industry to find the best structures to nurture partnering with academia.

Dear BioFITers,

This month, we have the pleasure to interview Sarah Holland, recently appointed BioFIT Steering Committee member. Sarah is Head of Europe, External Science and Partnering at Sanofi gave us an insight into her varied career.

We also discussed entrepreneurship significance in today’s Life Sciences environment, and Sarah shared her vision:

 

  1. Can you tell us about your career? You have a business education background yet you have always worked in pharma. Why have you chosen this specific field?

While doing a chemistry doctorate at Oxford, I realized I needed an environment with greater teamwork and more human interaction. I still loved science, so chose to go into sales and marketing in a science-driven UK diagnostics company, learning a huge amount about both medical practice and business. I was then headhunted by an oncology focused biotech in Amsterdam – an irresistible location! After a couple of years, I moved to “big pharma”, establishing a cross-functional Oncology Business Unit at Sandoz UK. While there, I won a newspaper competition to study for an MBA at Manchester Business School, so made the move north to Zeneca. There I gained skills in health economics and pricing – very useful as payers have become ever more important. After acquiring a husband and two children to go with the MBA and launching a drug for breast cancer globally, I was headhunted again, this time by Roche. I spent 11 years in Basel, mostly in Business Development, where I led the deal with Plexxikon that resulted in the launch of ‘Zelboraf’ for melanoma and built and ran the M&A assessment team. In my last job, I led the cross-functional team in charge of alectinib, an ALK inhibitor from Chugai that we took to FDA and EMA submission and which has been launched in the US as ‘Alecensa’. Most recently, I was recruited by Sanofi to head up External Science and Partnering for Europe. Looking back, my greatest motivators have been the desire to make a difference for patients and to keep learning.

 

  1. Can you describe your most rewarding professional experience up to now?

That is really difficult as there have been so many. My first experience of leading a team at Sandoz was amazing. I love challenges – I was told that the breast cancer drug I marketed at AstraZeneca would never be launched outside the US and it became the company’s first centralized European submission! More recently, alectinib faced similar challenges and it was very satisfying to secure Phase 3 investment and recruit the trial a year ahead of schedule, as well as accelerating the ex-US launch. The most rewarding achievement was probably ‘Zelboraf’, which transformed melanoma treatment and showed the impact of targeting cancer mutations.

 

  1. Your mission at Sanofi is to develop a wide network of external collaborators. From your expert point of view, how do you think interactions in the biotech sector could be improved in order to foster more innovation? 

It is critical to focus all our efforts, across academia, biotech, venture capital and pharma on truly game-changing innovation. All the participants in the ecosystem bring essential skills and insights and by working together effectively we can tackle the really challenging problems and make true progress. I believe the successful recipe is to have meaningful goals and to work together in an open and collaborative way that brings all our different strengths to bear. Collaborating as early as possible increases the chance of going in the right direction quickly. It is also important to minimize complexity and keep things simple.

 

  1. Congratulations on your appointment to the BioFIT Steering Committee.  What are you looking forward to in this role? What are your expectations for BioFIT?

Thank you! My first impression of BioFIT last December was that the conference programme was really excellent. I learned a lot about open innovation best practices, for example, which alone justified my attendance. However, I felt the topic of entrepreneurship was the missing part of the puzzle and would have liked to have seen more young scientists at the conference. I am keen to influence the conference to make it more attractive and worthwhile for the next generation of bioentrepreneurs, so that they can start to build their networks, find mentors and gain truly helpful insights.

 

  1. How do you think we could promote a culture of European entrepreneurial scientists?

We need to get young scientists excited about being entrepreneurs. If you ask a lecture theatre full of chemists or biologists how many want to be professors, the majority will put up their hands, but very few will say that they want to start their own company. You would get quite the opposite with a room full of IT students. We need to expose our young scientists to the life stories of bioentrepreneurs and broaden their horizons. We also need to make the first steps less scary, by organizing boot camps to explain the basics and by providing friendly support from technology transfer, incubators and early investors. Making sure they have good mentors and networks is critical.

 

  1. Which qualities do you think an entrepreneur needs to have in order to succeed in the Life Sciences field?

An entrepreneur needs to build a really strong team, even if they are advisors rather than employees at the beginning. There are many examples where a strong team succeeded with a weaker asset, while dysfunctional teams wasted great opportunities. Access to the best expertise and advice is also critical. Often investors can help here, but it is also important to be able to network effectively and widely. It is critical to be resilient, as science is unpredictable and flexible in the face of setbacks or surprises. Keep an open mind as game-changing innovation can come from unexpected results. Focus on excellence and be prepared to do the “killer” experiments – it is far better to stop unproductive efforts early. Ensure that innovation will really make a difference for patients and will be affordable for payers.

 

  1. In your opinion, what three words best describe BioFIT?

Friendly, accessible, helpful.

 

Thank you, Sarah, for these inspiring thoughts ! Scientists, you are warned, get ready to become entrepreneurs!

Don’t forget to stop by the conference programme page and check what to expect at BioFIT on 30th November and 1st December

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