The partnering event BioFit2022 took place in Strasbourg, France on November 29th and 30th as well as online on December 7th and 8th. It reflected on challenging times in the pandemic, ‘survivors’ of the economic threats, and adressed the preparation and perseverance needed to deal with challenges today and in the future. The bottom line: dynamic partnerships and more financing opportunities on the horizon.
A biologist, a CEO, and a venture capitalist enter the BioFit2022 event...., while this may sound like the beginning of a great joke, it fits the BioFit2022, which was not only entertaining and well-organised, but also provided a platform in presence - and in extension virtually - for a lot of networking between investors, scientists, technology transfer organisations (TTOs), pharmaceutical companies, start-ups looking to become household names in the biotech playground, and venture capitalists looking for the next big thing.
The different tracks offering plenary discussions were ranging from topics on how early-stage biotech collaboration dynamics are changing, over how to raise the optimal amount of financing to get off to a good start, to what big pharma is looking for when engaging in collaborations with academia or in licensing agreements. There were possibilities to matchmake projects with CEOs, an exhibition area, start-up slams for young companies to showcase their projects, a multitude of panel discussions, and of course informal networking events. And as Jerome Samson, investment manager of the European Investment Funds (EIF) mentioned “You’re not just looking for the right team, you’re looking for the right team at the right moment”. Opportunities to meet people to collaborate with were given, and keep being available over the online platform provided.
The hybrid nature of the event allowed the continued interaction and connection between the participants online on the 7th and 8th of December, as well as the revision of the plenary discussions that took place a week prior in the Strasbourg venue. Although some of the videos have poor audio quality, the opportunity for passholders to (re)visit the riveting discussions, is invaluable and a perk of the pandemic, which has forced a lot of the networking opportunities of the industry online. “Be creative. You need to be able to pivot a lot!” as the charismatic moderator of the first Nurturing and Licensing of early assets' session, Fausto Artico, said, who is global R&D Tech Head and director of Innovation and Data Science at the British pharma and biotech company GSK plc.
This pandemic as well as other crises and how they influenced the industry in the past years were obviously a ubiquitous topic throughout the panels. Some highlighted the positive impact it has had on the economy, the ability of people to form meaningful and profitable connections for their respective companies without travelling long distances, the flux of money, and the shift seen all over Europe in financing and partnership possibilities. The VC funds seemingly became much bigger, and there are more chances for first round financing. Like the very eloquent Kristin Thompson, VP and Chief Business officer of eureKare, a company focused on financing and investing and building European biotechnology companies, stated, “Covid was this real transitional period for Europe. I think we can see that in terms of partnering. Europe was a little more discreet, was not marketing externally as much [as companies in the USA]. This has changed. We started putting value in our ideas. We are transitioning, but I think we need to put more tools in place which can support innovative ideas which need 10 to 15 years to get refraction”. This transition, many at the BioFit2022 discussed, may lead to more dynamic collaborations between Pharma and Biotech and to more opportunities for early-stage biotech start-ups.
However, others acknowledged how much pressure everyone was under during this time. “Covid was brutal for biotech companies,” said Ajan Reginald, CEO of Roquefort Therapeutics plc and managing director of Celixir. He pointed out the silver lining though, stating “if you survived, you learned a lot. You need to adjust and learn to work at high speed, and we did that.”