BioBeat15: Translating genomics into biobusiness

BioBeat15: Ruth McKernan, CEO of Innovate UK
Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive, Innovate UK.


Heralding a new era of innovation and biobusiness on the Wellcome Genome Campus, the BioBeat15 conference connected entrepreneurs and world leaders in genomics to address unprecedented opportunities and challenges in this fast-growing sector.

BioBeat15 was just as exciting as the line-up promised: a full day of leaders in genomics presenting different perspectives on business and entrepreneurship. The event, which took place in the Wellcome Genome Campus conference centre, featured Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, and Ewan Birney, Director of EMBL-EBI, among many others. Following an introduction by BioBeat founder Miranda Weston-Smith, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Director Mike Stratton welcomed the audience and showcased the new Biodata Innovation Centre, outlining the present and future impact of the outstanding Genome Campus community on society at large.

Edith Hessel of GSK and Ewan Birney each presented perspectives on major challenges in genomics: mapping the genomes of people with rare and common diseases on a large scale, and finding meaning in the incredibly large volumes of data produced in genomics initiatives. Presenting the 100,000 Genomes Project, Davies outlined the wide-reaching impact of National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) on clinical research in the UK, and underscored the importance of “bringing the public with us” as genomics enters the clinic. In a session on “Mindsets, Money and Innovation”, McKernan picked up the theme of impact and described Innovate UK’s efforts to bridge the gap between research councils and business, stimulate economic growth and invest locally. Jeanne Bolger of Johnson & Johnson Innovation followed with plenty of advice for entrepreneurs seeking to engage with large pharmaceutical companies.

When you do things that go against the grain, you need teams that aren’t part of the establishment.

Vivienne Parry, Head of Engagement for Genomics England, captivated the audience with personal perspectives from extraordinary people. Helen Lee, founder of Diagnostics for the Real World, invited participants to approach her with solutions to a tricky problem and shared her sound, hard-earned advice: “Innovation isn’t about being clever – people tend to be pretty clever – it’s about how you deal with failure.” Julia Fan Li, Senior VP of Seven Bridges Diagnostics, explained how knocking on the right doors opened up interesting opportunities for exploring innovations that reduce the impact of neglected disease; Elaine Warburton, Chief Executive of QuantuMDx, shared how her unusual career path enabled her to start companies that offer real solutions. Ipshita Mandal, representing a new generation of bio-entrepreneurs, picked up on the ‘fail early’ theme and underlined the importance of “learning from failure, picking yourself up and starting again”. It was clear from the audience reaction that the session had lots of people energised and inspired about the possibility of starting a company.

The final session grappled with creating the right mix of people and talent to grow a company from an intimate, personality-driven startup to a medium-sized enterprise with the capacity to grow. “When you do things that go against the grain, you need teams that aren’t part of the establishment,” was the advice from Kym Denny, CEO of hVIVO plc. Fiona Marshall, Director of Heptares Therapeutics, agreed that it was crucial that goals were aligned but cautioned against bringing people on board who were too similar to one another. Lucy Raymond focused on the imortance of delegating responsibility and empowering people to make decisions, while everyone agreed that “gender, technical and cultural diversity key to growth”.


Live tweets were on display throughout, giving the audience another way to stay engaged and communicate their enthusiasm and/or skepticism throughout the conference. In case you missed it, take a look at the BioBeat15 Storify.

Video from BioBeat15

In this short film, speakers and delegates reflect on why the time is right for genomics and business to come together. Videos of the talks and panel sessions are also available.