By Dr. Karen Ring, Big3Bio Events Correspondent

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Panelists Julie Andersen, Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Beth Hill, Platform Innovation Lead at J&J Innovation Center, Saira Ramasastry, Managing Partner of Life Sciences Advisory, and moderator Una Ryan, Chairwoman of Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative.

Women in Bio (WIB) organized a dynamic panel discussion on “Hot Topics in Life Sciences” examining what’s innovative and exciting in the current field of life sciences. The event was held at Nektar Therapeutics on September 26 in San Francisco. The issues ranged from FDA regulation and innovation barriers to drug adherence and drug repurposing, and WIB members were actively engaging with the speakers and the overall conversation was enlightening and productive.

Points and quotes from the panel:

  • Una Ryan, chairwoman of the nonprofit, Bay Area BioEconomy Initiative, was the moderator for “Hot Topics in Life Sciences” and introduced the theme by discussing her opinions on the matter. As an angel investor, Ryan has funded many innovative life science and health technology entrepreneurs both in the San Francisco Bay Area and globally.

She listed three main hot trends and highlighted companies in each of these spaces that she is particularly excited about:

1) Digital health – Misfit Wearables (health and wellness wearable monitors), Tiatros (healthcare management with HIPAA compliant health cloud)
2) Synthetic biology – Bell Biosystems (synthetic organelles), Cambrian genomics (DNA laser printing)
3) Biomarkers, measurement technology, diagnostics – Zephyrus Biosciences (single-cell western blot)

Ryan also highlighted two areas that are in desperate need of innovation: women’s issues and aging.

  • Julie Andersen, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, stated: “Age is a risk factor and the underlying cause of many diseases, so we need to understand the basic mechanisms of aging before we can target individual diseases separately,” and discussed how the Institute as well as her own lab aims to understand the basic mechanisms of aging. She highlighted a new project called Buck Aging Intervention Testing (BAIT), which will conduct longitudinal studies of mice treated with different life extending drugs. The hope of BAIT is to translate anti-aging therapeutics identified in their mouse studies into humans. (For more on BAIT, read: Historic BAIT Project Underway at the Buck Institute.)
  • Beth Hill of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Innovation talked in depth about pharma’s role in the life sciences industry. In her opinion, pharma’s strength is its robust, collective knowledge of the drug therapeutic space. While J&J has run into obstacles and seen failures, it has learned its lessons from these experiences and is taking affordable actions to identify problems earlier.At J&J innovation, Hill is “connecting the dots” by forging partnerships with academics and small industry startups who are pursuing innovative discovery research in the areas of consumer, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.
  • Saira Ramasastry is the managing partner of Life Sciences Advisory. In regards to hot trends in the life sciences, Ramasastry said passionately: “We need to remove barriers to innovation that currently exist.”She gave the 1980’s HIV epidemic as an example: When the epidemic hit it quickly became a global problem that needed fast solutions. Ramasastry explained how the government, pharma, and patients all came together to make these solutions happen. She also discussed how aging is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately as the future cost of healthcare for age-related diseases will be unsustainable.

Yelena Bronevetsky, one of the event organizers and a postdoc at UCSF, spoke about WIB and the panel: “I joined WIB as a way to build relationships and network with successful women working in biomedical industry research and business. The panelists were chosen based on their diverse range of expertise, from academic research, to industry innovation, to life science investing. I believe this diversity created an exciting and engaging discussion amongst the panelists and the audience,” she said.

“Though the discussion focused on many of the serious problems facing the pharmaceutical industry currently, panelists and audience members voiced creative solutions to these issues, including changing FDA policies related to clinical trials and encouraging collaborations in incubator lab spaces.”