2019 Canada SynBio Highlights

April 17, 2019

March 6, Toronto – Ontario Genomics hosted 2019 Canada SynBio, Canada’s second national conference focused on Engineering Biology, together with the Genome Canada Enterprise and our partners and sponsors. Over 300 people, including researchers, policymakers, industry, entrepreneurs, start-ups, associations, students, funders, VCs and other investors from across Canada and beyond, packed the MaRS Discovery District auditorium for the event. 2019 Canada SynBioWelcome: The Honourable Todd Smith Minister Todd Smith kicked off the day with words of welcome, and emphasized the opportunities of synthetic biology to solve some of our greatest challenges, from food security to cancer treatments and beyond. He thanked Ontario Genomics, Genome Canada and all of our partners for fostering the synthetic biology community to develop applications that will benefit all Canadians. Marc LePage and Bettina HamelinOpening Remarks: Marc LePage Marc LePage, President and CEO of Genome Canada, discussed the exponential growth of synthetic biology on a global scale and the opportunity for Canada to become a leading force. Introduction: Bettina Hamelin – Growth by Design (Watch Video) Dr. Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO of Ontario Genomics, discussed recent progress across Canada and beyond. She talked about the pursuit of a future vision for Canada, the need for governance, and how plans are underway to establish a National Steering Committee to help organize Canada’s synthetic biology community and encourage further collaboration and synergies. George ChurchKeynote: George Church – Synthetic & Highly Edited Genomes Dr. Church discussed the global genome projects he’s leading such as GPWrite, as well as the foundational projects his lab is working on including developing mammalian cells that are immune to all viruses. His lab is now setting records around the number of genes that can be edited at any one time. Moderated by Dr. Janet Rossant, key issues raised during the ensuing discussion were who benefits from these technologies, and the need for appropriate surveillance in addition to the moratoria that are already in place to ensure ethical synthetic biology practices and applications. Human Health and Engineering Biology PanelHuman Health and Engineering Biology Panel Moderated by Catalina Lopez-Correa, Genome BC, the panelists highlighted the idea of ‘One Health’ based on the impact of agriculture and the environment have on human health. They highlighted the diversity of applications for synthetic biology in human health – from engineered probiotic therapies, to engineered stem cells, to cell-free diagnostics. Synbio and Industrial Technology PanelSynbio and Industrial Technology Panel Panelists illustrated the potential for synthetic biology approaches to sustainable bioprocesses – from early stage to optimization and commercial scale-up – and the opportunities for commercialization of renewable chemicals. Sandy remarked that while the petrochemical industry has a 150 year head start on synthetic biology, it would be wise to integrate into that value chain the development of renewable chemicals at the high-value-add end of the chain. Cannabis PanelCannabis Panel Mary Dimou, Canopy Rivers, moderated a lively discussion on some of the advantages of the biosynthesis of cannabinoids in yeast compared to the traditional growth of the cannabis plants. Jess compared this to the development, scale-up and accessibility of medicines, such as aspirin – which originally relied on the extraction from the willow bark. Health Canada is being proactive, keeping up to speed on cutting-edge technologies, and working closely with the community from a safety and regulatory perspective. Agriculture PanelAgriculture Panel Panelists talked about the opportunity of gene editing in crops and livestock to speed up traditional breeding, and many of the other advantages it can provide. One example Michael highlighted is gene editing for hornless cows and improved animal welfare. Emily talked about the regulatory landscape including international treaties, such as the Nagoya Protocol and the Plant Treaty. The move from physical DNA material to data as the resource had not been anticipated, and so digital DNA sequences are not covered under these treaties. Supporting Start-Up CompaniesSupporting Start-Up Companies Gail Garland, President & CEO OBIO, emphasized the importance of supporting start-up companies to drive commercialization and growth. She provided highlights of OBIO’s Niagara Investment Summit, as well as the programming and advocacy work they are doing to increase start-ups’ access to investment capital. VC Investor ShowcaseVC Investor Showcase The investor panel provided evidence that investors are just as diverse as the synthetic biology market itself. Broadly speaking, investors are looking for the big wins, such as tech with significant human impact and/or big potential revenues (versus incremental discoveries). To get the attention of investors, founders should understand and articulate the real pain points in a market; deliver and gain traction in their space; have strong management and a solid business model; strong technology and expertise; and be able to collaborate. Supporting Start-Ups: Pitch Competition Supporting Start-Ups: Pitch CompetitionSupporting Start-Ups: Pitch Competition Six impressive finalists from across Canada pitched their company to the investor panel of judges. First prize ($25K cash, and $5K in reagents from IDT) was awarded to FREDSense Technologies. First prize also included direct entry into the Velocity Garage Incubator program. Second prize ($10K cash and $3K in reagents) was awarded to TATUM Bioscience. Christina Agapakis, Ginkgo BioworksKeynote: Christina Agapakis, Ginkgo Bioworks Christina described the work that Gingko is doing, the exponential growth in their technical capabilities, and how all of the sequence data they have can help others get to answers and solutions faster. She sees synthetic biology as a ‘heterogeneous problem’ involving nature, technology and society. Her advice is to be transparent; Gingko embraces GMO and provides training to staff to be ambassadors for their technology. Adam Clore, Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT)Adam Clore, Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) Adam described how IDT is providing tools to help researchers achieve their goals. By collaboratively working with the research community, IDT develops the tools needed to do what researchers are looking for. Making Biology Easier to EngineerMaking Biology Easier to Engineer Panelists discussed the work that’s being done and needs to move the Canadian synthetic biology community forward. Vince talked about the training and other collaborative work being done at the Concordia Foundry. Vardit discussed the importance of ethics, which she said is not only about ‘why not’ but can also be about ‘why yes’ and about principles of public interest. She emphasized that there is an opportunity cost of not pursuing a field, and the right to benefit from the advancement of science and its applications is a Human Right under the UN. iGEM TeamsiGEM Teams from eight universities across Canada participated in a poster competition featured at the conference. Attendees were asked to vote, and the winning team was from the University of Guelph. Conference Wrap-UpConference Wrap-Up Dr. Bettina Hamelin closed the day, summing up some of the conference highlights, and emphasizing the need for collaboration to ensure that Canada is well-positioned to advance emerging technologies and lead the bioeconomy of the future. Bettina ended the day with an invitation to remain curious, creative and collaborative to drive true innovation forward, and to stay tuned for more information about the development of a National Steering Committee to help organize and advance the synthetic biology community in Canada. Special thanks to the 2019 Canada SynBio Organizing Committee, to the Velocity Team for their guidance and assistance with the Pitch Competition, and to all of the student volunteers who helped make this year’s conference such a success. Visit the 2019 Canada Synbio page for more information, including panel highlights, pitch competition finalists, presenter bios, links to presentations and the conference photo gallery. 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