The 2019 BIO Asia-Taiwan Conference inaugurated on the 24th of July and operated on the theme “Biotech as the Next Growth Engine for Asia”. The event featured panel discussions on current novelties in the healthcare space and absorbing talks delivered by top industry professionals from across the globe.
Besides serving as a platform for companies to find partners and collaborators, the 2019 BIO Asia-Taiwan Conference also provided the opportunity for attendees to consume many thought provoking discussions. Here we present the condensed summary highlights of select topics with which the speakers graced the event.
AI for Biotech & Healthcare
In recent years, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has largely augmented the biotech and healthcare industry with its wide range of applications. Besides analyzing complex data, AI can also optimize clinical trial designs for more successful outcomes, for instance, in choosing the most suitable patient for an immunotherapy drug to obtain optimal effective response.
The afternoon session on the inaugural day saw Ethan Tu, founder of PTT-nonprofit social network and AI Labs pointing out a number of projects where his company has collaborated with Centers for Disease Control (CDC), hospitals, and the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) of Taiwan.He talked about the TaiGenomics platform that utilizes AI to process, analyze, and draw inferences from medical and genetic data collected from numerous sources. By doing this, the platform helps physicians read, process and organize over 2 million citations and literature to diagnose diseases or predict biomarkers more efficiently. He concluded that Taiwan is an ideal location for global partnership because of its data and algorithm innovation and open-mindset for collaboration.
The ability to access, validate, and contextualize the data makes real world data (RWD) helpful when making informed decisions during drug and clinical trial development.Apart from assisting in drug development and clinical trial performance, Wei-Tech Ang, Executive Director of Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore remarks that it can also assist in the rehabilitation field such as predicting recovery time, establishing therapy protocols, and developing technology-based assessments for home/clinical use.
In conclusion, the rise of technology is accompanied by a rapid and parallel expansion of medical data. Therefore, AI and machine learning plays an integral part in innovation and accelerates the pace of bringing cutting-edge science to patients in need of treatment.
▲Wei-Tech Ang, Executive Director of Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore
Protein Drugs and Combination Products
As of mid-2017 there are more than 2700 protein drugs that dominate the drug development landscape. Protein therapeutics and combination product trends are moving towards a more sophisticated and complex environment, from recombinant proteins (insulin), monoclonal antibodies (anti-TNF-α, anti-HER2, anti-VEGF antibodies), to antibody fragments, multi-specific/functional antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates. Besides, combination therapies work better because it enhances activity and efficacy of treatment, addresses complete biological pathways of cancers, and prevents/reverses drug resistance through adjusting immune responses. Judy H. Chou, SVP & Global Head of Biotech, Bayer states that manufacture of protein combination products should promote flexibility, once the product proves to be successful, drug production should scale-out rather than scale-up to become more production-efficient.
Most of the FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies target protein antigens, and in the past few years, new immune checkpoint inhibitors such as anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-L1 antibodies were discovered. As promising as it may seem, not all immunotherapy treatments work for every patient. Therefore, it’s vital to select predictive biomarkers for the clinical response of these checkpoint inhibitor drugs, such as the expression level of PD-L1, the frequency of CD8+T cell (少了+), and mutational load (i.e. how many antigens get expressed by cancer cells). Aside from protein targets, Alice L. Yu, Distinguished Chair Professor from Chang Gung University, states that cancer associated glycans are also good targets for immunotherapy, especially when combined with potent adjuvants.
▲Alice L. Yu, Distinguished Chair Professor from Chang Gung University
In 2018, eight out of 15 top pharmaceutical drugs sold were antibody-based drugs, which shows significant progress. Yet, there are development risks such as the production, storage and delivery of the drug to maintain its potency, to the clinical stage of immunogenicity. Larry Lo, Sr. Director of R&D, Corvidia Therapeutics, remarks that due to the increasing cost of drug development, the process is a 3-legged race that involves research, manufacturing, and clinical scientists to collaborate; to identify and answer critical questions in order to maximize treatment response.
Gene and Cell Therapy
Like any pharmaceutical drug development, the industry chain for gene and cell therapy starts from platform validation to pipeline development and finally to clinical trials. Madhusudan Peshwa, Global Head of R&D, GE Healthcare shared the process of managing a complex therapeutic supply chain. He states that different formats of cell and gene therapy require minimal to a certain extent of manipulation. The constant of cellular gene therapy is to develop the fingerprint of cells and facilitate continued learning through AI (integrated digital solutions).
Aside from focusing on technology-based production of cell therapies, efforts have been made in therapeutic development of the ‘cell’ itself. The CAR-T cell therapies obtain significant clinical results in hematological tumors, but CAR-T cells only specific target surface antigen and show limited applications in solid tumors. Nevertheless, Robert Hofmeister, the Chief Scientific Officer of TCR2Therapeutics, reports that they have developed TRuC™ T-cells that show significantly anti-tumor response through recognizing the antigen as peptides bound to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules.These cells demonstrate potent efficacy in both hematological and solid tumor models and have a lower cytokine release, potentially translating into a better safety profile. Because of its promising results, clinical trials for TRuC-T cell program have been initiated.
Regenerative medicine offers a transformative approach to healthcare, with the potential to not only treat but cure disease. As technology aids in the fast development of research biology and cancer therapy, regulators struggle to keep up with these latest discoveries; the balance between getting the effective treatment to the patient in regards to drug potency and efficacy in the shortest amount of time and the ethical concerns that arise in the process will continue to play an integral part in biotechnology and medical field.