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Day 1 keynote speakers Kevin Lin from TusPark Cambridge and Rosemarie Truman from the Centre for Advancing Innovation. Picture: Keith Heppell
Day 1 keynote speakers Kevin Lin from TusPark Cambridge and Rosemarie Truman from the Centre for Advancing Innovation. Picture: Keith Heppell

Life sciences conference proves of international value

Tim Mant from Kings College London at the An Introduction to Early Clinical Development session. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tim Mant from Kings College London at the An Introduction to Early Clinical Development session. Picture: Keith Heppell

The One Nucleus ON Helix life sciences conference, guided this year by incoming CEO Tony Jones, has expanded to two days and took place at the Babraham Research Campus for the the first time.

Nearly 300 delegates listed to more than 80 speakers, who covered all aspects of translational research and the life science ecosystem.

Rowena Gardner, VP Operations and company secretary at Microbiotica, said: “It’s a really key local event. The whole conference has developed in a different direction, with two days instead of one, a new venue and new energy. Tony Jones did a great job and the agenda was great.”

The expanded programme involved three simultaneous streams – Funding & Deals, Early Clinical Development and Science & Technology.

Rapt attention for An Introduction to Early Clinical Development chaired by Flic Gabbay from TranScrip. Picture: Keith Heppell
Rapt attention for An Introduction to Early Clinical Development chaired by Flic Gabbay from TranScrip. Picture: Keith Heppell

The bio-research festival began with keynotes from Rosemarie Truman, of the Center for Advancing Innovation, on how it is disrupting social impact spending, followed by Genentech’s Jane Grogan, with a talk entitled ‘From Drug Discovery to the Clinic’. It ended with Kevin Lin, of TusPark Cambridge, on ‘The TusPark-Cluster Innovation System in China and Beyond’.

Then began a plethora of parallel streams including sessions on clinical development, AI in drug discovery, alternative finance, therapeutic areas and a ‘Cambridge vs Cambridge: A Discussion on Innovation, Collaboration and Incubation. This latter event looked at the two Cambridges – ours and Boston’s. It was chaired by the hugely competent Doug Cuff of BioMed Realty, with panellists Derek Jones, of Babraham Bioscience, representing the UK, and Colleen O’Connor, of BioMed Realty, for the US.

“It was a really good comparison,” said Rowena. “Cambridge is more rural, and the university is much older: Boston has much newer infrastructure.”

The evening panel saw talks on ‘Communicating for Impact’ with BBC East’s Richard Westcott explaining why he now has a desk at Babraham, alongside AstraZeneca’s Sabine Jaccaud and Steve Palmer of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Chris Lowe of CATS and this writer, who described the Cambridge Independent’s support for stakeholders in the life sciences sector and the newspaper’s ambition to cover the sector to the full.

The 2018 ON Helix conference took place at Babraham Research Campus for the first time. Picture: Keith Heppell
The 2018 ON Helix conference took place at Babraham Research Campus for the first time. Picture: Keith Heppell

Day two brought more funding sessions, analyses of therapeutic areas and assessments of gene editing and the digital health era, with its great potential to reach those in the developed world.

The keynote explored how Cambridge is growing but the community still needs building and how local international companies like MedImmune could be useful to mentor companies through the growth process.

On immuno-oncoloy it was noted that it is changing so fast a slide deck you prepare one month is out of date the next.

The ‘Alliance Management: Managing the Relationship after the Deal’ stream proved instructive.

“In biotech terms it’s often a collaborative science arrangement that happens after a deal,” said Rowena. “There’s no textbook features, there’s lots to be aware of and many different facets to consider.”

She concluded: “It was a very good event – I met with people I know, and people I didn’t.”

One Nucleus chief executive Tony Jones said: “I am delighted with the way in which ON helix has assembled such a breadth of science and business executives allowing attendees to engage in debate around how we harness the latest advances in biomedical research and invest in them in order to improve patient outcomes in the future.”



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