This year's Pharmaceutical Industry Network Group (PING) conference attracted more than 180 delegates and debated a variety of exciting subjects in areas such as drug discovery and personalised medicine.
The event, which was held virtually for the first time in conjunction with Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Eventum Partners, heard from experts about the launch of NHS England's Genomic Medicine Service, future cell and gene therapies, better use of data to improve drug discovery and how the pharmaceutical industry can continue to collaborate.
Parker Moss, the chief commercial and partnership officer at Genomics England Limited (GEL), explained how the body will work to ensure the NHS is at the forefront of genomic medicine.
“Our focus is impact and ensuring the NHS continues to lead the world in the implementation and delivery of genomic medicine at national scale. To that end, Genomics England has been working hard alongside the NHS in preparation for the launch of the Genomic Medicine Service, making whole genome sequencing the standard of care for a selection of cancers and rare diseases,” he said.
“Part of delivering a world-leading service is ensuring it continues to benefit from advancements in technology and research. Genomics England has recently transformed its research offer with the implementation of cutting edge research tools, a new cloud-based platform for more powerful genomic analysis, and supporting clinical studies and trials.
“Genomics England is working in close collaboration with pharma to accelerate research and translate it into improved healthcare outcomes for patients globally."
Significant investment driving genomics
Dr Joanne Hackett, chair at Pexxi, a company that has developed a personalised oral contraception service, talked about the need for what she described as the “triple ABC helix” or academia, business and community and highlighted the significant investment that has driven genomics all over the world “with about 190 public and private initiatives embedded into the healthcare system.”
Insisting the UK was driving diagnosis, prevention and R&D, she said: “The past six months has shown us the value of collaborative working and the linkage of data. I predict greater emphasis on value-based care."
Matthew Durdy, the chief executive of Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, a company involved in cell and gene therapy, said some very exciting developments in genomics and gene therapies lay ahead in the next 10 years. He suggested advanced therapies would cross over into genetics and personalised medicine.
“Firstly, the precisely guided use of medicines, especially high value advanced therapeutics; and then the convergence of increased data and information, genetics and proteomics, and advanced therapeutics to create highly targeted and personalised treatments,” he said.
John McKinley, an executive board director at Avesthagen, which has been developing its own genomics programme, talked about a data-omics study of the Parsi endogamous population which has led to the identification of biomarkers. “As this biobank population increases in size, we will offer the widest access to industry to deliver rapid translation of these insights into predictive diagnostics, medicines and therapeutics,” he said.
Dr Nick Lench, the co-founder and CSO of Congenica, talked about disease biology in relation to new-born screening so that rare genetic disorders can be identified quickly.
"The UK is leading the way in genomic medicine, providing a national whole genome sequencing service to patients with rare genetic diseases. Congenica is excited and proud to be working with GEL and NHS England to deliver this ground-breaking service,” he said.
On the next steps for personalised medicine and AI, SOS Ventures' general partner Bill Liao, My Personal Therapeutics' CEO Laura Towart and Machine Medicine Technologies' founder Dr Jonathan O’Keeffe talked about the importance of machine learning, feedback, data and collaboration in improving quality of life.
O’Keeffe insisted "drugs are not the answer to CNS disease but neurotechnology is" while Towart said "it is all about prevention rather than cure."
Professor Jackie Hunter CBE at Benevolent AI talked about the AI revolution in drug discovery and cited the three Ps - platform, people and portfolio.
She said it was important to unite "advanced AI tools with its vast integrated knowledge graph in order to empower scientists, both in-house and through pharma collaborations, to discover more efficacious medicines faster."
Rapid emergence of Covid-19 vaccines
Deloitte's head of centre for health solutions Karen Taylor and Global Life Sciences consulting leader John Haughey also discussed how biopharma is reducing the length of clinical trials, something Taylor said had been shown in the rapid emergence of Covid-19 vaccines.
The event also heard about CAR-T or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy which is developed for each individual patient and re-programmes their immune system cells to target their cancer.
The conference was told that there are now more than 700 clinical trials globally using CAR technologies, with results expected to be released in the next few years.
“Throughout my career, I've always cared about making a real difference to patient's life and be at the cutting edge of research and development. Algorithm-based medicine is the future,” said Yogesh Davé, director of Cypress Quality Consultancy.
“The promise of delivering a precision medicine to patients for best outcome is now a reality. The future of CAR technologies is bright."
Paul Gershlick, the chair of the conference and partner and head of pharmaceuticals and life sciences sector at VWV said: “We are delighted to have held our first ever virtual PING Conference with such a stellar line-up of speakers on these key areas. The future of life sciences is promising - it is all about innovation, individuality and collaboration. The UK is the vanguard within the pharma industry in these exciting areas, taking it to new heights to improve people's overall health."
Dr Sally Ann Forsyth, CEO of Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst and board member at the Hertfordshire LEP, said: “This conference is a shining example of how Hertfordshire is curating growth by playing to its key sector strengths. Stevenage in Hertfordshire is now at the epicentre of a globally renowned cell and gene cluster thanks to targeted LEP investments and a supportive ecosystem that is instrumental to its success.
“We are proud of our long association with this event, which has grown in scale and stature and now attracts an audience from far beyond the county’s boundaries.”
Darren Spevick, managing partner of Eventum Partners who supported the conference, said the event “shed light on the growth opportunities in genomics, AI and personalised medicine."