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Year Event 2024: festive tenth edition celebrates power of biotech


Last Thursday, at the festive tenth edition of the hollandbio Year Event, we thanked our members and our closest contacts for their continuous support to unlock biotech’s potential. We look back on record-breaking number of guests enjoying a program jam-packed with innovative entrepreneurship and a healthy dose of humor. From unlocking the power of antibodies to change the lives of patients, to tapping into the power of generative AI and machine learning to help design and engineer proteins to better suit numerous applications – it became evident once again that the possibilities of biotech are endless.

After a warm welcome, hollandbio’s Annemiek kicked off the plenary program by taking a moment to acknowledge the great start for biotech in 2024: the publication of the Dutch National Technology Strategy which prominently features biotechnology, the breakthrough vote in favor of New Genomic Techniques for plant breeding in the ENVI Committee in European Parliament, the announcement that the Netherlands will be the first EU country to allow for tastings of cultured meats and fish and, last but not least, the reimbursement of a new gene therapy with a first young patient already receiving treatment.

On a mission to pave the way for a healthy and sustainable world

This edition of the Year Event marked the ten year anniversary of hollandbio – all made possible thanks to the support of loyal members, without whom we would not be able to achieve anything. Annemiek took the audience along the journey of starting a fledgling association, building on the fundaments of its predecessors, placing her foot between many doors whilst building relationships and creating connections. Up until the point where hollandbio is now, a reliable and knowledgeable partner that sometimes even has to keep its own door shut to prioritize its ambition: to pave the way for the biotech innovations of our members that help cure patients, protect the climate and nourish humanity. A Golden Age of biotech lies ahead, driven by the ongoing Bio Revolution. Strikingly, the art of advocacy strongly resembles running a bioreactor: the ingredients and circumstances need to be perfect to achieve long term success. For that to happen, we need everyone to embrace the power of biotech, emphasizing how biotech innovations directly benefit people, their families and the environment. Or, as Annemiek referred to the quote of BIO’s new CEO, John Crowley: “There’s nothing in the laws of nature that says we cannot cure any disease or overcome any obstacle. There are only the limits of what we are willing to pursue as a society.”

Strategic twists and turns to bring new immunology solutions to patients

Keynote Arjen Lemmen, Vice President Corporate Development & Strategy at argenx, shared that the success of argenx in getting new treatments to patients is not so much a strategy that runs in a straight line, but rather is a journey with many twists and turns, and a healthy dose of luck, too. What stands out though, is the decision to set the company’s sights on a journey of transforming autoimmunity and trying to provide patients with precision medicine based on novel target biology. Arjen explained how several key decisions transformed argenx over the years: from moving to Ghent due to favorable financing opportunities to focusing on starting an own pipeline, doing an IPO first at Euronext Brussels and at the US NASDAQ some years later, and from coping with a crucial failed development program to the decision to pursue being a company independently commercializing its own products. The journey features mind-blowing numbers: for most of the time, the company doubled in size every year, has raised almost 5 billion euros, but still is a loss making company. An important success factor is and has been investing heavily in new and existing investor relationships. Other crucial elements are the extensive collaborations with scientists and knowledge institutes, in which The Netherlands plays an important role thanks to its excellent quality of science, with argenx investing millions of euros in public-private projects and long-term partnerships with several university medical centers. In terms of better valorization of this knowledge and helping companies get to patients faster and better, The Netherlands and Europe as a whole can still learn to do better – which was also reflected in the interview with argenx CEO Tim van Hauwermeiren in last week’s FD.

Using generative AI and machine learning for better biotech innovations

The event’s second keynote was Elise de Reus, Co-Founder at Cradle and part of a team that combines expertise in the fields of AI, machine learning, programming and biotechnology. Having also worked in the biotech sector in the past years, Elise is driven by the strong optimism that lives in the sector and the way biotech people rise to the challenges they encounter. Using vaccines as a clear example, Elise clearly explained the importance of Cradle’s core business to design better proteins in improving biotech innovations. Cradle tries to contribute to the efforts of biotech teams on developing innovations that lead to a healthy and sustainable world. That is very cool ambition, but it is also very hard. As Elise remarked in illustrating the complexity: “Biology is inspired by nature, but nature did not evolve to better serve our washing machines. When and where do we need to make changes in order to come to a viable product?” In addition, developing new biotech solutions is also notoriously expensive and time-consuming, which is holding innovation back. As large language models emerged, the insight became apparent that a similar approach could be applied to the genetic language of proteins. Cradle in a sense aims to become the ChatGPT of proteins, enabling as many teams as possible to now leverage the power of AI and machine learning to design and engineer better proteins in a faster and cheaper way.

Brilliant three-step course on generating brilliant ideas

The plenary program was concluded with an out-of-the-box course at breakneck speed by Rob Urgert, comedian and TV presenter on how to generate brilliant ideas – a more than useful skill in biotech. Rob illustrated how three simple steps can turn ordinary people into visionaries with ideas that are better and more original and creative than they used to be. Or, as he dubs it himself: “What if you are not a genius, then how can you become as close to one as possible?” We are looking forward to a surge of even more brilliant and creative ideas for biotech innovations coming from the ecosystem in the coming period of time.

We thank all who were present for making this another successful edition of the hollandbio Year Event. We look forward to welcoming you all again at the Dutch Biotech Event, so please make sure to mark June 28 in your agendas for now! Until then, you are welcome to join us at the many other events taking place in 2024.