Built with Biology 2022
1900 investors, innovators, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and academics in one place
May 5, 2022
After two years of digital meetings the Synbio community was brought back together in Oakland for the Global Synthetic Biology Conference, April 12-14.
Two of our postdoctoral members reflect on their experiences and share their insights.
A great story
by Dr Marcus Price
The conference took place over three days in Oakland, CA. Over the first two days there was a general focus on scale up within the US biotech industry. There were several presentations/discussion panels from investors, such as Leaps by Bayer. They and most other investment houses present had a general message of, while they would invest in individual products based on their potential impact, they were much more interested in platform technologies with multiple potential applications.
The last day of the conference was quite different to the other two. Built with Biology had surveyed its membership and found a workforce shortage to be a key issue. To address this they sponsored 500 students from around the world to attend. These students had the chance to meet and discuss the work of all the companies present – they brought a fantastic energy.
All in all attending this conference was a fantastic experience. I found it quite inspirational that so many companies in the US can start up/spin out based on an idea, a great story and potentially very little, but impactful, data. There are lessons to be learnt for us in the UK: spin out more and do not see companies not making it to market as a failure. However, perhaps the absence of the same level of Venture Capital finance, and their associated level of risk acceptance, supporting British ideas is our biggest hurdle.
I would recommend this conference to anyone with an interest in the commercial side of synthetic biology!
Marcus is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cell Engineering - Technology Translator
Susan Rosser Group, School of Biological Sciences
Is bioengineering making the planet a better place?
by Dr Adam Mol
How did it happen that I was lucky enough to attend this event? I'm an early career scientist who has only lately begun to consider how industry partnership could boost my career. I'd like to learn more about the entrepreneurial path and how to bridge and put research ideas into practice. I have no prior business or entrepreneurship experience, so I'm making an effort to attend industry-related events and learn from other colleagues' experiences of starting their own enterprises. The Built with Biology event was perfect for me, but quite expensive. I contacted Edinburgh Innovations to apply for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Impact Acceleration Account, which helps research staff in interacting with industry and attending industry-related events, and I was approved.
During the 3 days of the conference (which had over 1,900 people - living in the early post-pandemic period, this seems unbelievable) there were a number of fantastic speeches centered on the synbio business and how synthetic biology could affect humanity's future. The majority of the talks were interview-style, with speakers sitting on a stage discussing various topics and sharing their experiences with the audience. This made understanding and absorbing the most important ideas from the discussions tremendously interesting and straightforward.
I got the impression that FOOD is the most recent focus in bioengineering! Synthetic biology is making enormous gains toward nutritional and sustainably produced meals. I'm pleased to see such a strong emphasis on meat-free alternatives and bacteria-produced proteins, which will undoubtedly benefit the environment. There was a lively discussion regarding cultured meat and the challenges of scaling up production while lowering prices and energy consumption… but is the world ready for cell-cultured beef or mushroom-based bacon?
Another important topic discussed was the coming of age of living medicines. Specifically, when will cell-based and gene therapies be able to fulfil their potential? I was intrigued by talks about how Synthetic Neurology can aid humans in the future, from regulating the immune system with electroceuticals to detecting explosives using 'smell cyborgs.' Is Neurotech capable of transforming mental health and assisting us in better understanding and treating the symptoms of schizophrenia and depression?
What is hugely important are discussions between world synbio leaders and governments on how we can build ethical and bio-secure frameworks into global policies and have open dialogues with the public. Moreover, I'm glad to see that Built With Biology encourages and provides opportunities for a large number of young brains (about 500 students) to learn from industry experts by organizing a Race Against The Clock on the last day.
During breaks and lunch, there was also a lot of interesting conversation. I had the opportunity to interact with a variety of companies, as well as having a great conversation with a representative from the US government and the US Air Force. I also met an investor who was interested in my research. Who knows what will come of this networking? This conference has undoubtedly extended my horizons!
I strongly encourage you to join future Built With Biology events if you have the opportunity and wish to be a part of the bio-economy community. Being around so many experienced, self assured people has strengthened my confidence. I am excited for the future! Two things that are essential for successful entrepreneurs.
Adam is a TRAIN@Ed Research Fellow, UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology
Susan Rosser Group, School of Biological Sciences