The Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) Annual Conference was held in San Diego this year with over 16,000 attendees, including more than 3,100 industry-leading companies and 1,800 exhibitors ranging from Digital Health and Diagnostics to Bioprocess. The world’s largest and premier life science-focused partnering event, Applied Innovation had a significant presence as senior staff had a full schedule of one-on-one meetings with over 100 key industry players, top-tier partners, investors, and support organizations.
As the sixth largest global economy, California has long been a leader in biotechnology, with some of the earliest companies in the sector such as Amgen and Genentech emerging from the state. Although San Francisco and San Diego have long been considered to be the primary centers in the space, Orange County is increasingly recognized as a place for medical device innovation, as well as a growing presence in the drug and diagnostics segments. “Because of the geographic dispersion in Orange County, however, navigating the ecosystem can be challenging, especially for groups from outside the region,” said Michael Artinger, managing director of the Research Translation Group at UCI Applied Innovation. “Our focus is to make it as easy as possible for prospective partners and investors to access the wealth of cutting edge technologies being developed here, and our large presence at this year’s BIO event is just one of many examples of this effort.”
Ranked ninth out of public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, UCI has an annual impact on the Southern California economy of $5 billion. Cumulatively, Applied Innovation has signed over 140 licensing agreements, produced over 1000 active inventions and generated more than 100 startups based on UCI intellectual property. At BIO, there was no shortage of key industry players who wanted to learn more and engage with the breakthrough life science technologies coming out of UCI. “I had very substantive partnering meetings with a variety of pharma companies, such as AbbVie, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, and Eli Lilly,” said Casie Kelly, assistant director of licensing at Applied Innovation. “They felt that our science was very strong in the areas that they were interested in and they wanted to see more of what is being done at UCI.”
“It was impressive in not only the number of attendees, but also who was there,” said Associate Director of Licensing Alvin Viray. “I felt that the one-on-one partnering was fabulous.” Viray also noted that the digital track featured companies with healthcare-related applications in the wearable space, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. He predicted that digital health and medical devices will be a bigger part of BIO in the future and will be important to the Orange County medical device industry.
BIO also provided a forum for UCI startups to present their business plans to potential partners and investors at the “Startup Stadium.” Two UCI-based startups developing cancer therapeutics pitched to an esteemed panel of judges:
- Obsidio Therapeutics, founded by UCI professors Aimee Edinger and Stephen Hanessian, presented its therapeutic OBT-893 for difficult-to-treat cancers. Obsidio’s synthetic small molecule compounds are based on naturally occurring compounds like phytosphingosine, which are produced under stress in yeast to trigger amino acid transporter down-regulation and adaptive growth arrest. OBT-893 uniquely halts solid tumor growth by simultaneously disrupting all nutrient access pathways, starving cancer cells to death. Obsidio’s drug candidates are broadly effective and cancer selective, overcoming the resistance conferred by tumor heterogeneity and limiting the development of acquired resistance.
- Actavalon, co-founded by G. Wesley Hatfield, professor emeritus at UCI and the company CEO, presented a therapeutics platform that can potentially treat multiple types of human cancers. Using a novel computational method supported by high-throughput genetic information, Actavalon is developing a pipeline of broad-spectrum mutant p53 tumor suppressor protein reactivation drugs.
Meanwhile, the Applied Innovation booth was buzzing with activity as their display showed a video highlighting the impacts of UCI research and technologies. Lalisa Stutts, IP marketing analyst and fellowship program manager, and ITG fellows Kate Rodriguez, Ahmed Khorshid, and Carol Pham engaged with attendees, educating them on Applied Innovation’s programs fostering technology transfer, industry partnerships, and startup innovations. “We saw a lot of traffic at our booth from people starting companies, patent attorneys, non-profit institutions and business development professionals from various pharmaceutical companies reaching out to us,” Pham said.
As Applied Innovation continues to facilitate the commercialization of research and technologies from UCI laboratories, the new relationships formed at this year’s BIO will expand the campus’ impact on the healthcare economy, both regionally and nationally. “The energy has been fantastic,” Artinger said. “We’re getting the impression that people are coming by because they’re hearing good things about the breadth and depth of innovation happening at the University of California, Irvine.”