RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – This year’s BIO International Convention – the world’s largest gathering of the biotechnology industry – will have a distinctive North Carolina flair.

Two panel discussions assembled by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center – one on creating value-driven precision health and the other focusing on life science technology-based economic development – are part of the three-day event in Philadelphia, June 3-6.

Sara Imhof, Ph.D., NCBiotech’s senior director of precision health, will moderate the panel on that topic. NCBiotech President and CEO Doug Edgeton is a panelist on the economic development forum.

BIO International

Also, Mary Hecht-Kissell, NCBiotech’s director of business development, is slated to deliver a presentation highlighting North Carolina as a global innovation hub.

The BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) convention annually attracts a “who’s who” of global biotech and pharmaceutical leaders. More than 16,000 of them, from 67 countries, are expected to attend this year. BIO reports that about 40 percent of those registered are top-level executives.

“This is the premier event for the life science world,” said Imhof. “So it’s appropriate that our organization should have a visible role in promoting its development in our state and beyond.”

Precision health’s promise:  transformative care

The panel discussion Imhof will moderate is titled “Creating Value-Based Precision Health: Innovative Models For Real World Evidence.” It’s a crucial topic in today’s challenging healthcare environment. This personalized approach to medicine — which uses genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors to develop individualized ways to treat and prevent illness — promises to pave the way to better and more cost effective health solutions. By individualizing patient therapies, health care providers will be able to improve outcomes while increasing efficiency.

Joining Imhof on the panel are the following experts:

  • Hannah Mamuszka, founder and CEO of Alva10, a Boston-area firm that works with payers and biotech companies to find data-driven ways to improve healthcare delivery and reduce costs
  • Nicole Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., product manager for Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health’s VITAL Innovation Platform, a program that encourages early use of healthcare technologies that have received regulatory approval, but are not yet covered by most insurers
  • Art Swanson, vice president of product management for Optum Health, a unit of the world’s largest heath insurer UnitedHealth Group.“We are underutilizing diagnostic tools,” Mamuszka says. “If we’re better able to encourage their use to determine which patients should get which treatments and which patients aren’t going to benefit, we’ll improve outcomes and lower healthcare costs.”

But engagement must come early. “It’s too late to make adjustments when a product already has been developed,” she added. ‘If payers are involved in those decisions, you create a system where they and the technology companies have an incentive to figure out how to improve outcomes.”

And once a technology is approved, it’s important to demonstrate its value. That’s where Highmark’s VITAL Innovation Platform comes into play.

Fitzpatrick says VITAL conducts studies to provide real-world evidence of both clinical and cost effectiveness that can lead to wider use of approved products. “Precision health is growing rapidly,” she pointed out. “ VITAL can address a significant unmet need in the space where products are more likely to lack supporting data because the technology has developed so quickly.”

Swanson approaches the cost of healthcare from the payer’s perspective. “My company is focused on the care delivery side, and my interest is in how to move genomic medicine into everyday care,” he said.

Swanson highlighted the need for more standardized data from which to base reimbursement models. “There are now about 75,000 genetic tests, but only 200 CPT (Common Procedural Technology) codes they’re coded against,” he explained. “So payers don’t know what they’re paying for, if it’s the right test, and if they’re getting valid results. We all have to work together to fix the structural issues.”

How to build a technology-based economy

Growing and expanding the life sciences is the topic of the second NCBiotech-driven panel, Technology Based Economic Development: Evolving Models, Strategies and Finance Approaches.

That panel, organized by NCBiotech’s Tracey du Laney, Ph.D., director of science and technology development, will be moderated by Dan Berglund, president and CEO of Ohio-based State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI), a national non-profit organization that supports prosperity through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

“There is art and science in building a life science ecosystem,” said du Laney. “But it also requires a broad-based commitment of time and resources. We’re delighted that BIO attendees will have the chance to learn from this discussion what is working where, and why.”

Joining Edgeton are leaders from some of the nation’s premier life science-focused economic development organizations. They include:

Anthony Green, Ph.D., vice president of technology commercialization at Pennsylvania-based Ben Franklin Technology Partners, one of the nation’s longest-running technology-based development programs; and

Travis McCready, president and CEO of Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a Boston economic development and investment agency that supports the growth and advancement of life science in that state.

The panel will focus on state efforts to promote life science economic development through investments, grants, workforce development, public/private partnerships and other innovative approaches. NCBiotech — whose 35-year history makes it the oldest organization represented on the panel — has used all these tools to help transform North Carolina into one of the country’s leading life science and biotechnology centers.

The state is home to more than 700 life science companies and employs over 63,000 people who work at those sites statewide. Since 1989, NCBiotech has made loans to more than 200 of these businesses, and creates $86 billion in economic activity.  And that generates some $2.2 billion in annual state and local tax revenues.

“We have a tremendous story to tell about the growth and development of North Carolina’s life science cluster,” Edgeton said. “This panel discussion will allow us to share that experience as we also learn from others who are innovators in successful hubs of technology-based economic development.”

North Carolina: a global innovation hub

NCBiotech’s Hecht-Kissell will outline North Carolina’s key strengths as an internationally recognized life science hub.

“This presentation will focus on our state’s vibrant life science community, highly skilled workforce, international connections, university research as well as NCBiotech’s broad range of programs that support our pipeline for company growth,” she said.

For those who plan to attend this year’s BIO International Convention, it promises to offer something for everyone in the life sciences. And NCBiotech will help spread the word on all the ways that NCBiotech and North Carolina are advancing the field.