World Stem Cell Summit and Phacilitate Leaders World: RegMedNet’s take

Written by Alexander Marshall

This January 21—24, the RegMedNet team travelled halfway across the world to attend Phacilitate Leaders World and the World Stem Cell Summit 2020 in Miami (FL, USA) and here are our thoughts.

The biggest conference in the world for stem cells and regenerative medicine, how could RegMedNet not attend Miami this January! For myself, it was particularly special as it was my first conference as the editor of RegMedNet. So, what were my thoughts on Phacilitate Leaders World and the World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS; FL, USA)?

The talks

From the opening plenary to the very close, Phacilitate Leaders World and the World Stem Cell Summit put on some amazing talks tackling very real issues in the field. Day one started off with a very powerful talk from Joan Finnegan, a patient advocate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (MD, USA), discussing the impact regenerative medicine can really have on peoples’ lives — a striking reminder before diving into the science and ethics.

Personally, I found the ethics discussions the most interesting. I had no idea that the US’s Right To Try laws were being exploited in some shocking ways and were being hijacked to diminish the oversight of the FDA. Good luck to Peter Marks (US FDA) and his colleagues as they try to tackle that.

Despite the challenges facing the field, it was great to see so many talks discussing the big advances, whether that be DiscGenics (UT, USA) and their spinal cell therapy, or WuXi (Shanghai, China) and their suspension platform for producing adeno-associated viruses, allowing the mass production on an incredible scale. It will be interesting to see how these ventures continue in the future.

“It’s always great to kick off the year with Phacilitate Leaders World. It was interesting this year that even with a pared down agenda, saving us from the usual conflict conundrum, the sessions on translational science and commercialization questions remained prominent. I also had a number of sobering conversations around the realities of what will be required to actually deliver these therapies to the patients who need them most — we have a long way to go” — Freya Leask, Publisher of RegMedNet.

The people:

Even if the plethora of talks weren’t to your liking (which seems impossible given the sheer number available), then the conference still had plenty to offer as it is the sheer number of people and networking opportunities where the World Stem Cell Summit over-achieves.

The first night saw drinks a plenty as all attendees dined and drank together in an arcade and games themed event. Despite losing at connect four and table football, it was an excellent opportunity to meet some incredibly interesting people. Over the four days, it was a pleasure to talk to so many fantastic names in the field, such as Michael May (Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, Toronto, Canada), Rebecca Lim (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) and Zubin Master (Mayo Clinic, MN, USA).

As well as the informal conversations occurring throughout the event though, the Phacilitate app allowed attendees to arrange meetings in specially designated networking zones, automatically booking a table for a quiet, in-depth discussion. I found this tool incredibly useful and managed to get several exciting interviews that will be released over the next few months.

“I got so many amazing opportunities to discuss with the people who are leading the field about the work they’re doing: iPSCs, clinical trials, cell therapies and bioprinting — and the same word kept coming up, collaboration. I think that’s why events like the WSCS are so important when you’re working at the cutting edge.” — Alex Marshall, Editor of RegMedNet

The catering:

OK, I know this shouldn’t really be a category, but if you’re telling me you’re considering going but not interested in knowing about the food then I’m calling you a liar. The meals were plentiful and delicious!

“Phacilitate Leaders World 2020 was not just about the amazing speakers, presentations and discussions, we were also striving to elevate the experience and provide a productive and invigorating meeting to kick start the new decade!” commented Michael Adeniya, Portfolio Director of Phacilitate. “After four years in the vibrant city of Miami, the show has grown rapidly to bring every stakeholder in the advanced therapies ecosystem together. The growth is such that we now need to move to a larger venue, so get ready for a new name and new venue in 2021… introducing Advanced Therapies Week at the Miami Beach convention centre.”

The take away message

For me, the major messages were clear:

  • The field needs to lean into regulation and work with the regulators to ensure good therapies can thrive and charlatans are left in the cold.
  • Nice, clean data in ample amounts is vital when approaching the regulators, so collect it from as early as possible and present as much as you can.
  • Consider your end point early in the process: making it GMP, scaling up, and how feasibly the therapy can be translated to patients.

Overall, the WSCS was an excellent event that has left me excited for next January (hopefully it won’t rain next time though).