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Global Biotech Revolution – GapSummit 2014

From March 31 – April 2 2014 I had the good fortune to attend the inaugural GapSummit, the first intergenerational leadership summit in biotechnology held at Cambridge University, United Kingdom. This is the flagship event for the Global Biotech Revolution, an organisation that aims to inspire and support the next generation of leaders to ensure the future sustainability and growth of the industry. GapSummit 2014 brought together current biotechnology leaders with 100 future leaders from across the globe to discuss, debate and challenge the status quo in biotechnology.

Seven gaps in the industry were identified and addressed in panel discussions:

1. Research & Innovation Gap

2. Funding Gap

3. Regulatory Gap

4. People Gap

5. Future Health Gap

6. Future Resources Gap

7. Public Perception & Education Gap

The highlights of this outstanding event for me are many and varied, although two stand out.

Dr. Severin Schwan, CEO of Roche Group, delivered a truly inspiring and refreshing keynote speech about entrepreneurship. He emphasised the importance of decentralised leadership and allowing researchers the freedom to pursue passions as a highly effective approach to fostering innovation. Dr. Schwan also discussed the need to accept and celebrate failure as a key and inevitable part of the innovation process.

A second standout was hearing from some top women leaders in the biotechnology industry. Dr. Annalisa Jenkins, Dr. Bahija Jallal and Adina Mangubat, are all very successful women who encouraged young women to believe that they can “have it all”. Hearing their experiences about successfully combining personal and professional life was motivating for all in the audience, I am sure.

My application to attend GapSummit addressed the Funding Gap so I was eager to attend the panel discussion on this topic. The panel was made up of extremely high calibre experts, including Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission, Dr. Neil Weir, Sir William Castell, Dr. Menelas Pangalos, and Kate Bingham. For me, the discussion highlighted the importance of cultivating specialised areas of expertise in New Zealand. It seemed that international funders have access to a diverse array of new technologies and so are not compelled to venture beyond established centres such as the Cambridge-Oxford-London triangle in the UK, and the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Diego in the US. These hubs have established a reputation for excellence, an exceptional track record and are known to have the resources to support successful commercialisation. This indicated to me that for New Zealand to compete internationally for funding, we need to get better at picking and supporting winners and specialising in areas of particular expertise. Encouraging collaboration between groups with similar capabilities is also essential. This would go some way towards generating a reputation and track record, and establishing more unique specialities to allow us to compete with the well-known clusters.

GapSummit 2014 left me more passionate than ever about the positive contribution biotechnology can make to society and the New Zealand economy, while also highlighting the areas that we need to focus on in the future. The current leaders were truly inspirational and the calibre of the future leaders assured me that the biotechnology industry will be in capable hands in the future.

I would like to sincerely thank Chiasma and their sponsors for their generous contribution to my travel costs, which greatly assisted me to attend this inspiring event.