Blog | April 18, 2016

Are You Ready To Go Beyond The Cutting Edge At BIO 2016?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

Are You Ready To Go Beyond The Cutting Edge At BIO 2016?

Being the 2015 educational planning committee co-chair for BIO provided behind the scenes insights into what makes for a good industry session proposal at BIO. But beyond that I also learned how important it is for those interested in putting together an educational session for a conference to begin the planning process early. So when Bayer’s VP and Head of the company’s east coast innovation center, Chandra Ramanathan, Ph.D., and I sat down at last year’s annual BIO conference to discuss what type of educational session might be needed for BIO 2016, we did so armed with a wealth of wisdom. Having reviewed over 300 educational proposals totaling more than 740 pages from BIO 2015, one thing that seemed to be missing was a session focused on knowledge transfer across different disciplines to spark future innovations. Another gap we noticed was that with the exception of past keynote speakers, few educational sessions involved industry outsiders. While many may argue that drug discovery and development is very different from other industries, this doesn’t mean that biopharma can’t learn from other industries. In fact, there are numerous examples of industries being disrupted by supposed outsiders. With all of this in mind, we took some of our own advice and strived to create a session focused on innovation that included knowledge transfer opportunities across disciplines, as well as industries. Our goal for BIO 2016 wasn’t to create a super session, but a spectacular session worthy of your attendance.

Are You Willing To Help Make This Session More Engaging?

If you go to the BIO session (13321) description — Beyond The Cutting Edge: How To Enable Life Science Organizations Today for the Societal Challenges of Tomorrow — it tells you what can be gained from attending. But in addition to providing you with “practical examples derived from personal experience,” one of the panel’s goals is to make the experience very interactive — perhaps more than you are accustomed, and here’s why. Having attended many conferences, the two comments I hear most often from attendees aren’t “I wish I had more opportunities to be introverted and catch up on my emails” or “I really like sessions where the speakers talk at you and leave little to no time for questions.” Actually, most people express the desire for more networking opportunities, and, more often than not, lament there not being more time for Q&As. This year at BIO, we hope to achieve both. And while it is incumbent on the moderator — in this case, me — to make an educational session more engaging, I could really use your help. Here’s how.

What Would You Want To Talk About With These Panelists?

 Whether you plan to attend BIO this year, perhaps you have ideas that would serve as great thought-starter questions to pose to a member of the panel or audience. Maybe you have some suggestions for how to make the session more engaging. Thus, what I am asking you to do is to take a minute to review the session description, and email your thoughts to Think about if you had the opportunity to have coffee with session panelist Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., a man who has started 38 companies in America. What question might you want to ask (e.g., what type of companies does he prefers to build, what type of technologies and people attract him to want to help found these companies, etc.)?

Did you know that Google actually has a chief medical officer? Well they do, and her name is Jessica Mega, M.D. If you looked at the session description, her employer’s name, Verily Life Sciences, may have thrown you off a bit. But Verily is the new name for what used to be known as Google Life Sciences. Personally, I would be curious to hear her take on if the movie about Google, “The Internship,” is as accurate as some seem to think. However, perhaps you are curious on why a promising academic would leave Harvard to join Google or what technologies she thinks will soon revolutionize healthcare. What is preventing a person’s complete medical record file from being put on a credit card, or an implantable chip that can be linked to a voice-activated app, so the next time we went to a new provider we could simply beam the information over instead of having to fill out all of those forms?

We have a member on the panel from Bayer, which ranked number 11 on Fortune’s 2015 list of most innovative companies. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Here is a company investigating if pesticides that kill bugs on plants might help fight cancer. I mean, who even thinks of investigating this kind of stuff? A better question might be: Why aren’t more companies looking for those synergistic therapeutic opportunities? Personally, I am curious as to how Bayer approaches creating and supporting a corporate culture that encourages innovation across human, animal, and crop science disciplines.

Matthew Meyerson, M.D., Ph.D., is another one of our panelists. A professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Meyerson also works at the Broad Institute of Harvard & MIT. At the Meyerson Laboratory, he and his team are using a combination of computational and experimental genomics approaches to uncover genetic alterations and translating these discoveries toward future therapies. Wonder if he has an opinion on vice president Joe Biden’s Moonshot on Cancer?

While we are very excited about the session we have planned, we are still trying to add just one more panelist to this already distinguished list. While we can’t yet reveal who it will be, suffice it to say it could be someone from Fast Company’s 2016 list of the world’s most innovative companies, or perhaps some other health industry innovation thought leader. Who might you want to see and why? What questions might you ask? Please email your suggestions to  With your help, perhaps we can make this the most super session in BIO history!