Life Sciences Summit achieves breakthrough in Wellington

A panel discussion on stage with one person standing holding a microphone and four others seated at the Life Sciences Summit 2024 held at Tākina Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre.

More than 300 biotech thought leaders converged on Wellington for the summit. Tākina Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted the event in March. 

BioTechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion says the summit highlighted how well-connected Wellington’s ecosystem is. The city is home to the central government, many government agencies, and industry associations. More than a quarter of this year’s delegates came from government, Crown entities, and research institutes. Their attendance was timely. 

“New Zealand ranks fourth in the world for innovation potential in biotech. The sector’s growth is dependent on government commitment,” says Zahra. “One issue we wanted to change was the lack of government awareness. This was both of the scale and importance of the biotech sector. We had a positive breakthrough,” she explains. 

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Government comes to the table 

Science, Innovation, and Technology Minister Judith Collins was a keynote speaker. She made some key announcements during the event. This included long-awaited reforms to gene technology regulation. It was a high point in an event designed to increase visibility and strengthen the local biotech and life sciences sector. 

To help do that, 11 round tables brought together government attendees. All were part of the ecosystem. They represented companies, universities, research institutes, and the investment community. 

“It was outstanding. The Minister and the Ministries were there at the top level. Some were shocked at the calibre of content and people, the research going on,” says Zahra. 

“They have a better understanding now about the scale and opportunity of the sector. We had the right people at those tables, and I know a lot of those conversations have continued.” 

Round table discussions are invaluable 

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise sector advisor Megan Huddleston felt privileged to attend. Particularly, to be among so many of New Zealand’s impressive science community. “It’s clear that we have great science and tech in New Zealand. It was helpful to hear examples of science being commercialised from leaders in the sector.”

In total, the summit welcomed 42 speakers across 26 sessions, as well as 30 sponsors and 26 exhibitors. 

Post-event guided tours included Gracefield Innovation Quarter and Malaghan Institute of Medical Research. Malaghan is a world-class independent biomedical research charity specialising in immunology and immunotherapy. Gracefield is home to more than 200 leading scientists, researchers, and technicians. The tours allowed visitors to see local biotech in action. 

Science, Innovation, and Technology Minister Judith Collins gives a keynote speech at the Life Sciences Summit 2024.

Science, Innovation, and Technology Minister Judith Collins was a keynote speaker.

Summit has the right impact 

Every attendee surveyed saw the event as a key forum for the growth of the biotech sector. The inaugural summit was held in Wellington in 2023 and is now anchored in Wellington. On the back of the success of the 2024 event, it’s become a real platform for change in the capital. 

Off the back of the 2024 summit, Zahra says she’s looking to go international and do a New Zealand trade mission to US Bio. 

“This whole event has opened doors to support that. We would never have got where we are without the impact of the conference.” 

Biotech addresses pressing challenges across many sectors says Business Events Wellington manager Irette Ferreira. They include environmental, health, climate, and food challenges. 

“Connecting attendees with local and international organisations helps them meet their objectives. These events play a significant role in giving credibility to the sector. It showcases innovations and supports connections to enable business growth. It leaves a positive impact for the Wellington region and the rest of the country.”