On April 23-24,2018 over 550 people gathered at the Li Ka Shing Conference Center to attend the Third Annual Stanford Drug Discovery Symposium. The event featured a broad range of speakers sharing their expertise in the fields of: academic drug discovery, academic-industry collaboration, science policy, publishing, and research funding. On the first day, the packed-house audience was treated to presentations from academic scientists engaged in groundbreaking research that is laying the foundation for future therapeutic approaches. These included Stanford based Nobel Laureate Brian Kobilka, MD and Edgar Engleman, MD; Kathleen Giacomini, PhD, and Kevan Shokat, PhD from UCSF; and Hugh Rosen, MD, PhD, from the Scripps Research Institute.
Later that afternoon, attendees had the rare opportunity to interact with six top pharmaceutical executives and philanthropists: Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck; Robert Bradway, CEO of Amgen; Joseph Jimenez, former CEO of Novartis; Brent Saunders, CEO of Allergan; Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, CEO of Nantworks; and Sanford Weill, the Chairman Emeritus of Citigroup and CEO of Casa Rosa Ventures. In this “View from the Top” session moderated by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD, the panelists offered their perspectives on drug discovery, including: the future of personalized medicine, the importance of focusing on disease prevention rather than treatment, and the concept that drug pricing could eventually be based on treatment outcomes. The first day ended with the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Roy Vagelos, MD, former CEO of Merck and current Board chair of Regeneron. Dr. Vagelos was acknowledged in part for his role in leveraging the power of the pharmaceutical industry to make a major impact on global health. During his term as Merck CEO, he personally committed to providing the drug Ivermectin free of charge to anyone in the world for the treatment of elephantiasis and river blindness, with the latter having been since eradicated in multiple Central and South American countries due to Dr. Vagelos’ efforts.
The second day of the Symposium opened with a Keynote address from Janet Woodcock, MD, the Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who provided a look inside the agency’s new drug regulatory program. This was followed by important presentations about funding priorities from Gary Gibbons, MD, the Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), and Maria Millan, MD, President and CEO of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Later, the audience was treated to a panel of editors representing the top publications in biomedical science: the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Medicine, Science, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. The meeting concluded with a dynamic Shark Tank-style session, in which representatives from eight competitively selected start-up biotechnology companies pitched their ideas to a panel of scientists, venture capitalists, and CEOs. The panelists who provided feedback were: George Scangos, PhD (CEO of Vir), Robert Robbins, MD (President of the University of Arizona), Roy Vagelos, MD, Amy Chang, MSEE (CEO of Accompany), Ram Shriram (Founder of Sherpalo), and Wende Hutton, MBA (General Partner, Canaan). The goal of this session was to have this stellar panel identify strengths and weaknesses of the strategies described in each presentation, providing invaluable advice to these budding entrepreneurs.
The organizers of the meeting, Joseph Wu, MD, PhD; Sanjay Malhotra, PhD; Kuldev Singh, MD; Mark Mercola, PhD; and Chaitan Khosla, PhD, are thrilled with the success of this gathering, and are already looking forward to the next iteration, which will be held April 22-23, 2019.