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Business & Regulation Advanced Medicine

Necessity Really Is the Mother of Invention

Last month, I attended my first virtual conference: the International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy’s annual meeting, which was supposed to take place in Paris. I must admit that I was skeptical. Like many of the “virtual” activities that have popped up in recent weeks, such as gallery and museum tours, I figured sitting at home (with yet more screen time) could never compare with the experience of actually walking the halls of the Louvre – or indeed an exhibition center. But I was pleasantly surprised (about the latter).

The ISCT meeting had a series of presentations and panel discussions conducted via video chat. A particular highlight for me was the showcase on COVID-19, notably Diane Kadidlo and Heidi Elmoazzen’s presentations on global supply chain issues – the topic of our June issue cover feature. According to Kadidlo, the University of Minnesota's cell therapy trials for cancer were put on hold and could only be approved on a case-by-case basis. And as Director of stem cells at Canadian Blood Services, Elmoazzen faced a number of challenges – cord blood collections ceasing, registry donors becoming unwilling to donate, issues transporting stem cells across borders – echoing the experience of our feature contributors.

But presentations are only one of the reasons we attend conferences – and arguably the easiest to replicate virtually. Creating a means of networking is the tricky part but, in just two months, the ISCT managed to put together a virtual platform that allowed us to “walk up” and chat with exhibitors – in over 30 languages via a translator function. And the whole thing was gamified, with points and prizes for interacting. 

I wouldn’t say the experience was quite on a par with attending in person (it’s hard to replicate that one important chance encounter, an introduction from a colleague, or a night on the town...), but it was certainly valuable – especially for those who wouldn’t have been able to travel to Paris anyway.

Just as it seems the trend towards direct-to-patient clinical trials is unlikely to completely reverse when normality returns, I can’t see virtual conferences going away either.

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About the Author

James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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