“San Antonio’s Biomedical Sector: Stepping onto the Global Stage.” That lofty but accurate slogan served as the theme of this morning’s annual BioMed SA breakfast meeting. With every seat in the house filled, the meeting drew more than 200 attendees, many of whom are members of BioMed SA, a local nonprofit that strives to accelerate San Antonio’s growth as a "city of science and health."
Kenneth P. Trevett, chair of the BioMed SA board and president of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, led the meeting, which first attended to standard organizational business but quickly gave way to a panel discussion on next year’s World Stem Cell Summit, which will take place in San Antonio in Dec. 3-5, 2014.
The World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS), perhaps best described in technical language as a "really big deal," chose San Antonio as the host city for it's 10th annual conference. A project of the Genetics Policy Institute, the annual meeting focuses on regenerative medicine and stem cell research and draws major players from the international biomedical community. Dr. Steven Davis of StemBioSys and Ed Davis of the San Antonio Economic Development Corporation spearheaded the effort for San Antonio’s selection as 2014 WSCS host.
A delegation from the Alamo City just returned from the 2013 Summit, held last week in San Diego. The WSCS welcomed about 1,200 attendees from more than 40 countries, with more than 170 international speakers from institutions such as Kyoto University, the Scripps Research Institute, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Mayo Clinic, the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine, among others.
BioMed SA president Ann Stevens was invited to participate on a panel at the December event, entitled “Strengthening Partnerships for Successful Research, Commercialization, and Economic Development." She had the opportunity to introduce Summit attendees to the city that will serve as backdrop for next year’s gathering.
At this morning’s meeting, a panelist from the San Antonio WSCS delegation explained the significance of and the opportunities afforded by hosting the WSCS next year. Peter Savas is the newly named CEO of StemBioSys, a local stem cell company working to commercialize technology that can isolate, expand and deliver stem cells to treat wounds, injuries and disease. A Boston transplant, Savas moved to San Antonio to join the StemBioSys team after learning about “remarkable” XC-marrow ECM™ technology licensed from the UT Health Science Center.
Savas named vision, talent, technology, capital and determination as factors necessary to the success of emerging fields like regenerative medicine and stem cells.
“What I’ve found in certainly the last few quarters,” he said, “is that all of that exists here. … In 51 weeks, you will be on the world stage. You have a chance to make a huge difference. You have a chance to establish networks that will help the city grow.”
Linda Myers is CEO of BioBridge Global, the newly named holding company that includes the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, QualTex Laboratories and a new regenerative medicine subsidiary called GenCure. She and her team found the San Diego WSCS to be a “very unique meeting,” one that was “unusually collaborative in nature” and less technical than other medical conferences. “It really had an emphasis and impact on focusing the science back to the reason why that science exists: to have an impact on patients and to cure diseases."
Connecting her description back to San Antonio’s future, she said, “We felt that the culture of that meeting was very different from what we’ve experienced in the past. It’s a culture that fits very well with San Antonio and BioBridge Global.”
Ed Davis, executive director of the San Antonio Economic Development Corporation, played a fundamental part in “mobilizing support for our successful pursuit of next year’s World Stem Cell Summit, and in organizing the delegation that represented us last week in San Diego,” said Trevett.
Davis observed the coming WSCS through a community development and local government-focused lens.
“Some of the smartest people in the world … believe that the future of healthcare is in regenerative medicine," he said. "As an economic developer I definitely came away convinced that this area of medicine should continue to be an integral, if not primary, segment of our bioscience efforts and investment going forward.”
Ed also noted the “tremendous market potential” of the field — a facet not to be ignored in a city where the bioscience and healthcare industries employ one of every six workers. He mentioned plans to tack-on a one-day investor forum to next year's WSCS, in an effort to attract investors and allow local companies to showcase their work. He concluded his remarks with a striking analogy: “Regenerative medicine is to the future of healthcare as 'the cloud' is to the future of information technology.”
Finally, Steven Davis, M.D., a practicing dermatologist and chairman of the board of StemBioSys, took the floor. Davis, who first had the idea to pursue the 2014 Summit for San Antonio, will serve as 2014 WSCS host committee co-chair along with Myers.
“This is an impressive gathering,” Steven said of the Summit. “There are bigger medical conventions, but there are none that have such an interesting and important quality about them. There are regulators from FDAs of numerous countries, there are government officials and industry leaders, and every year there are more and more venture capitalists and investors that show up.
These are the kinds of people ... along with advocacy groups: (who) are critically interested in helping solve (medical) problems.”
As a precursor to the December 2014 Summit, a newly-formed group called RegenMed SA, comprised in part by current and past members of BioMed SA’s regenerative medicine committee, will host its first annual San Antonio conference on stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
The conference will take place Feb. 13-14, 2014, at UTSA and will feature presentations by local experts on the science of stem cells, tissue engineering, clinical progress, and the business of regenerative medicine.
John McCarrey, Ph.D., director of the San Antonio Institute for Cellular and Molecular Primatology and the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor of Biology at UTSA, spoke briefly to the importance of RegenMed’s fledgling venture.
“The hope is that we really can get the full range of interests that we have here in San Antonio together in one place,” McCarrey said, pointing to the conference’s four principle subject areas. “It’ll be just a wonderful opportunity for us to really coalesce the interests.”
District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, attending as proxy for Mayor Julián Castro, shared his final thoughts on the upcoming Summit with the Rivard Report after the breakfast. “This is a call to arms for everyone connected to the medical sector—it’s a giant opening for us to become an international brand in medicine, and we want to make good on it.”
Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz and click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.