As the snow was falling on us at the end of January a handful of our team packed their bags and flew down to the sun in Silicon Valley for the 2023 Precision Medicine World Conference. In addition to extra sunscreen, we brought down our bright pink booth to show off everything we love about DrugBank. As a distributed team these in-person conferences are highly cherished opportunities for us to engage with our customers and industry leaders, and soak up valuable insights.
Among our team members who attended were Craig Knox, our CTO, and Alex Wilson, the team lead of our Knowledge & Insights division. Upon returning home, each has had time to reflect on the experience, what they learned, and what challenged them to think differently. Check out what each had to say about their time at PMWC 2023.
Craig Knox, CTO
What excited you most about PMWC?
It was a great chance to get back into the world of conferences and spend some focused time learning and updating my knowledge about the trends and opportunities in precision medicine.
I was also able to have many great conversations with folks across the industry which helped confirm some of my perceptions of the challenges facing drug discovery researchers. Specifically, I had one interesting chat about how often it isn’t one giant problem getting in the way of progress, but instead, many smaller challenges that are hindering these researchers from answering the big important questions.
Did anything surprise you?
I was fortunate to attend in 2020 so being able to return in 2023 was a great opportunity to see how much has changed, what future projections are looking like, and even just get a sense of the mood in the industry.
One of the biggest shifts I noticed was how much tangible progress has been made in multi-omics, which we just didn’t see in 2020. There was a big focus on the microbiome and still genomics at the time and CRISPR/CAR-T was the rage, but this time around there was significant progress in terms of multi-omics platforms and devices, with engaging talks around ML/AI and multi-omics biomarkers, specifically oncology.
Another interesting difference I noticed was a marked shift away from the idea that government-funded institutions are the most well-equipped to fully solve challenges around data harmonization and standardization. Perhaps due to the recent breakthroughs in AI being driven by private industry, there seems to be a greater warming to the idea that companies like DrugBank are well-positioned to play a bigger role in ensuring the data being used across the healthcare space is high quality and interoperable.
Coming out of PMWC, what’s the number one thing on your mind?
I am feeling really optimistic about data harmonization and standardization, and more specifically normalization, and how well aligned I think we are as a company to elevate this. And, if you’ll allow me, the second thing that PMWC has me focused on is multi-omics data and how crucial it will be to the future of this industry.
Thanks for sharing, do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I’m thrilled to be back out at conferences and am looking forward to returning next year to see what other shifts have taken place.
Alex Wilson, Team Lead, Knowledge & Insights
What did you find most exciting at PMWC?
Being back at in-person conferences is such a nice experience. Not only do I get to connect with my fellow DrugBankers, but it’s also a great opportunity to soak up so much information. There was so much enthusiasm, curiosity, and willingness to dig into complicated topics throughout the conference that I’m leaving feeling very energized.
One topic that especially piqued my interest was the promise of biomarkers. They represent a key data point in enabling precision medicine approaches and drug discovery. Another exciting piece was seeing just how much buzz and attention multi-omics was receiving. This is definitely an area I’m interested to dig into further.
Would you say you encountered anything especially challenging or surprising?
There was a lot to be excited about over those three days. One idea that caught me by surprise was the concept of using a patient’s natural history, or essentially their pre-trial medical history, for the placebo branch of an interventional clinical trial. This requires a mind-shift in how placebo-controlled trials work. However, it was also exciting because of the scarcity of patients in rare disease trials, in that it could enable trials to run when they would otherwise not have had enough data.
Another thing I found interesting happened while attending a panel discussion. Now obviously I’m biased about the value of external data partnerships and the impact that can have on the strength of research. But I was surprised by the strong focus that was placed, maybe somewhat singularly, on internal data. This isn’t to discredit internally generated data, however, I think that these panelists were missing out on the opportunity to build off what others have learned in both similar and different fields.
Now that you’re home, what’s the biggest thing on your mind?
Biomarkers! I think these represent the promise and convergence of many different types of data, including omics, coming together. I’m so eager to focus even more of my attention there.
Anything else you think we should hear about?
There was so much to learn that I feel like I have a million threads to pull on. From biomarkers to rare diseases, AI ethics, data-sharing consortiums, and so much more I’m feeling ready and excited to take on 2023.
Did you attend Precision Medicine World Conference this year? We'd love to hear about your experience, connect with us on LinkedIn.