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[Report] 25th SAPA-NE Annual ConferencePoised to Pivot: Build Resilience in a Challenging Market

SAPA-NE (Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association-New England) successfully hosted our 25th Annual Meeting on “Poised to Pivot: Build resilience in a Challenging Market” on June 3rd, 2023, at Boston Marriott Cambridge.

As the first in-person meeting since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the event attracted more than 300 registrants, including SAPA-NE members, EC and AC members of other chapters, and friends globally. It offered great opportunities for the participants to interact with esteemed speakers, industry leaders who delivered the topics covering the various aspects of drug discovery and development.

The conference was opened with remarks from Dr. Peng Sun, Chair of the conference. Dr. Sun shared the mission of SAPA-NE and the exciting agenda of the day featuring the following scientific topics and panel discussion:

  • Science and Technology Innovation in Drug Discovery

  • Drug development to Deliver Great Impact to People: Clinical, Regulatory Affairs, Legal and Global Partnership

  • Business Development, Investment, and Culture for Innovation in Life Science

Session 1: Science and Technology Innovation in Drug Discovery

Break through cancer with “two birds one stone”: Integration of targeted therapy and immunotherapy -presented by Dr. Jean Zhao, Professor of Harvard Medical School

Moderator: Dr. Howie Zhang

Dr. Zhao is not only a distinguished cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School/Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Board Institute, but also an entrepreneur who co-founded Crimson Biopharm and Geode Therapeutics. She shared three major research discoveries her team worked on in the past decade. First, her team found that the cyclin D1/CDK4 pathway mediates resistance to the targeted therapy for HER2+ breast cancer. CDK4/6 inhibitors not only repress Rb phosphorylation, but also decrease TSC2 phosphorylation, resulting in sensitizing tumor cells to HER2 targeted therapy and delayed tumor recurrence. Second, her team demonstrated that STING agonists reprogram M2-like pro-tumor macrophages into an M1-like anti-tumor state in a macrophage STING-dependent manner. Systemic injection of a STING agonist synergizes with PARPi to suppress tumor growth, which is mediated by a type I IFN response and CD8+ T cells, but does not require tumor cell intrinsic STING. The third and the most recent finding from her team was that PI3Kβ controls immune escape in PTEN-null tumors. PI3Kβ inhibitors elicit robust anti-tumor immunity and synergize with immunotherapy, leading to inhibition of tumor growth. More importantly, mice with complete responses to the combo therapy showed immune memory and rejected tumors upon re-challenge. These results provide a strong rationale for combining PI3Kβ inhibitors with immunotherapy for the treatment of PTEN-deficient breast cancer.

Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery – Revolution, Evolution, or Complete Nonsense -Presented by Dr. Pat Walters, Chief Data Officer at Relay Therapeutics

Moderator: Dr. Wenyu Wang

Dr. Walters is Chief Data Officer at Relay Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA. Prior to joining Relay, he spent more than 20 years at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, where he was the Global Head of Modeling & Informatics.

Dr Walters discussedd the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods in drug discovery. Developments in deep learning have led to a renaissance in Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationships (QSAR) and de-novo molecule generation. Machine learning (ML) methods, which extract patterns from data and use these patterns to make predictions, are now being intensively applied, to varying degrees, in most drug discovery organizations. ML has impacted drug discovery in numerous areas ranging from target identification to organic synthesis planning. In some disciplines, such as image analysis, ML methods are well-established and can be systematically validated. However, in other domains, like automated chemical design (ACD), the contributions of AI can be challenging to separate from those of the end users. The presentation highlighted the emerging areas where AI can contribute to drug discovery programs and several open issues in the field.

Integrating for Innovation: Revolutionizing Drug Discovery -Presented by Dr. Kevin Tsai , BD Director of XtalPi

Moderator: Dr. James Cao

Dr. Kevin Tsai is a director of Business Development at XtalPi.

Dr. Tsai highlighted XtalPi’s platform solution using AI, automation and expert domain knowledge as a new model to support drug discovery in both small molecule and biologics. Kevin reviewed his company pioneer work on integration of using both AI “dry lab” and Roberts “wet lab” to change outcomes, reduce costs, and accelerate the drug discovery.

Medicilon Strategy & 20 Years Experience for Dual Filing of IND to US FDA & China NMPA along with IPO at STAR Market - Presented by Chunlin Chen, CEO of Medicilon

Moderator: Dr. Larry Cai

Dr. Chen touched on a wide variety of topics, including the full spectrum of services that Medicilon has established over the years, from fee-for-service based projects, to fully integrated innovative drug discovery and development using FTEs, to the full suite of IND application services for both Chinese CDE and US FDA. Despitethe pandemic impact in the last two years, the number of INDs has continued to grow to well over 100 filings per year. After a successful IPO in 2019, Medicilon has grown to almost 4,000 employees worldwide. Dr. Chen showcased a success story of bridging the needs of both the US and China.

