Connecting Innovators in Life Sciences and Information Technologies – Lift Basel Conference 2015 – Day 1

LiftBadge

I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the annual Lift Basel Conference at the end of October. The topics covered as well as the speakers were amazing.

I must admit, it is always refreshing to have access to all those passionate people with jaw-dropping experiences, new companies, innovative business models, renewed thinking (totally out of the box! even without the box!!)…

I really appreciated it and I’m delighted to share the main points with you, one talk at a time with added references on the discussed topic. I hope you’ll enjoy the first day! The second one is coming soon.

 

Synthetic biology today and tomorrow

Rob Carlson
Visions of the bioeconomy

Rob Carlson is interested in the future role of biology as a human technology. He has worked to develop new biological technologies in both academic and commercial environments, focusing on molecular measurement and microfluidic systems. He has also developed a number of new technical and economic metrics for measuring the progress of biological technologies.

Rob Carlson has been precisely predicting exponential drops in the costs of DNA sequencing and synthesis (reading and writing DNA), and resulting impacts on the global economy. The Economist magazine in 2006 identified this as the biotechnological equivalent of Moore’s Law, and named it the Carlson Curve after Rob.

Carlson_Price_Seq_Synth_Feb2014

Source

It was extremely interesting to see him explaining that, in biology, every piece has its purpose and, then, it can be repurposed. Needless to say, synthetic biology has evolved fantastically over time, from a single gene in a single cell to cell-grown organs as shown in the Nature chart below.

History_Synthetic_Biology

Source

Biotechnology will soon take over the other segments of the economy, like chemicals, energy generation,… Biochemicals are already competing today with oil chemicals. According to the last numbers recently published, biotechnology is the fastest growing field in the US economy. Economics are at the center as they are really driving the adoption of those technologies.

For more on Synthetic Biology, have a look at this article written by Tim Gardner: Synthetic Biology: from hype to impact (quote below).

“The promise of synthetic biology lies in its engineering roots. Engineers are trained to define, modularize, stan-dardize, characterize, specify, optimize, and control physi-cal systems in order to deliver reliable, repeatable outcomes. When such approaches are applied to biological experimentation, the results can be marvelous. When measurement systems and data are standardized and qualified, then biological knowledge can be stacked upon other knowledge in an information supply chain distributed across hundreds of thousands of people. If we standardize and improve the quality of biological characterization, then the tools for efficiently designing and building ever more complex systems will soon follow.”

 

Neil Goldsmith
New food ingredients into custom-built organism

Nature has treasures but sometimes we need huge amounts of raw materials to extract flavors or fragrances in tiny quantities. For example, vanilla is regularly made from petrochemicals and rarely extracted from vanilla seed pods as demand is far larger than supply.

Evolva developed a revolutionary technology to brew flavors from yeast.

For example, to manufacture Stevia, a natural sweetner, Evolva takes the genes the plant uses to make that molecule and put those genes into the yeast so it can make the molecule. They then ferment the yeast by brewing, just like with beer. The yeast takes up the sugar, turns it into Stevia and pumps it out; the yeast is filtered off and Stevia is in the «broth» which can be purified out.

Synthetic biology is an iterative process. It is not smooth, you need to go back and forth at each step. However, it has and will lead transformational changes on today’s science.

For more on Food Ingredients:

Synthetic-biology firms shift focus – Erika Check Hayden – Nature 2014

Synthetic biology is cheaper, faster and more sustainable – Elaine Watson – Food Navigator 2014

Widen everyone’s vision of what you can do with biology – Stephan Emmerth – i-net 2015

 

Xavier Duportet
Programmable biological agents

According to Xavier Duportet, editing DNA has become as simple as editing a newspaper. It is now possible to modify the DNA with a repair template.

That’s exactly what he’s doing: using CRISPR/Cas for the microbiome engineering. As we all know, antibiotics are not an adequate solution as they kill all the bugs… Bad and good ones. Eligo Bioscience, founded in May 2014 by Xavier Duportet as well as scientists and professors from the Rockefeller University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), found a fantastic way to tackle this issue: hijack the CRISPR/Cas system of the bacteria. Below a video (in French) explaining the technology.

