Exploring AI’s Impact on Biotech Breakthroughs and International Funding

by GeneOnline
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During BIO Asia-Taiwan 2023, GeneOnline and Ching Cheng Attorneys at Law jointly held a Biotech Month Forum, with the theme of “From AI to cross-border funding: Unlocking Success for Biotech Companies”. Experts from various fields exchanged views on issues such as the pivotal role of artificial intelligence (AI) in drug development, the intriguing notion of AI’s ownership of intellectual property, and the intricate process of securing international funding, with the aim of in-depth exploration of how the burgeoning growth of big data and AI is shaping the biotech industry.

In his opening speech, Dr. Wallace Lin, Secretary General of Taiwan Bio Industry Organization (Taiwan BIO), cited the recently released movie Oppenheimer as an example to underscore the collaborative endeavor that scientific progress truly is. He stressed the value of cross-industry participation and expressed hope that this forum would spark fresh insights and invigorate Taiwan’s biotech sector through enhanced financial support, communication, and collaboration.

Dr. Chris Tsai, Chairman of the Precision Medicine Industry Association of Taiwan (PMIA), metaphorically compared the biotech industry to waves, with AI and big data emerging as the present-day wave makers and entrepreneurs as surfers of the “waves of opportunity”. He also mentioned that PMIA has been committing to integrating AI with the precision healthcare industry to explore future opportunities over the past few years and will keep up the pursuit of improving the industry in the years to come.

Dr. Wallace Lin, Secretary General of Taiwan BIO, and Dr. Chris Tsai, Chairman of PMIA, delivered opening remarks at the Biotech Month Forum.

Related article: The Emergence of General AI for Medicine: Medical Applications of ChatGPT 

AI’s Potential in Drug Development: Present and Future

In the first presentation, Dr. Yu-Feng Wei, Co-founder of Vizuro, delved into the tantalizing prospects of AI applications within the biotech realm. His speech revealed the potential of AI in new drug development, including saving time and costs, and garnering considerable attention from investors. He also explored the practical applications of AI in compound design and prediction of drug-protein interactions.

Dr. Wei stated that generative AI can utilize the available information to generate novel chemical structures, and there have been many successful cases in the field of small molecule drugs. However, when it comes to macromolecules, especially proteins, research is still fraught with difficulties including the problem of computational capacity and resource allocation. Therefore, synthesizability of AI-generated macromolecules remains an issue to be explored. 

Although AI can predict the efficacy and safety outcomes of clinical trials, Dr. Wei reminded that these predictions are for reference only and can never completely replace actual trials. Further validation and confirmation of the simulation results in both laboratory and clinical settings are necessary to maximize the reliability and credibility of AI simulations.

Based in Boston, Dr. Yu-Feng Wei, shared with the audience online regarding applications and possibilities of AI in the pharmaceutical industry.

When AI Crosses Over With Intellectual Property Rights

Next, James Hou, Founder and Managing Partner of Ching Cheng Attorneys at Law, ventured into the intricate nexus of AI and intellectual property rights. Hou, drawing on his legal expertise, pondered whether AI could be recognized as a legal entity. This question naturally extended to AI’s potential intellectual property rights. Notably, Hou contended that the existing legal framework, predating the AI era, is ill-equipped to address this issue effectively. He advocated for revisiting the very nature of legal policies to accommodate AI’s evolving capabilities and consider amendments or new legislation to govern AI’s access to intellectual property rights.

Central to this inquiry is the definition of AI, a pivotal determinant of its potential legal status. While AI was historically relegated to mechanistic tasks, it would not cause legal problems as AI is basically considered an ordinary computer tool. However, thanks to the emergence of new-generation AI technologies such as ChatGPT, AI has increasingly demonstrated its creative capabilities, and the question of whether AI can be entitled to rights and legal liabilities like real humans has become a hot topic nowadays. 

Pertinently, patent laws lack clarity regarding the attribution of intellectual property rights arising from AI-generated outputs. According to one viewpoint, intellectual property rights created by AI should be vested in the AI itself due to its ability to think and create independently. Yet, there is another view that these rights should be vested in the creators or operators because they have contributed to the design and operating conditions of the AI. One possible way to address this issue is to amend patent laws to clearly define the ownership of intellectual properties created by AIs. Another way is to determine the attribution of intellectual property rights with contracts or agreements between AIs and their creators or operators.

