April 18 2017 Stephen Cropper, MS

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) is a not-for-profit organization focused on supporting and advancing the thriving life sciences “ecosystem” in Massachusetts. Founded in 1985, it represents nearly 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, disease foundations, and other organizations.

On March 30 – 31, 2017, MassBio held its Annual Meeting in Cambridge, MA. Along with Miganush Stepanians, Ph.D., the President and CEO of PROMETRIKA and LuAnn Sabounjian, PROMETRIKA’s Head of Clinical Operations & Drug Safety, I attended the event and would like to recap the highlights of the two days.

Washington, D.C. and the Outlook for Biotech

Like stakeholders in many other industries, people in biotech are watching eagerly (some might say anxiously) to see how actions by the new administration will affect us. MassBio President and CEO Robert K. Coughlin opened the event by speaking about the current global political climate.

He expressed concern about funding cuts that are impacting biotech and how those cuts will ultimately affect the people we are striving to help with new drugs and treatments. He stressed the importance of MassBio members aligning to take a stand against these kinds of actions and to ensure there open lines of communication across academia, pharma, and venture capital. Abbie Celniker, Partner at Third Rock Ventures and a member of the MassBio Board of Directors, agreed with Mr. Coughlin’s perspective and spoke about the need for diversity in the life sciences.

Sage Advice on Surviving Cancer from a “Chief Ice Cream Officer”

Dan Schorr is the Founder and Chief Ice Cream Officer of a company called Vice Cream. If the humorous title and company name catch your eye, you’ll understand why Dan chose them when you learn that he survived large B-cell lymphoma. He shared his personal cancer experience and his “humor with tumor” mantra. His story was funny and touching.

An athlete who had run marathons and competed in Ironman Triathlons, he decided to fight his cancer with the same grit and determination. In the course of that battle, he started a blog for others touched by cancer, created funny motivational cancer-themed t-shirts, and started an ice cream company. He shared the importance of face-to-face interactions between researchers and cancer patients and stressed the value in connecting people who are fighting cancer so they can share their stories.

Thoughts from Governor Baker

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker spoke about the importance of convergence in our industry and how it is needed if the state is to hold on to its leadership position in biotech. He also talked about the need to strengthen the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and to ensure the availability of affordable housing as ways to support local biotech.

Looking to End Cancer

One of the sessions at the event focused on the Cancer Moonshot initiative and how Boston/Cambridge-area companies are having an impact. Some of the goals discussed included:

  • Efforts to understand tumor growth and evolution
  • The National Cancer Data System and ways to create a data ecosystem for sharing cancer information
  • The 3D Blood Cancer Atlas
  • Creating a network for direct patient involvement
  • Intensifying the focus on pediatric cancers
  • The importance of comprehensive digital health records

Biotech in the Era of Real World Evidence and Value

This talk centered on how organizations are trying to define the “value” of their efforts — whether that means improving survival rates, addressing affordability, assessing overall impact, etc. — and how to measure it. It also covered new financing and reimbursement models within biotech.

Wrapping it Up

From start to finish, the MassBio Annual Meeting was very informative and inspirational. It reaffirmed to all in attendance that the work we do is critically important and greatly valued by stakeholders, and that regardless of the political, social, and financial challenges we face, we will continue to make progress in our efforts to improve the human condition.

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