Skip to content

2021 BIO Digital Roundup

BIO Digital 2021 spotlighted biotech’s transformative role and impact on today’s four key challenges: COVID, social justice, the economy and climate change. NCBIO brings you this summary of the speakers and sessions that made the event so important. Click the link that follows each day's description to read more in-depth coverage from the BIO Digital 2021 Blog. 

Breaking Barriers in Biotech: COVID-19 and the Future of Biotech 

Veteran journalist Brooke Baldwin (formerly of CNN) led a discussion on what's next for the industry with BIO President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D.; BIO's new chairman Paul Hastings of Nkarta Therapeutics; and outgoing chairman Jeremy Levin, Ph.D., of Ovid Therapeutics. 

"We developed safe and effective COVID vaccines with unprecedented speed. And we know what drove it: biotechnology and the bio-revolution," McMurry-Heath said. 

However: "We have a long way to go. Millions of people continue to suffer. Much of South America is in crisis and the toll in India is difficult to fathom. COVID has exposed the shortcomings of health and socioeconomic systems in the U.S. and worldwide." 

Breaking Barriers in Vaccine Development 

As the biotech industry led the charge to develop a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Albert Bourla, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Pfizer, pushed his team to be one of the first companies to produce a vaccine that worked. 

Bourla, the son of Holocaust survivors, comes from a background in veterinary medicine. Given that there are more infectious diseases in the animal world than the human world, “In many cases the vaccine technology is way ahead in animal health than the technology we are using to make vaccines for humans,” he said.

One Health Preparedness and Response Translating Surveillance of Emerging Zoonotic Disease into Biotechnology 

One Health — the concept that animal, human and environmental health are interconnected — has been made readily apparent by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.  

Catherine Machalaba, Ph.D., senior policy adviser and senior scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, led a discussion with experts in this space. 

Fireside Chat with Tony Coles of Cerevel 

BIO President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., sat down with Tony Coles, M.D., CEO and chairperson of the Board of Directors of Cerevel Therapeutics, to discuss everything from how Cerevel is discovering how the brain works and developing a better understanding of neuroscience diseases, to the importance of diversity and inclusion in biotech. 

“Tony holds a special place in my heart," McMurry-Heath said as she began the session. "He was the architect of the United Negro College Fund and Merck partnership that gave me as a young scientist the financial support and confidence to forge a career that I sought. That fellowship changed my life." 

COVID-19 Therapeutics: Modality, Efficacy and Implications for Access 

As COVID-19 spread across the globe, companies worked on many different types of therapeutics to treat patients. 

Phyllis Arthur, vice president, infectious diseases and emerging science at BIO, led a panel on COVID-19 therapeutics and the work we’ve done to prepare for the next pandemic. 

Fixing the Economics of Antibiotic Development - Before It's Too Late  

How do we fix the economics of antibiotic development? Jenelle Krishnamoorthy, Ph.D., interim vice president global public policy at Merck, led a conversation with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Henry Skinner, Ph.D., CEO of the AMR Action Fund. The speakers discussed what is needed to accelerate the development of novel antibiotics - before it’s too late. 

Emerging Therapeutic Investment, By the Numbers  

One thing's certain in this time of uncertainty: markets have taken notice of biotechnology. 

David Thomas, BIO’s VP for Industry Research, presented new analysis of funding and deals for 2020/2021 and launch a new clinical development pipeline tracker. 

There were 64 R&D-stage biotech IPOs in the U.S. and 35 outside the U.S. in 2020, which raised $10 billion and $6.7 billion, respectively — far exceeding IPOs and funding in 2019.  

VC firms have been a key driver of increase funding for life sciences and biotechnology firms in 2020, having raised $17.9 billion for the industry in the U.S. and $11.5 billion outside the U.S — also an increase from 2019. 

Who’s leading the clinical pipeline in 2021? Hats off to smaller biotech firms, which account for 5,006 ongoing programs (out of 6,506 total), representing 77% of clinical programs this year. 

FDA Town Hall  

Just like at BIO Digital 2020, Alkermes Chairman and CEO Richard Pops moderated this year’s FDA Town Hall. His guests were two leaders of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one of the most critical federal agencies for the biotechnology industry.

Panelists discussed how the FDA is dealing with its heavy workload, balancing approvals related to COVID alongside other treatments and therapies (such as cell and gene therapies), and how the FDA plans to return to in-office work. 

It Takes a Globe: Global Pandemic Preparedness 

The COVID-19 pandemic showed the power of international collaboration in overcoming a crisis, but highlighted weaknesses in the process. How will the world prepare for the next global health crisis? What lessons should we learn? 

How to End the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Collaboration and Investment to Address Global Unmet Needs and Prioritize Research 

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discusses how his transition to working on infectious diseases when HIV/AIDS began to enter into public consciousness was something that greatly interested him given his background as someone who is board certified in the study and treatment of infectious diseases. 

Julie Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H., executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck, takes a moment to reflect on the early, dark days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and thinks of her patients back then as “teachers” who as advocates for themselves and their communities, oftentimes knew more about what was going on with their bodies and their communities than many physicians did at the time. 

Building Vaccine Confidence: Evidence and Emotion  

There is ample scientific data and evidence in the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Unfortunately, in the era of so-called alternative facts and widespread misinformation, we’ve seen that science and data alone may not be enough to combat hesitancy among certain populations. In this panel, experts discuss key drivers of vaccine acceptance, confidence, and the role of government, industry, scientists, health professionals, and more in getting shots in arms. 

Go to Day One of the BIO Digitial Blog