Taiwan Biotech Forum Kicks Off in San Diego Ahead of BIO 2024

by Bernice Lottering
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From Left to Right: Tsai-Kun Li, Vice President DCB; Michael Huang, Vice President DCB; Yueh-Ping Liu, Director General Department of Medical Affairs, MOHW Taiwan; Shiing-Jer Twu, Chairman DCB; Chen Pei-Li, Deputy Director General Industrial Development Administration, MOEA Taiwan; Taby Ahsan, Vice President of City of Hope; Kyle Farh, Vice President of Illumina; Yun Yen, Emeritus President and Chair Professor Taipei Medical University.

The BIO International Convention is the largest and most comprehensive event for biotechnology, representing the full ecosystem with over 18,500 industry leaders from around the world. The 2024 Taiwan Biotech Forum, hosted by the Development Center for Biotechnology (DCB) and sponsored by the Department of Industrial Technology (DoIT) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Taiwan, in collaboration with GeneOnline, was held on June 2 before the US BIO convention (BIO 2024). The event focused on collaborative efforts and innovation in shaping Taiwan’s biotech sector’s future, centered around the theme “Navigating the Next Generation of Precision Medicine.” DCB Chairman Shiing-Jer Wu welcomed attendees, and Dr. Yun Yen, Emeritus President and Chair Professor of Taipei Medical, served as the moderator for two exclusive keynote sessions.

Related article: BIO 2024 Showcases the Emergence of Taiwan’s Biotech CDMO Market

Advancing Cell and Gene Therapy: Insights from Dr. Taby Ahsan, Vice President of City of Hope

Dr. Taby Ahsan, City of Hope’s (COH) Vice President of the Biological & Cellular GMP Manufacturing Facility, provided an overview of their capabilities in cell and gene therapy strategies. COH boasts three GMP facilities and multiple non-GMP labs focused on cell therapy and viral development. Dr. Ahsan emphasized their integrated manufacturing approach, spanning from preclinical stages to clinically relevant research, optimizing efficiency through strategic collaborations. She highlighted COH’s focus on product development and manufacturing science, enhancing Phase 1 clinical trial opportunities.

Dr. Ahsan highlighted their dynamic team of over 100 employees, focusing on stem cell manufacturing, particularly pluripotent stem cells and CAR-T therapies. She discussed the rigorous process of personalized stem cell manufacturing, including extensive assay development and viral vector use. Additionally, Dr. Ahsan detailed City of Hope’s advancements in autologous cell therapy.

She stressed potency tests’ significance in ensuring manufacturing accuracy and establishing comparability. Dr. Ahsan articulated City of Hope’s mission to democratize cancer care by scaling cell and gene therapies nationally and fostering partnerships for field advancements. “We hope to create collaborations in order to raise the whole field of cell and gene therapy,” she stated.

Taiwan Biotechnology Forum in San Diego 2024.
Dr Yun Yen, Emeritus President, Taipei Medical University (Left), Dr Taby Ahsan, Vice President of City of Hope (Right).

Dr. Kyle Farh, Vice President of Illumina, Discusses the Use of AI in Genetic Research

Dr. Kyle Farh, Vice President of Illumina and leader of the Artificial Intelligence Lab, brought his expertise to the forefront as a keynote speaker, delving into AI’s role in genetic research. He discussed AI’s application in drug discovery, particularly in validating drug targets based on human genetic evidence for successful Phase II and III clinical trials. “Human genetic evidence backing up the drug targets is likely to make Phase II and III clinical trials more successful because you’ve already proven efficacy in humans,” he said.

During the Q&A session, he shed light on AI’s role in clinical trials, highlighting its advancements in treating specific mutations in oncology while acknowledging data scarcity challenges in multifactorial diseases like high cholesterol and diabetes, where AI shows promise for future applications. “We at Illumina hope that many more people will move from exome and panel sequencing to whole genome sequencing, which would reduce many misdiagnoses,” he added.

Taiwan Biotechnology Forum in San Diego 2024.
Dr Kyle Fahr, Vice President of Illumina.

A Panel Discussion on the Challenges and Opportunities in the Biotechnology Industry

During the panel discussion, experts delved into the challenges and opportunities facing the biotechnology industry, touching on issues like accessibility, affordability, and the dynamic regulatory landscape. Dr. Ahsan highlighted the pressing need to reduce costs, increase therapy accessibility, and gather more data to support product development, citing the complexities in manufacturing and regulatory environments as significant hurdles.

Taiwan Biotechnology Forum in San Diego 2024.
Panelists left to right: Tsai-Kun Li, Yun Yen, Taby Ahsan, Kyle Fahr, M. Sherry Ku

Moreover, discussions at the meeting emphasized the importance of integrating Taiwan’s biotechnology industry with international standards, facilitating the entry of local biomedical manufacturers and startups into the lucrative North American market, and fostering global connections within the biomedical industry value chain. These efforts are pivotal in leveraging business opportunities amidst the rapidly evolving biotech landscape and addressing challenges such as the ongoing pandemic. Sherry, noting the industry’s exciting evolution, expressed optimism about the burgeoning potential in new treatments, particularly highlighting the promising future of cancer vaccines as a pivotal breakthrough. “Taiwan should have a mentality to stick on one thing diligently, consistently, to find success. We have to learn from history to really make a success of ourselves,” she stated.

Furthermore, Sherry advocated for research institutes to concentrate on protein targets, such as those in antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), and target-related aspects in the early stages of research. She suggested that it is more advantageous to focus on ADC targets now rather than the manufacturing process components. Additionally, Sherry emphasized the value of long-term research collaboration in advancing the field. “Taiwan should work on the basic science, find targets, build platforms, and focus on research collaborations,” she concluded.

Innovation and Strategic Deliberations Highlight Taiwan’s Biotech Future

The forum also featured startups showcasing groundbreaking innovations, from human trophoblast stem cells to virtual reality in molecular modeling and natural collagen scaffolds in tissue engineering. These diverse presentations underscored the industry’s vast potential for innovation and collaboration.

During the conference, experts deliberated on strategies aimed at aligning Taiwan’s biotech industry with global standards. Their discussions focused on guiding Taiwanese biotech manufacturers and startups into the flourishing North American market, fostering connections across the global biomedical industry value chain, and capitalizing on various current opportunities to accelerate biotech industry growth.

Taiwan Biotechnology Forum in San Diego 2024.
From left to right, first 3 individuals of the DCB team; Weber Liu, Director General DCB; Thomas Huang, CEO GeneOnline; Michael Huang, Vice President DCB; Kyle Fahr, Vice President Illumina; Yuta Lee, CEO Accelerated Bioscience; Taby Ahsan, Vice President of City of Hope.
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