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BCLA's 7th Annual Biotech Summit: How LA's Biotech Landscape is Shaping the Future

On Saturday, October 16th, 2021, we hosted our 7th Annual Biotech Summit - BCLA’s first major in-person event since the start of the pandemic. The positive mood reverberated off the walls of the new BioscienceLA collaboration hub in Culver City, CA as attendees checked in, grabbed coffee, and caught up with each other.

After a brief introduction and welcome by Kathy Grotsch, President of BCLA and PhD Candidate at USC, and Dave Whelan, CEO of BioscienceLA, we were fortunate to be joined by Dr. Nick Goeden, Co-founder of Capsida Biotherapeutics for our keynote talk this year. While the COVID-19 pandemic posed a unique challenge for all of us, Nick and his team grew their gene therapy company from a group of 12 pre-pandemic to now over 100 employees. Nick began the talk by highlighting the low diversity and number of biotechnology spaces that have previously existed in Los Angeles. Yet, as infrastructure in LA has evolved, we’ve seen an unparalleled growth in the number of biotech companies calling Los Angeles home. Interestingly, vaccine development for COVID-19 changed the lens through which biotech companies are now viewing the drug development process. Before, drugs may take 3-5 years to move from research and development to clinical trials. In contrast, with around-the-clock work and more inter-company collaboration than ever before, drugs are brought from bench to bedside in just a few months. Nick and his team at Capsida aim to develop drugs against neurological diseases using adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy techniques. In addition to developing novel viral delivery techniques, the group is also working towards better understanding the central nervous system (CNS) through innovative imaging approaches. It is an exciting time to be involved in the CNS space. Thank you again to Nick for an exciting and informative talk! If you missed the live talk, you can watch a recording of the keynote here.

Following the keynote speech was our first panel of the summit, titled “Biotech and a Sustainable Future.” We are grateful to have had an excellent panel of local professionals. Arye Lipman from General Partner MarsBio moderated the session. He was joined by Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, Co-Founder and CTO of Orbillion Bio, Jim Cooper, CTO and Managing Partner at Braid Theory, and Andy Navarrete, post-doctoral researcher at the USC Wrigley Institute. Each of our panelists shared how their respective paths have led them to taking integrative approaches that meet sustainable goals. As biotech has grown tremendously in the last five years, traditional goals in medicine and healthcare have expanded to include new areas of interest such as climate and sustainability. Some of this work includes growing cells taken from an animal biopsy to make artificial meat, creating accelerator companies to support drug discovery from the ocean space, and farming seaweed in the open ocean as a biofuel feedstock. We thank each panelist for their time and for sharing their perspectives during the summit. Watch a recording of Panel 1 here.

During lunch, we were excited to bring back in-person networking opportunities and breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were split into two tracks: Start-Up Studio and Career Choices in Industry. In the Start-Up Studio track, there were mentors speaking on ideation and commercialization, team building, accelerator/incubator programs, and funding. In the Career Choices track, there were mentors speaking on R&D, sales, consulting, project management, field application scientist, and start-up founder. Attendees were free to move between tables and tracks to receive advice on launching their start-ups or gain insights on the many career options in the biotech industry. We would also like to thank Yalla Food Truck for serving a Mediterranean-style lunch!

Our second panel of this year's summit was titled “The Future of Clinical Trials.” The session was moderated by Amit Rushi, CCO of Bodyport. We were joined by panelists Lucy Coassin, Senior Director of Pharma Partnerships at Current Health, Wout Brusselaers, Founder and CEO of Deep 6 AI, Theresa Caban, Director of Clinical Trials at the Lundquist Institute, Ted Barduson, Co-Founder and COO of MedVector, and Josh Goldsmith, General Manager at Q2 Lab Solutions. We heard first on how clinical trials have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinical trials are now happening faster than ever with much of the documentation components completed off-site. In addition, telehealth, decentralized trials, and home health monitoring have allowed for the growth and acceptance of primary diagnoses from a patient’s home. The group discussion focused on how many of these advances in digital health coupled with the way an individual's health data is being collected and analyzed by large companies such as Google or Apple has resulted in a novel approach to clinical care. Exciting areas that are subsequently growing as a more long term effect of this last year are artificial intelligence, access and abilities of community physicians to start trials, and disease monitoring from one's home. We thank each panelist for their time and contributions to the discussion on the future of clinical trials. Watch a recording of Panel 2 here.

The summit concluded with an open networking session, where attendees had opportunities to continue discussions with speakers and mentors, build connections with each other, and learn about biotech career opportunities in Los Angeles. Thank you to all BCLA team members, speakers, mentors, sponsors, and attendees for making this event a success! We look forward to continuing serving the LA biotech ecosystem with virtual and in-person events for our community.

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