Their “synthetic biology platform, which combines CRISPR/Cas system with engineered phage capsids, develops “eligobiotics”: a new generation of highly precise antimicrobials. They can program the eligobiotics to eliminate bacteria based on the genetic sequences they carry in their genome. As opposed to traditional antibiotics, their sequence-specific antimicrobials can therefore discriminate between close bacterial strains and selectively eradicate harmful bacteria from the microbiome while sparing the beneficial ones.”

Eligo Bioscience is also working on other diseases such as inflamatory bowel disease, acne. The company owns an exclusive license for the use of CRISP in the antibacterials field.

For more on CRISP/Cas:

Blog entry on CRISP/Cas

For more on Eligo Bioscience:

Xavier Duportet, le défricheur interactif – Laure Belot – Le Monde 2015

Xavier Duportet, « innovateur français de l’année » pour le MIT – Perrine Créquy – La Tribune 2015

Eligo Bioscience Raises €2M to Develop CRISPR Antimicrobials – Conor McClune – Synbiobeta 2015

 

The future of food and beverage

Reto Schnyder
Challenging the cash cows of Big Food

Reto Schnyder expects major disruption in food, especially in the field of business models.

We spend a lot of money on food. The consumer behavior is really changing. More and more online grocery shopping is used, as demonstrated by huge growth rates as well as booming household penetration rates.
Companies are trying hard to stimulate purchases and expand their reach. AmazonDash on AmazonFresh is a wonderful example of what can be done.


Amazon is definitely good at understanding big data and will not put somthing stupid in your basket, it will always suggest you new products to try.

Several other examples help us to understand the changes taking place in the food industry such as HelloFresh, June Intelligent Oven,…

Cooking good food is easier and easier. And this is just the beginning.

Before the food industry structure was: brands – shop – cook.
But now the ranking has changed: cook – shop – brands!

In the cosmetics and toiletries industry, the shaving blades domain has been completely shaken by outsiders, like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s Blades. They put in place subscription services and Dollar Shave Club took over 10% market share in units in USA.

Lesson learned: easy to attack global power brands as they are not invincible.

Wisdom: how can we make our cash cow irrelevant? Disrupt the market before other companies do it.

More on disruption:

Break Through Ventures

10 Disruptive Business Models – Slideshare – Ouke Arts – 2013

 

Ralph Schmidthalter
Precision agriculture

How can drones can provide wings to farmers? The use of drones, coupled with analytical tools, could help farmers make better decisions.

Field analysis on foot is only giving a partial view of the crops. With a new software technology, Pix4D, it is possible to “automatically process terrestrial and aerial imagery acquired by light-weight drones or aircraft based purely on image content. This desktop software converts images into highly precise, timely and customizable results for a wide range of GIS and CAD applications.”

Experiments and tests are implemented in order to optimize yields. The systems are also helping to decide when and where to start the harvest.
Moreover, it is incredibly useful to detect diseases early by identifying spectral signatures. With the use big data and re-engineering, close monitoring is now feasible. Flight plan is defined in advance in order to optimize which data to record.
Sensefly is targeting multiple industries like agriculture, mining, humanitarian, environmental protection. Vitiscan is fully dedicated to vineyards.

Those technologies and their applications will lead to more transparency on which species to seed, which and how much fertilizers allowing for better quality and quantity of crops as well as improved variety.

More on precision agriculture with drones:

Why 2015 is the year agriculture drones take off – Clay Dillow – Fortune 2015

Drones and driverless tractors – is this the future of farming? – Peter Moore – The Guardian 2015

Bin Bin Pearce
Transdisciplinarity and design thinking

There are two broad schools of thinking: Design Thinking and Scientific Method.

Design thinking

DesignThinking

Source

“Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Tim Brown, president and CEO, IDEO

There is no need to say more than the definition given by Tim Brown. It is really self-explanatory.

When it comes to scientific method, the approach is different.

steps-of-the-scientific-method

Source

In this way of thinking, you try to understand first, then hypothetize and start data collection, once it’s done you can analyze data and select some criteria. Ultimately, you can ask for peer review and then publish your work.

Neither of these methods serve as a path for the solution to more societal problems. It is then fundamental to combine both of them with system thinking and action. Transdisciplinarity is another crucial component toward solutions.

