SAN FRANCISCO—After a morning when it was raining sideways, the sun broke out in downtown San Francisco as the WuXi AppTec Global Forum 2023 kicked off in the afternoon.

Although contending with day two of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the tenth anniversary of the one-day “complimentary and by-invitation” event filled up the mezzanine floor of the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, being standing room only. The theme of this year’s forum is B.O.L.D.: Breaking Barriers, Opening New Horizons, Leading Next Generation, and Delivering on the Promise for Patients.

After opening remarks from Hui Cai, Program Chair and Vice President at WuXi AppTec, and Minzhang Chen, Co-CEO at WuXi AppTec, an impressive panel took the stage to reflect on the state of innovation and highlight the healthcare industry’s notable advances in tackling innovation challenges to build an impactful future for patients.

The featured panelists included:

  • Todd Golub—Director, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard
  • John Ngai—Director, NIH BRAIN Initiative
  • Aviv Regev—Head, Genentech Research and Early Development
  • Vijay Pande—General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz
  • Michael Severino—CEO, Tessera Therapeutics; CEO-Partner, Flagship Pioneering

Here are some of the highlights of the discussion:

Michael Severino: “We’re looking at the convergence of a transformational understanding in human biology and a rapidly expanding nature of what a therapy looks like and what it can do. It’s no longer just a small or a large molecule—it can be an RNA therapeutic medicine or a cell-based therapy. We can couple all of that with remarkable advances in our ability to study, understand, and predict function using the tools of machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

Vijay Pande: “While 2023 is going to have its challenges due to macroeconomics, these types of times are sometimes the very best times to build companies. I think the last few years, ironically, were rough in the sense that there was a lot of money for investments and a dilution of talents distributed on many companies. I think we’re going to see now great new companies founded, amazing teams put together, and right at the time where we have all this new technology advance on machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) combined with biology. This year is going to be a lot of work for us all.”

Aviv Regev: “One thing that is going to be around the corner is really massive-scale inference for mechanism…We’ve seen a lot of the power of machine learning for observational data, images, text, and so on. But in biology, we do interventions. For patients, I think we still have a longer road to go. I’m not pessimistic at all, but I think you need the right kinds of data and framework. The ability to move over that bar is going to be a lot harder than the first one, but the payoff is going to be bigger.”

John Ngai: “An area that really gets me excited is that we can change the way we do science. We are building different and more diverse teams to leverage their knowledge, know-how, and backgrounds to solve these related problems. I think we will start seeing a change in the workforce that will get us toward these goals much faster.”

Todd Golub: “We’re entering a really interesting period where we’re going to see more of different sectors coming together to solve problems together spanning governments, investors, the academic world, rather than a series of handoffs from one to the next, taking on a collective role together. There’s never been a more exciting time to do that than right now.”

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