Steve Burrill’s Looking Back to See Ahead – State of the Biotechnology Industry

 By Jasmeet Duggal

The BIO International Convention – BIO2011 (link no longer available) is internationally renowned as the lead exhibition in the biotechnology industry, attracting the biggest players in biotech. The convention is much more than the traditional tradeshow. It offers networking and partnering opportunities, and provides insights into the latest biotech trends, policy issues and showcases the latest in technological innovation. The event features keynotes and sessions from key policymakers, scientists, CEOs, and celebrities.

Last week, I attended BIO2011 in Washington, D.C. To accommodate the thousands of attendees, the 4 day exhibition was held at Walter E. Washington Convention Center – in a 2.3 million square feet facility.

One of the sessions I attended was delivered by Steve Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Co.

His Looking Back to See Ahead talk took a retrospective peek at the biotech industry and trended what’s to come in the next decade. The message was clear – biotech is an industry in flux. While changes can be challenging to the workforce involved, Burrill emphasized that it can create opportunities in the years to come. One of the biggest shifts is how investment dollars are being granted into this shifting landscape. Though Angel investors are still a vital source of financing for start-ups, the venture capital funds and public equity funds are moving more towards financing of other rapidly growing industries, such as information technology. Such changes are seen as disconcerting by many people involved in the biotech industry as it stands today.

It may appear as some of the North American Angels have gone to heaven, but those in the foreign markets are still the saviours of many start-ups. Even with sufficient funding sources on your side, time is always the rate limiting step. It once took about 7 years and $150 million, from discovery to the launch of a drug. With a patent life of 20 years, 12-15 years for development and $1.5 billion requirement to take a drug to market, there just is not enough time to recover the R&D costs. Did I mention competition from generic brands?

And competition has now gone global. It is not only coming directly from BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) but also CIVET (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, and Turkey). Burrill predicts “more change in next 10 years than from the beginning of time…” – which is good news for those who roll with the punches and learn to innovate.

– Jasmeet Duggal, from Looking Back to See Ahead seminar at the 2011 BIO International Convention, from Washington, D.C.

Jasmeet Duggal is graduate student pursuing her final year in the Master of Biotechnology program at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is currently the Communications Officer for the Altitude Accelerator, a role which has allowed her to engage in the startup culture and entrepreneurship. In her future endeavors, Jasmeet hopes to pursue a career in business development in the life sciences.

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