The main message of the talk was: “Whatever you produce and send to the society has an impact on the society itself. It is crucial to develop self-awareness and impact analysis of actions on society.

More on design thinking:

Design Thinking – Tim Brown – Harvard Business Review 2008

What is Design Thinking? – University of St-Gallen

Design Thinking… What is That? – Fast Company 2006

More on transdisciplinarity:

The Potential of Transdisciplinarity – Helga Nowotny

Foundations of transdisciplinarity – Manfred A. Max-Neef – Ecological Economics 2005

New Business Models for Antibiotics. What Can We Learn from Other Industries? – OHE

New solutions could emerge from incentivization models applied in other industries

ChangeThe Office of Health Economics held a workshop last year with companies that presented their business and incentivization models: BAE Systems (defence), Allianz (insurance), Barclays Bank (finance), EDF Energy (energy), Dun & Bradstreet (corporate information) and Knowledge Unlatched (academic publishing). These models were then explored further for their applicability to antibiotics R&D.

Key points & recommendations from the workshop:

– There is a need for consolidated and focused research of antibiotic R&D. “There is a need for a an entity that pools resources, science and compounds; one that is sustainable and independent with focus on the research and early development of antibiotics in line with predefined public health-need profiles. This entity should find a way to open up the science to all working in this area.”

– The creation of a global funding vehicle putting together the resources from multiple companies, academic institutions and public bodies, in order to fund the appropriate research, early development and good stewardship of antibiotics.

– The implementation of new commercial business model for antibiotics delinked from price/volume.

Find out more: New Business Models for Antibiotics

Image Source

Antibiotic Resistance From Unexpected Sources – Herbicides, Dust And Metals – Forbes

New sources of bacterial antibiotic resistance discovered by researchers

crops3 new sources:

1. Herbicide: as described in the article, “while a bacteria alone might have been killed by an antibiotic, when exposed to an herbicide, a resistance gene is turned on, in effect “‘immunizing’ the bacteria to the antibiotic.””

2. Dust: “antibiotic-resistant bacteria are being spread from cattle yards through dust laden with excrement. Given the winds and droughts in some areas, dust bowls could spread the resistant bugs for hundreds of miles.”

3. Heavy metals: “heavy metals, added to feed as growth promoters, can also select for antibiotic resistance. Pollution with heavy metals—even at  very low levels— can promote bacteria with multiresistance plasmids (small bits of extrachromosomal DNA)”.

Additionally, some emerging markets are the home of companies without environmental consideration. It is known that some India-based drug companies are dumping waste in water. Without proper sanitation, it is a huge health concern for the population.

This Forbes article is informative and insightful about what might cause antibiotic resistance and how we could modify our behaviors in order to control this issue.

Forbes Article

Image Source

 

Antibiotic Resistance Could Kill Us All: Here’s How To Stop It – Fast Company

BlisteredPillsThe war between new drugs and mutated bacteria – who will win in the future?

Antibiotics have saved countless lives in the last 80 years, but they’re not as effective as they once were. We use too many of them, and so bacteria are developing resistance more quickly than we can come up with new drugs. Why are we using too many of them? Because they are too cheap. We even use antibiotics to make cattle grow faster… The price of the new antibiotics should be much higher to discourage their use in farms and protect human health.

Fast Company Article

AstraZeneca Launches USD 40m Early-Stage Anti-Infectives R&D Unit – GEN News

AstraZeneca will spin-off its anti-infectives R&D unit

test-214185_1280AstraZeneca will spend USD 40 million to create a new stand-alone subsidiary focused on early-stage research and development of small molecule anti-infectives. AstraZeneca is one of the big Pharma, together with Roche, that is focusing on the development of new solutions for drug-resistant bacteria. Read more

How to Develop New Antibiotics – New York Times

Why is it key to rethink antibiotics development?

EHEC Outbreak Claims 11 LivesHere’s a very compelling article written by about it.

THE bacteria are winning. Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two million people are infected with bacteria that can’t be wiped out with antibiotics, and as a result, 23,000 people die. Direct health care costs from these illnesses are estimated to be as high as $20 billion annually. Read more