The “breakthrough” theme of this year’s BIO International Convention in San Diego was well-earned — what with medical breakthroughs in Hepatitis B and HIV, political breakthroughs in FDA funding, and gender breakthroughs — highlighted by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, the first person to sequence DNA in outer space. It was a breakthrough year for attendance too, with 16,000 life science industry professionals attending from 80 countries — the largest audience the BIO International Conventional has seen in five years.

Fremont had its own life science breakthrough this year: 115 life science companies now call Fremont home — an all-time high for the city. This was our third time attending BIO, and there was no shortage of excellent content to absorb and connections to be made. Here are a few highlights.

Our friend and neighbor, South San Francisco, hosted a breakfast and panel discussion on “Emerging Trends in Digital Health,” moderated by SF Business Times Biotech Reporter Ron Leuty. The panel offered various definitions for digital health: “health IT,” software attached to a health care tool, digital wellness, and my favorite, a giant umbrella for tech and health care, including wearables. The panelists all agreed that whatever definition you use, the emphasis should be on health, rather than technology, because tech is in service to health.

Back at the California Pavilion, guest speakers described what it takes to be a “biotech-friendly city.” California Life Sciences Association CEO Sara Radcliff emphasized that California has a head start since it houses 11 of the top 100 universities worldwide which generate a wealth of science engineers. California also has an entrepreneurial spirit that “keeps the ecosystem moving” and an investment community that “understands risk.” Nick Conley, CEO of EpiBiome, chose to locate his company in the Bay Area for its talent and access to capital, accelerators, and mentors.


On the tradeshow floor, we loved seeing the strong presence from Fremont’s Boehringer Ingelheim. BI was also featured in the “Biotech Bay” illustration as a U.S. “Life Science Hotbed” identified by BioSpace.


Another program highlight was a fireside chat with Illumina CEO Francis deSouza. Illumina, a Genomics research giant, has three Bay Area locations. deSouza talked about Illumina’s success in reaching the transformative “milestone price point” of $1,000 for a single sequencing, and the many opportunities for clinical applications, including oncology and reproductive health. Not only is Illumina pursuing its own projects, but it is also spurring innovation in the scientific community through its accelerator program and venture fund.


Illumina CEO Francis deSouza in conversation with Wainright Fishburn, Jr., Partner at Cooley LLP

The last stop for Fremont’s BIO immersion week was a tour of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) School of Applied Life Science and School of Pharmacy, which is part of the Claremont College Consortium. Founded in 1997, KGI is the only U.S. institution devoted solely to bioscience education and discovery. KGI’s newest Master’s programs, Genetic Counseling and Genetics and Data Analytics, echo major themes from the conference.


Dr. Parviz Shamlou, Director of the Amgen Bioprocessing Center at KGI

You can read our previous BIO International summaries here:

2016: Biomed Manufacturing in the Driver’s Seat of Bay

2016: Top 5 Bay Area Biomed Hotspots Area Innovation


2014: “Born Here, Built Here, Best Here” — California Shines at World’s Largest Biotech Convention