The Triangle Region is home to more than 500 Life Science companies and has been rated as the top Life Science metro in the United States. Wake County offers businesses in the life sciences industry many advantages including access to research, customers, suppliers, a skilled workforce, and both technical and professional support services. As a target industry for Wake County Economic Development, our resources go to attracting and retaining Life Science companies to the area. One of the great resources for Life Science companies in our region is CED's Life Science Conference. The conference aims to empower entrepreneurs and our life science community with current learning and new perspectives in a stimulating environment that encourages collaboration and fosters key connections that will help propel breakthrough companies and inspire future discovery. We took a moment to talk to the staff over at CED about their conference and Life Sciences in the region. See what they had to say!
1. Why does CED host a life science conference? Why in Raleigh?
CED has presented the annual CED Life Science Conference for 25 years as a gathering of our life science community to showcase North Carolina companies, provide up-to-date learning from industry thought leaders, and facilitate networking all in one place. North Carolina is one of the leading life science hubs in the country, especially the Triangle area. The Raleigh Convention Center provides a great combination of both large ballrooms for keynote speakers and smaller areas for one-on-one partnering meetings. The surrounding area in downtown Raleigh is ideal for the many dinners, meetings, and other auxiliary events arranged by sponsors and participants in the conference.
2. How have you seen the conference grow?
For the last few years, the CED Life Science Conference has experienced record attendance with approximately 1,000 annual registrants. This year, the agenda included two opening workshops on the morning of March 1 before the main program. These optional workshops gave attendees an extended first day of learning. Also this year, 300 conference registrants had access to partnering software which manages and schedules one-on-one meetings with other attendees. We saw the number of meetings double from 2015 to 2016 with 343 total one-on-one meetings scheduled at the 2016 conference.
3. What were some of the main takeaways from the conference?
- In regard to funding, a synergy has developed between venture capital and large pharmaceutical companies. Investors from Merck and Pzifer said that they are looking for new ways to bring in innovative science. One of those ways is working with venture capital firms on investment deals in emerging biotechnology.
- It's all about your people. Bob Hugin, Chairman & CEO of Celgene, was featured opening speaker, and he described strategies that led Celgene to success including the importance of talent. Hugin noted that every individual's impact affects the results of their team and ultimately the entire organization; you need the right people on your team to turn adversity into opportunity. Hugin said that this is "critical to producing disruptive change.” Several other speakers noted that the Triangle area in particular is a hotbed for great talent, with specific mention of the concentration of higher education.
- Breakthrough innovation is happening right here in NC. Fourteen NC entrepreneurs presented on stage and forty-two companies exhibited in the Innovation Room. In addition to showcasing these emerging companies, the agenda featured a segment on genomics. Charles Gersbach, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University, presented up-to-date learnings on gene editing including details on his own research at Duke, which seeks to correct mutations that cause hereditary diseases like muscular dystrophy. As gene editing is revolutionizing disease modeling and medicine, Gersbach noted that the incredible talent in the Triangle and his support from Duke make the research possible.
- Investment in IT is critical. Bob Hugin also spoke to the trend of IT in healthcare, and he noted that healthcare will look totally different a decade from now due to IT. Hugin also said that IT investment is especially important as the aging population increases the use of healthcare, causing pressure for the next 25 years.
4. Something CED Life Science conference focuses on is the convergence of technologies, can you speak to how technology and life sciences are converging?
Several of the main conference takeaways link directly with the overall trend of convergence between technology and life sciences. The agenda also highlighted several speakers that directly addressed convergence including Ashish Cowlagi, Program Director for Watson Health at IBM. Cowlagi talked about Watson Health’s experiments with leading institutions including academic and large industry players. He specifically spoke to applications for the Watson computer in oncology at large medical centers across the U.S. where Watson is in clinical use and has seen patients. Watson is actually doing rounds with oncologists in a clinical setting as “a learned colleague” by looking at patient medical records and correlating with literature to make recommendations for screenings and treatments. Ultimately, the Watson Health technology is providing “augmented intelligence” for clinicians.
5. What about the Triangle Region and Raleigh makes Life Science companies thrive here?
We have a strong legacy of life science here in the Triangle which makes this area one of the most influential life science hubs in the U.S. Each year at the CED Life Science Conference we present the Life Science Leadership Award, recognizing an individual who has made a significant impact on the life science community in North Carolina. Ernie Mario (Venture Partner and Senior Advisor at Pappas Ventures) presented Fred Eshelman (Chairman of The Medicines Company and Founder of Eshelman Ventures) with the award this year noting that Eshelman took NC-based PPD from humble beginnings to a powerful CRO. Mario also said that Eshelman has created a “center of excellence” for life science in North Carolina as a “template for other entrepreneurs to follow”. Upon receiving the award, Eshelman spoke to the importance of culture within an organization and higher education as “magnets for talent.”