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What's hot in life sciences? Bio International Convention looks at what's next as pandemic recedes

Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

It's no secret that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the global life sciences industry shined. It ramped up development of everything from diagnostic tests to new vaccines — including two based on previously unproven messenger RNA technology —all within months instead of years.

At the Bio International Convention this week at the San Diego Convention Center, the industry took stock of those accomplishments, as well as asked what's next now that the pandemic has entered an endemic phase.

Can messenger RNA — the technology underpinning vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — be made durable and effective enough to treat other diseases beyond COVID?

"What we now have is data on billions of people" who have received mRNA vaccines, said Kathy Fernando, head of mRNA strategy at Pfizer. "I think that is going to open the floodgates for mRNA."

Can government agencies help improve private supply chains so shortages of respirators, personal protective gear and other health care equipment that plagued the early days of the pandemic are avoided during the next health crisis?

"We're trying to find those risks and vulnerabilities, focusing on public health and medical supply chains, and building maybe a little more domestically-based manufacturing," said Kristin DeBord, acting deputy director of the Office of Strategy, Policy, Planning and Requirements in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "But we do recognize that is not a solution to all of the problems."

 

The Bio convention features more than 3,000 companies exhibiting and 100-plus panel sessions over four days. Topics include therapy targets, business development, digital health, patient advocacy, public policy, and next-generation biotherapeutics.

On Monday, a panel on the next breakthrough in mRNA technology attracted an overflow crowd. Roughly 12 billion doses of COVID vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer have been administered globally, according to the panel.

"The last two years will historically be one of the greatest events in the history of medicine," said Randall Moreadith, chief executive of mRNA biotech Serina Therapeutics.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a technology that many had given up on, said Nathaniel Wang, chief executive of Replicate Bioscience. No treatment based on mRNA had been approved by regulators prior to Moderna's and Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccines.

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