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Business Meeting

Asia Rising at the 2023 BIO International Convention

The 2023 BIO International Convention held in June welcomed more than 20,000 biotechnology and pharma leaders from 73 countries in Boston, the nexus of global biotech innovations.

Boston has emerged as “the most innovative square mile on the planet,” according to Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, CEO of MassBIO, the world’s first biotech trade organization that served as a genesis of the current BIO Convention. The Boston biotech boom was further accelerated by the creation of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in 2007. Since then the city has drawn nearly $9 billion in private venture capital and $3.2 billion in National Institutes of Health funding in 2022. It’s estimated that nearly 1,000 biotech companies in Greater Boston today employ more than 100,000 people, leading the biotech innovation in Massachusetts. The state produces about 15% of the U.S. drug development pipeline, which translates to total 7% globally.

Technological advancement over the last few decades has spurred the growth of the biopharma ecosystem, which has become truly diverse and expansive. Encompassing everything from cloud platform technologies and manufacturing to biotech and venture capital investments and business advisory, there are more small laboratories and early biotech startups thriving today, with multinational pharmaceutical companies, healthcare advocacy groups, and consultants.

At this year’s BIO International Convention, stakeholders from East Asia stood out for their notable presence. Led by the Convention’s sponsor Samsung Biologics, Korean biotechnology was on full display at the K-Bio showcase. Boasting one of the largest delegations at the 2023 Convention, more than 500 Korean companies and organizations were in attendance, doubling the size from the previous year. Celltrion, Lotte Biologics and ST Pharm were among the participating industry leaders from Korea.

The Korean government has set the bioindustry competitiveness as the focus of its next national growth engine. It has allocated major resources to nurture Korean biotech companies, including export support and easing of regulatory measures. The government’s strong commitment to increasing the biotech competitiveness in the global healthcare market and biosimilars was palpable at the Convention. Small-to-mid-sized bio ventures like ABL Bio, Aptabio Therapeutics, CHA Biotech, Eubiologics, Prestige Biopharma, HLB and Syntekabio were onsite to actively pursue deals with multinational pharmaceutical giants, venture capital investors or new contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMO).

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) were prevailing conversation topics among the attendees. AI’s potential impact for future therapies generated much optimism, though notwithstanding some concerns for misusing the technology, including its unregulated or irresponsible application to biopharma development.

Most agreed that the data—biomarkers, algorithms and physical molecules—hold enormous value. For developing new drug discovery and therapies urgently needed to save human lives and advancing patient care, the data serves as a foremost source for driving new innovations.

These recent developments together have signaled an inevitable shift in key biopharma value addition, moving the predominant emphasis from therapeutic efficacy to strategies leveraging big data. Regarding some of these aspects, Asia has become the place for fast deal-making, with advancing technologies impacting the scope and scale of deals and partnering opportunities.

Along with India and Korea, Mainland China has also grown exponentially for the last decade in size and reputation. China’s presence at the BIO Convention showed how the country has embraced a new wave of emerging global biotechs. Claiming its own place on the world stage as a source of innovative biotechnology, China is varying its tactics to include bioprocessing, global business development, marketing strategy and investment. These efforts are led by companies such as Wuxi Biologics, MyBio, Henlius, Novo Nordisk, Cubio, etc. With more than a billion people in its domestic market to serve in a region estimated to be four billion plus, China is rapidly expanding beyond its initial engagement of serving mostly nearby markets through joint venture projects with multinational corporations.

Generating more innovations today, AI and ML are making a significant impact by democratizing drug discovery. This pivotal transformation is shifting possibilities for developing new therapies, what was once limited to only well-funded global companies and institutions. The cost-cutting and time-efficient technologies have enhanced screening and optimization, changing the narratives and disrupting the norms within the industry. This trend has also allowed major pharma companies to increasingly seek collaboration with smaller, more agile biotech firms to fill their pipelines.

Trust-building has remained at the core of global biopharma relationships. The Convention networking workshops emphasized the importance of determining what the company’s needs and wants are before setting targets and comparing deals.

Cultivating an international network of contacts and collaborators is fundamental for accessing new business opportunities beyond the company’s own culture and language. Influential cross-border partnerships can lead to better products and services. The importance of well-defined communications and due diligence processes is paramount for effective transnational networking that can widen their pool of resources, talents and markets.

The takeaway from the Convention, especially for Asian companies, is to learn how to develop a compelling story that would help build relationships with investors and top pharma leaders worldwide. Knowing their valuation, setting an early target for partnering and understanding alternative financing options are also a key to improve their chances for success on the global biopharma stage.

August 1, 2023

Sabina Lee, M.A.

Senior Consultant, W Medical Strategy Group

Building on her international experience, she helps clients navigate complex issue management and cross-cultural PR and marcomms in the global environments. She has worked with a range of clients in varied sectors, including high-profile institutions, government agencies and corporations in New York, Washington D.C., Beijing, Paris and Seoul. Sabina previously served as chief media strategist for the Pulitzer Prizes and senior public affairs officer for Cornell and Columbia Universities. A graduate of Pratt Institute in New York, she attended the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California for her M.A. in International Policy and Development.


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