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New Speakers Join Gene-Edit, Microbiome, Big Data “Disruptors” 12/10

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Next Thursday, Dec. 10, I’m hosting Xconomy’s annual San Francisco Bay Area biotech event. This year, we’re calling it the Bay Area’s Life Science Disruptors, and we’re highlighting three areas of biotechnology—gene editing, bioinformatics, and the microbiome—that will have profound effects on the way people conduct science, practice medicine, and even consider what it means to be human. (Tickets available here.)

I’m pleased to report three new speakers to add to an already packed agenda, which is taking place on the Amgen campus in South San Francisco. In the gene editing field, we’re welcoming the chief scientific officer of Intellia Therapeutics, Tom Barnes. Barnes will join Andy May, CSO of Caribou Biosciences, and Jenny Rooke, managing director of Five Prime Ventures, to discuss the development of the revolutionary gene editing system CRISPR-Cas9 from Jennifer Doudna’s Berkeley lab into two startups, Caribou, also in Berkeley, and Intellia, across the country in Cambridge, MA.

For our bioinformatics discussion, we’ll be joined by Justin Kao, a top executive at Helix. Kao, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley, and others have just launched the startup—backed by Illumina, the Mayo Clinic, and others—to build the world’s first app store for what they’re calling “consumer genetics.” Justin will tell us about Helix’s plans to turn personal genetic codes into the next huge digital playing and learning field. Then he’ll join Randy Scott, CEO of gene testing company Invitae, Atul Butte, director of UCSF’s brand new Institute of Computational Health Sciences, and veteran healthcare VC Nina Kjellson of Canaan Partners, for a conversation about a future in which our DNA, and the rest of our health data, is stored, shared, sliced, diced, and analyzed… for whose benefit?

Our third new speaker is Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Centers for Genetics and Society. Darnovsky will join Stanford professor Hank Greely and me to cap the day with a chat about bioethics in the 21st century. Both are currently in Washington, DC, to participate in a once-in-a-generation international summit to debate human gene editing. Darnovsky’s CGS just called for a ban on gene editing meant to alter the genes of a child—often known as “human germline editing.” Greely has a more laissez-faire perspective. Having them both on stage next week will help frame the wide-ranging discussion from the summit and provide new ways to think about where to draw the line in changing our genes, securing our personal privacy, and more.

The ethics discussion is a great way to come full circle for the day, nearly four hours after Edward Lanphier, CEO of Sangamo BioSciences, starts us off with his keynote speech on gene editing. Sangamo is the first and only company to put a gene editing therapy into clinical trials. Lanphier has overseen his own company’s meticulous progress and watched the rise of CRISPR-Cas9; he also cowrote an essay urging caution in moving too fast with gene editing in human eggs, sperm, and embryos, one of two papers that helped spur the international summit taking place this week.

We’ll feature a session dedicated to the microbiome, too. Two local CEOs, Peter DiLaura of Second Genome and Colleen Cutcliffe of Whole Biome, will talk about their pursuit of human therapeutics based on insights into the trillions of microbes that live in and on our bodies, collectively known as the human microbiome. It’s a relatively new field, and few startups have made the business case to turn the explosion of microbiome research into disease-modifying therapies.

It’s an afternoon that we hope will change the way you think about healthcare, medicine, and society. If that’s not disruption, I’m not sure what is. Join us on Dec. 10 in South San Francisco.