Generative AI: Revolutionizing Drug Discovery and Development - Presented by Dr. Kristen Park Hopson, VP of Generate Biomedicines

Moderator: D. Kejie Li

Dr. Kristen Park Hopson is the Vice President of Preclinical Discovery and Development at Generate Biomedicines. She talked about their approach to apply AI in drug discovery, compared to the traditional trial-and-error methods. She also highlighted Generate’s AI platform–Chroma–that rapidly generates novel protein therapeutics using computational tools powered by machine learning. It enables them to create novel protein molecules within minutes, which could lead to the revolution in drug development and improve patient care.

Developing effective gene delivery modalities for treatment of genetic myopathies through directed evolution - Presented by Mohammadsharif Tabebordbar, co-founder and CSO of Kate Therapeutics

Moderator: Dr. Yuemei Zhang

Dr. Tabebordbar, as co-founder and CSO of Kate Therapeutics, virtually delivered an informative scientific talk on their latest development of the comprehensive in-vivo strategy to evolve and stringently select capsid variants of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) that enable potent delivery to desired tissues. The presentation discussed high transduction efficiency of EGFP mRNA, muscle-specific distribution and low liver toxicity of MyoAAV 1A/2A, AAV variants containing RGD-peptides selected from their DELIVER platform. The therapeutic delivery efficacy of MyoAAV in multiple mouse models of genetic muscle disease was demonstrated in the presentation. Recent exclusive license announcement of Astellas and Kate Tx underscored the therapeutic potential of this viral delivery technology. Dr. Tabebordbar’s talk was well received and engaged the audience with many discussions.

Session 2: Drug development to Deliver Great Impact to People: Clinical, Regulatory Affairs, Leganl and Global Partnership

Lecanemab for the Treatment of Early Alzheimer’s Disease - Presented by Dr. Steven Hersch, VP for Clinical Research of Eisai

Moderator: Dr. Mingde Shan

Dr. Steven M. Hersch is Vice President for Clinical Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Brain Health (ADBH), Eisai Inc. where he is also the International Program Team Lead for the Lecanemab development program. Dr. Hersch talked about the clinical development of Lecanemab from the design to the results of the phase III clinical trial, including pharmacology, biomarker, and safety profiles.

Fourth revolutionary wave of Biologics Manufacturing - Presented by Dr. Peng Jiao, CEO of Bibo Biopharma

Moderator: Dr. Tao Long

Dr. Peng Jiao, President and CEO of BiBo Biopharma, a biologics CDMO, delivered a report on the 4th Revolutionary Wave of Biologics Manufacturing.

Dr. Peng Jiao detailed BiBo Biopharma’s leading role for the incoming 4th wave of biologics manufacturing. Biologics manufacturing has undergone three waves since the 1980s, driven by biologics technological innovation and socio-economic development. These three waves of biologics manufacturing differentiate themselves by their technology platform, facility capacity scale, and mode of production. With the rise of the global biologics market and growing demand for protein-based drugs, the problem of capacity shortages in biologics manufacturing has become increasingly prominent. Large-scale commercial production based on CDMOs has become an industry trend. These factors entail a 4th wave of biologics manufacturing, and as a CDMO featuring 30,000-liter bioreactor ultra-large-scale technology in a million-liter total capacity MEGA factory, BiBo Biopharma is uniquely prepared to transform the biologics manufacturing market with its disruptive PanFlex® technology.

Through years of accumulating profound technology in biologics manufacturing, BiBo is now the first in the world to have established 30,000 liters of ultra-large scale mammalian cell production technology. Empowered by its unique PanFlex® system, BiBo is developing the next generation Mega-factory with a total planned capacity of over 1.2 million liters at ½ time and ½ cost. Leading the 4th wave of biological manufacturing, BiBo is expected to shape the future of global biologics manufacturing for the benefit of patients worldwide.

Creating Value in and Through IP Portfolios in Challenging Times - Presented by Dr. Bu Yin, Associate Attorney of Morrison Foerster

Moderator: Dr. Haiying Liu

Bu Yin, JD, PhD from Morrison Foerster, delivered a talk on IP portfolio development and management, entitled: Creating Value in and Through IP Portfolios in Challenging Times. In his talk, he emphasized the importance of strategically constructed IP portfolios for achieving a better position IP portfolios for due diligence in connection with fund-raising and transactions. Also, he discussed a set of practical strategies and consideration to align the IP strategy with the company’s business goals, including invention harvesting (e.g., top- down versus bubble up), claiming strategies, geographic coverage, and timing (e.g., accelerate or slow down prosecution). At the same time, he noted that it is necessary to pay attention to preserve opportunities and allow flexibility in future prosecution and enforcement.