James Hou, Founder and Managing Partner of Ching Cheng Attorneys at Law, discussed the legal issues related to AI, with the aim of stimulating the audience to think about whether AIs should possess legal capacity in the future.

Insights into Cross-Border Investments and Keys to Successful Funding

Haolin Sung, Founder and Managing Partner of Chaperone Investment, took the stage for the third presentation, sharing invaluable insights and experiences in entrepreneurship and venture investment. Sung, a seasoned venture capitalist, recounted investments in various companies since 2016, including Lin BioScience and Caliway Biopharmaceutical. Particularly noteworthy was Chaperone’s reputation for successful early-stage investments, exemplified by the recent involvement with AI-related Health2Sync, which also secured funding from Taiwania Capital.

Sung’s presentation was underpinned by his rich entrepreneurial journey and diverse roles, including past positions at Diamond Biofund and First Securities Inc. He candidly shared his biotech investment experiences across different global regions, encompassing Taiwan, China, Europe, and the United States. The interactive session saw attendees discussing investment strategies in medical AI and healthcare, current international market conditions, and Taiwan’s unique investment landscape.

Sung pointed out that Taiwanese investors tend to favor multi-channel investments with an emphasis on early-stage ventures, while U.S. investors lean towards long-term development and competitive bidding processes. Particularly, investors from mainland China could sometimes exhibit distinct behaviors, necessitating careful handling of unexpected issues. 

Concerning advice for those seeking overseas funding, Sung emphasized the importance of nurturing strong business connections, gaining in-depth experiences in target countries, and elucidating why overseas capital is needed when local investors are available. 

Haolin Sung, Founder and Managing Partner of Chaperone Investment, shared his experiences and insights on investing in Taiwan and overseas.

Panel Discussion on Investment Trends, Funding Strategies and Global Market Prospects

Entering the panel discussion session, the five panelists, Thomas F. Huang, Founder and CEO of GeneOnline, Dr. Chris Tsai, Chairman of PMIA, Haolin Sung, Founder and Managing Partner of Chaperone Investment, Simon Su, Managing Director of ForMED Venture, and James Hou, Founder and Managing Partner of Ching Cheng Attorneys at Law, explored the challenges of partnerships and cooperation between venture capitalists and biotech companies, and shared their collective experiences navigating economic downturns and challenging market conditions.

Simon Su highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fundraising dynamics, indicating the extended time needed for funding and emphasizing the pivotal role of partnerships. Su’s insights spanned investment trends, company valuations, and future market projections. With strong focus on medical technologies, ForMED Venture emphasizes early-stage investments which requires an intricate understanding of medical devices and healthcare technologies. Su’s emphasis on these factors is grounded in the company’s international recognition and status as an attractive investment target.

A critical facet of the panel was the discussion on Taiwan’s strengths and potential in the biotech market. The consensus resonated with optimism, driven by the sector’s rapid growth and the market’s increasing confidence. This sentiment was further underscored by discussions on IPO strategies, the significance of brokerage firm support, and the differing characteristics of U.S. and Taiwanese capital markets. In particular, for international investment and IPO, the panelists stressed that it would be necessary to consider regional differences and specific legal requirements. 

In the intricate world of biotech stocks, Director Su spotlighted the hesitancy of U.S. investors to engage with Taiwanese companies, while favoring domestic investments. However, Hou shared a success story of attracting international investments to Taiwan, underscoring the sector’s global appeal. This optimism is grounded in the burgeoning development of Taiwan’s biotech landscape, promising a future characterized by growth and innovation.

As the event drew to a close, attendees departed armed with profound insights into AI’s transformative potential in drug development, the nuanced legal discourse surrounding AI and intellectual property, and the strategies and intricacies of securing international funding. This forum not only enriched participants’ understanding of biotech’s trajectory but also fueled their aspirations for innovation and growth within this dynamic sector.

From left to right: Thomas F. Huang, Founder and CEO of GeneOnline, Dr. Chris Tsai, Chairman of PMIA, Haolin Sung, Founder and Managing Partner of Chaperone Investment, Simon Su, Managing Director of ForMED Venture, and James Hou, Founder and Managing Partner of Ching Cheng Attorneys at Law. Under the theme of “Trends in International Fundraising and IPO Market”, the five panelists exchanged their thoughts and answered questions from the audience.
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