The Texas biotech and life sciences sectors have quickly established themselves as true leaders in their respective disciplines. Venerable institutions such as MD Anderson and the Texas Medical Center alone represent the largest cancer center and health complex in the world, respectively. Other research hubs at Texas A&M, Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, and other schools in the UT System all demonstrate that world-class research comes out of Texas.
What remains, however, is the need for much of this research to make its way into commercial efforts, so that Texas may begin to contribute even more toward improving world health.
On February 20, 2014, life science entrepreneurs, research professionals, students, investors and industry executives mingled at the Texas Life Science Forum in a step to further accelerate this process. Simply put, the goal of the Texas Life Science Forum is to promote the developing biotechnology sector in the state of Texas. Not only did this year’s forum provide a platform for biotechnology startup companies to meet with investors from around the country, it also staged several plenary sessions, two educational symposiums and two Nature SciCafé sessions.
It was clear that all of the speakers felt Texas has great potential to be the next biotech hub in the U.S., but to make it work the entrepreneurs and life science experts in Texas will have to face several challenges. Tim Opler, Ph.D., of Torreya Partners opened the talks with a view from Wall Street and said, “Texas in the life sciences has happened!” Opler described seeing many “biohubs” around the world, and that, in his opinion, none have come further in the last three years than Texas.
Robert Robbins, M.D., President and CEO of the Texas Medical Center followed Opler. According to Robbins, Texas has the assets, the talent, and the innovative minds, but the challenge will be getting the right people to come to Texas to invest money, time and energy. However, Robbins spoke confidently when he said that he came to Houston because, “this is the next place [for biotechnology].”
The plenary sessions mainly focused on different funding opportunities for startup companies. One session, entitled “How I Did It”, allowed attendees to hear from successful life science CEOs and their investors about how their relationship started, what the companies did right, and why the investors took an interest. Other sessions highlighted different types of investors, including venture philanthropy, crowdfunding and venture capital. Experts in these areas told the audience what they look for when making an investment.
The educational symposiums gave entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn from experts about creating successful biotechnology companies. Topics included how to get started, finances, patents, branding, marketing, intellectual capital management, clinical development and much more.
Those who attended the Nature SciCafé sessions got to hear about cancer immunotherapy (targeting the immune system as a strategy to fight cancer) and personalized oncology (using the genetics of individual patients to inform cancer treatment options). Experts from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine described how their work is advancing these fields as well as the challenges that lie ahead. The research talks were followed by panel discussions in which industry experts conveyed issues that stand in the way of commercializing these research efforts.
In addition to all of the informational sessions, companies had a chance to meet with investors one-on-one to discuss potential partnerships. The day concluded with a networking reception and company showcase. The Texas Life Science Forum is an annual event held in Houston, TX, and was co-hosted this year by BioHouston, the Rice Alliance, the Texas Healthcare & Bioscience Institute, and the Houston Area Translational Research Consortium.