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

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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

The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2015 is the recognition that nature plays a role in our pharmacopeia

Anopheles_stephensi

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 has been awarded for two major discoveries tackling severe illnesses. William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura were rewarded for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites and Youyou Tu for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.”

Collectively, the prize praises drug discoveries from nature that transformed the treatment of two of the world’s most devastating parasitic diseases.

327 scientists have been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Among them, 57 individuals were nominated for the first time.

All Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine

 

Additional articles

Anti-parasite drugs sweep Nobel prize in medicine 2015 – Nature – October 2015

2015 Nobel Prize In Medicine Awarded For Discovery Of Malaria, River Blindness Drugs From Nature – Forbes – October 2015

Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to 3 Scientists for Parasite-Fighting Therapies – The New York Times – October 2015

Nobel prize in medicine goes to pioneers in parasitic diseases – as it happened – The Guardian – October 2015

The 2015 Nobel prizes: Physiology or medicine – The Economist – October 2015

Nobel Prize in Medicine honors treatments for malaria and parasitic diseases – The Verge – October 2015

 

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The dream of the universal flu vaccine might come true – Wired

Researchers found and tested a prototype of a universal flu vaccine. The first results on animals are good.

Scientists worked with a piece of viral protein so it can teach immune systems to fight groups of viruses rather than just a single strain.

As we all know, the real issue with flu comes from its mutations. It explains why the vaccine may not be so protective against seasonal flu as the virus can change.

It is probably the beginning of a new era of hope because flu kills.

Read more: Wired Article

Additional Articles:

Science Mag

WebMD

Financial Times (subscription required)

The Guardian

Bloomberg

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Not Vaccinating Children Is the Greater Risk – The New York Times

This New York Times article takes a step back on childhood immunizations and gives us an overview of the diseases and complications that could be avoided with vaccines.

As most of us already know, vaccines are probably one of the most important health and lifesaving advances of the last century. However, misinformation and scaremongering is damaging the perception and the adoption of that innovation.

When too many people opt out of immunizing, outbreaks of preventable diseases happen, with sometimes deadly consequences for some.

Childhood diseases could lead to serious complications doubled by debilitating infections.

It’s a shame not to use all the available technology to protect us and our loved ones from potentially deadly diseases. It’s like riding a motorbike without helmet.

Who would do it today?

Additional resources

History of Vaccines

Understanding Vaccines – Public Health

Vaccines & Immunizations – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Vaccines.gov – US Government

Vaccines & Autism – Science-Based Medicine

Australia takes a stand against anti-vaxxers with a proposed $11,000 penalty – Quartz – September 2015

732,000: American Lives Saved by Vaccination – The New York Times – September 2015

U.S. vaccination rates high, but pockets of unvaccinated pose risk – Reuters – August 2015

Here’s How the Anti-Vaxxers’ Strongest Argument Falls Apart – TIME – August 2015

Vaccine hesitancy: A growing challenge for immunization programmes – WHO – August 2015

How This South Dakota Nurse Convinced A Religious Community To Vaccinate – Huffpost – August 2015

Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence – American Academy of Pediatrics – April 2013

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How to get vaccines to the right place at the right time

Gaining control of health care waste in order to improve care delivery is crucial. Supply chain, tracking and logistics have to be optimized in order to limit waste.

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Half the vaccines that are manufactured each year don’t make it to their destination — they get lost or damaged as they travel between the factory and the local health clinic. It’s not just a tremendous waste, it’s a killer: Each year, 1.5 million children in the developing world die for no reason other than a failed vaccine delivery. Neuroscientist and TED Fellow Catharine Young is working on a tool she thinks can help: Vive, an app that tracks and monitors vaccines on their journey, while gathering data to improve deliveries in the future. As she prepares to pilot the app in her native South Africa, Young shares six insights on this simple but potentially life-saving idea.

1. The biggest obstacle to getting vaccines to patients: shoddy infrastructure. “Vaccine delivery is a race against time anywhere, but in the developing world, you have limited functioning vehicles, limited electricity to keep vaccines cold, limited road infrastructure,” says Young. “Obstacles…

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8 emerging technologies that could revolutionize the life sciences – Medium

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Google Ventures managing partner’s fascinating view on the next wave of innovations in life sciences

Bill Marris is a key influencer to follow in the life sciences industry, but only on Google+… On Twitter, it’s better to follow Google Ventures. Anyway… There is no need to present him.

He is a visionary for new technologies, new business models and he’s very smart when it comes to spot the next breakthrough innovation in life sciences. In this context, he wrote a captivating article on the 8 emerging technologies that could revolutionize the life sciences.

I propose a summary below but I agree it is a pure pleasure to read the entire article, so do it!

Many of the technologies that will transform healthcare already exist but have not yet been expoited at their full potential. Here is the list:

1. Artificial intelligence in healthcare – Machine learning and computer power will help drive better diagnosis and improved data analysis in order to support medical decision-making.

2. Understanding the brain – Decoding the brain is the key to find a cure for brain diseases as well as spinal cord injuries. With recent discoveries, we are at the start of a new era! Check here too!

3. Reinventing antibiotics – Widespread use as well as misuse are at the origins of the emergence of resistant bacteria. We have to really focus on this emerging threat by limiting the use of antibiotics and promoting research of new molecules. Have a look here for more!

4. Battling cancer – Amazing progress has been done over the last years and it is not finished yet! There is more to come. Additionally a real innovation will also be to make these treatments affordable for every patient.

5. Genetic repair – CRISPR, the gene-editing technique, allows the replacement and/or repair of any genetic mutation. Wow!

6. Understanding the microbiome – The 2.5kg of bacteria living on us are a treasure trove! The microbiome is an organ in itself, responsible for our health and wellbeing as well as our diseases and bad moods…

7. Organ generation – 3D cell culture and 3D bioprinting could be the solution to our ageing bodies… Spare parts…!

8. Stem cells – How to maintain the regenerative power of stem cells into adulthood?

All these fields are promising and could give hope to thousands of people in the world. More technology into healthcare for increased value is unavoidable. Let’s hope health and quality of life won’t become unaffordable.

 

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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

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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

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The Power of Herd Immunity – TED Talks

How do vaccines prevent disease — even among people too young to get vaccinated?

child_patient_vaccineIt’s a concept called “herd immunity,” and it relies on a critical mass of people getting their shots to break the chain of infection. Health researcher Romina Libster shows how herd immunity contained a deadly outbreak of H1N1 in her hometown.

Today we have TOOLS (vaccines) that can protect the lives of the most vulnerable people. Why some people still refuse to use them?

Listen to this insightful talk    How vaccines work?

Treat infections with artificial viruses – The Economist

Very interesting article on bacteriophages

LambdaPhageViruses that will attack bacteria. Renewing interest in phages could probably help tackle resistant bacteria. It is not new but has been forgotten for a long time… Some Western researchers are believing in phages, hoping, with modern methods, to turn them into tailored treatments for infection.

Read the article in The Economist    More on Phages    More on the company Synthetic Genomics

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