An Innovation-Driven Global Pharmaceutical Company - Presented by Dr. Xin Nakanishi, CEO of Shanghai Pharma Biotherapeutics USA Inc

Moderator: Dr. Hong Liu

Dr. Xin Nakanishi is in charge of Shanghai Pharmaceuticals (“Shanghai Pharma”) R & D center in San Diego. Shanghai Pharma is the second largest pharmaceutical company in China, which engages in the research and development, manufacture, distribution, and retail of pharmaceutical products. The company was founded on January 18, 1994 and is headquartered in Shanghai, China. For more details, please visit the website: 上海医药 (

Global partnership Panel

Moderators: Dr. Mingde Shan and Dr. Tao Long

We had four fantastic panelists,

Catherine X. Pan-Giordano, JD, a Partner of Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Qingcong Lin, PhD, CEO of Biocytogen Boston

Bu Yin, JD, PhD, Associate, Morrison Foerster

Cheng Zhong, PhD, Associate Director, Business Development, Pharmaron

Pan-Giordano and Bu shared their knowledge and experience from legal points of view on the challenges of global partnership considering geopolitical tensions between US and China, and offered advice to those who might be interested in cross-border transactions between US and China. For example, not only does the US have its entity list for technology export control, China also has its own export control policy. Both Qingcong and Cheng also shared their experience on challenges of global partnership as CRO service providers, and offered their thoughts and solutions to potential collaborations between US and China. Overall, all our panelists still remained very positive for more business and co-operations in future between the two nations.

Session 3: Business Development, Investment, and Culture for Innovation in Life Science

Lessons in resiliency – almost 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry - Presented by Dr. Mark Tebbe, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Atlas Venture

Moderatora: Yudan Zhang

With 30 years of experience in drug discovery and development with both large pharma and biotech, Mark shared his journey, life choices made and lessons learned through his career as a scientist, inventor, leader, entrepreneur as well as an investor. He encouraged the audience to follow the passion, embrace the changes and accept the risks that come with each and every choice we make.

Mark is currently an entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlas Venture, formerly a founding employee and CTO of Matchpoint Therapeutics, Co-Founder and CTO of Quench Bio and before that was VP, Head of Drug Discovery at Quartet Medicine. Mark is a co-inventor of Incivek (Telaprevir), an HCV protease inhibitor. He was previously VP of Medicinal and Computational Chemistry at Forma Therapeutics where he focused on small molecule cancer therapeutics. Prior to that, Mark held positions of increasing responsibility during his 16-year career at Eli Lilly including head of chemistry and Global Head of Operations for the discovery chemistry group and Head of Medicinal Chemistry in Hamburg Germany and Research Triangle Park, NC.

Diversity, Inclusion and Collaboration Drive Innovation - Presented by Dr. Michael Preminger, Regional Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC

Moderator: Yan Bo

Michal is Regional Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC, East North America. Located at the Innovation Center in Cambridge. She leads the Johnson & Johnson Innovation team to curate and cultivate the most promising, early-stage healthcare innovations in the region, spanning across pharmaceutical, consumer health and medical devices. Michal started the presentation by sharing the Johnson & Johnson credo, crafted by Robert Wood Johnson in 1943. She highlighted how this credo has driven the success of J&J. J&J credo reflects a commitment to serving and meeting the needs of a diverse range of individuals, acknowledging their unique backgrounds and experiences. It also highlights the importance of valuing and supporting a diverse workforce. Michael shared inspiring J&J efforts with global impact in building diversity, inclusion and collaboration in the past decade. She highlighted notable Sino-American scientists in the biomedical and drug discovery field at the end of her presentation.

Financing of Innovation: the Perspective of Investors and Entrepreneurs - Presented by Dr. Sean Cao, Managing Director of CBC group

Moderator: Huichu Li

Dr. Sean Cao is a managing director of CBC group, where he focuses on incubation and strategy of new companies. Dr. Cao shared his insights from his successful experience in founding biotech start-ups and incubating new companies as an investor. During the talk, he highlighted the power of ideas and innovation, and emphasized the importance of execution as one of the most critical keys to success for entrepreneurs.

At the end, Dr. Haiying Liu provided a brief closing remark, in which on behalf of SAPA NE he sincerely thanked all who attended this annual conference and visited the vendor exhibition area, wished everyone had enjoyed all the wonderful lectures given by leaders in drug R&D and the networking opportunities. At the same time, he expressed a special appreciation to all keynote speakers, conference sponsors, and volunteers, who have truly made this year’s annual conference program exciting and successful. Also, he invited everyone to follow and attend the SAPA NE future meetings and activities.

During the banquet, Dr. Peng Sun and Dr. Haiying Liu presented SAPA-NE 2023 High School Excellence Scholarship Award to Julianna Wu and Chris Bao. Julianna is a high school senior at Concord Carlisle Regional High School. She is passionate about autism, research and fencing. Julianna will be attending John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Chris is a senior at Concord-Carlisle High School and has been accepted into Tufts University. He has made remarkable contributions to the field of computer programming.

In addition, Haishang Li, Joyce Chen, Hong Liu, Kejie Li, Bo Yan, Mingde Shan, and Tan Yan were presented with SAPA-NE Service Awards for their contributions to the SAPA community.

SAPA-NE is committed to provide a unique platform through several of our signature events, including Annual Conference, Scientific Symposium/Webinar and Career Development Forum.

We look forward to seeing you all in our future events!

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