The first thing I noticed about the recent BIO International convention was the line to get in! With at least 20,000 participants joining from life sciences companies and organizations around the world, this year’s meeting was busier than it’s been for a long time. The partnering sessions were buzzing and the keynote talks were packed, with plenty of pop-up events and a startup stadium showcasing fresh ideas on the side.
Coming so soon after SynBioBeta I didn’t expect to see many synthetic biology applications on show at BIO International. However, there was still a strong presence from many companies working in this exciting area - especially cultured meat and food bioproduction, as well as biofuels. But it was the opportunities for using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology in biomedical applications that mainly caught my eye.
Vaccines are big news
There was a lot of talk about vaccines this year, with large and small pharma and biotech players in attendance. There were a number working on mRNA vaccines, building on the success of this approach in the pandemic, but also companies still working on protein and viral vaccines for infectious diseases and other conditions such as cancer and autoimmune diseases.
CRISPR/Cas9 has much to offer this fast-expanding field. Firstly, it can support vaccine discovery and development by providing a way to rapidly and precisely modify DNA to create more effective immunogens, and enable large-scale screens for the most immunogenic epitopes.
At the other end of the pipeline, CRISPR/Cas9 is a vital tool for vaccine manufacturing. For example, gene editing can be used to optimize mammalian or microbial cell lines for vaccine bioproduction, increasing yields and side-stepping problems such as host cell toxicity.
Cell therapy is still a hot topic
Cell and gene therapy was another heavy presence at BIO International this year, with packed out plenary sessions and a notable buzz around CAR-T cells - genetically engineered immune cells designed to seek out and destroy cancer.
There are a number of genome editing technologies that are being put to work engineering CAR-Ts and other cell therapies such as TALENS, zinc finger nucleases, meganucleases, MAD7 and, of course, CRISPR.
However, when I see the data and speak with people working in the field, it still seems that CRISPR/Cas9 is still leading the pack, providing the flexibility, functionality and reliability that researchers need to create next-generation cell therapies.
Antibodies are everywhere
Another big biotherapeutics growth area is antibodies. We’ve come a long way since the first monoclonal therapy was approved by the FDA more than 35 years ago, and we’re now seeing the rise of highly targeted antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) as well as bi- and multi-specific antibodies that are set to transform treatment for a range of diseases.
Genome engineering technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 have a fundamental role to play in this new era of antibody therapeutics. For example, CRISPR can be used to generate large, highly diverse antibody libraries for screening. It can then be used for fine-tuning affinity and avidity to create the perfect therapeutic with precisely the right binding properties.
As with vaccine bioproduction, the perfect antibody deserves the perfect cell line. There are plenty of opportunities for CDMOs to embrace CRISPR to optimise their cell lines and manufacturing processes to meet the growing demand for these antibodies as they come through to market.
As the name might suggest, BIO International gave the sense of being part of a global endeavor by a diverse, international community. Diversity, equity and inclusion was a strong theme that emerged over the week with a number of presentations, and it’s great to see the community taking it seriously.
As the global leader in CRISPR licensing, with multiple patents secured in a wide range of countries including the US, Europe, China, Canada, and Australia, it was a great opportunity for our ERS team to meet up with prospective and current licensees from around the world to provide advice and guidance about how to unlock the power of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing for their application.
We’re willing to work with companies at any size, from the smallest startup to the biggest multinational pharma, offering fair, flexible pricing to turn bright ideas into tomorrow’s life-changing innovations and commercial success.
If you’d like to know more about CRISPR/Cas9 licensing, you can chat to us in person at BioEurope Autumn in November. And in the meantime, you can always reach out to the team through our website.