On 11-12 October 2022, the European Brain Council was pleased to host its second in-person Brain Innovation Days in Brussels. Held in conjunction with the Final Conference of the European Brain Research Area, the Days brought together the main circle of influence in the brain sector, with key players in the brain research and innovation field networking together: investors, researchers, clinicians, patient representatives, policymakers and more.
The focus of the 2022 event was to enable space and opportunity for open discussion and showcasing, prioritising matchmaking and networking within the community, particularly of stakeholders who don’t always have the opportunity to connect in their day-to-day. In this regard, the event space allowed for two areas: dynamic presentations of cutting-edge innovations and ample networking and showcasing space. Without parallel sessions, participants were able to focus on the main programme of Brain Talks, Panel Discussions and How-To Sessions in the main Auditorium and spend their breaks in the Innovation Hall to meet fellow participants and view tangible tools and solutions for the brain.
Day 1 of the event kicked off after the EBRA Final Conference, with a networking lunch and Opening Ceremony by Masters of Ceremony, Bettina Hausmann and Usman Khan; EBC President, Prof Wolfgang Oertel; and EBC Executive Director, Frédéric Destrebecq.
The full programme launched with thought-provoking Brain Talks – concise, inspiring and thought-provoking presentations from speakers leading cutting-edge research or activities supporting innovation in brain science – where the Brain Innovation Days were pleased to invite Dr Laura-Joy Boulos and Prof Peter Falkai to speak on the journey from research to innovation and serendipity in research.
With one main highlight of the event being the opportunities for matchmaking, an app was provided to attendees to set-up one-on-one meetings and take networking to the next level. Co-Master of Ceremony, Bettina Hausmann, walked the audience through the app and helped break the ice for the next day and a half.
The afternoon continued with two sessions held in a less formal manner, with stool-top moderated discussions on “connecting brains to generate disruption” — addressing the importance of networks and collaboration with Thomas McWilliams from the FENS-Kavli Network and Mathew Abrams from the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF) in the brain research space — and digging deeper into personal experiences as a carer, first-hand care pathway experiences and how health systems can be improved with this in mind with Josep Figueras, Director and Co-Founder of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.
During the coffee break, Platinum Sponsors Jazz Pharmaceuticals held their Sponsor-led Satellite Session, which attracted many people away from networking to listen in on “Conversations on Epilepsy”, with presentations and discussion with Natasha Lorch from Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Dr Manny Bagary from the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and Donna Walsh from the International Bureau of Epilepsy. The impact of epilepsy on patient quality of life extends far beyond the physical effects of seizures. In this session (organised and funded by Jazz Pharmaceuticals), the speakers discussed the numerous challenges that patients with epilepsy face and share expert insight on areas of future research, governmental and policy support, and other innovations that could help improve patient and carer quality of life.
Ahead of the celebratory networking reception, one more milestone was celebrated in the final session of the day: the official launch of the European Brain Foundation. The European Brain Foundation is an independent multidisciplinary and multistakeholder charity whose founding members represent leading European neurological, neurosurgical and psychiatric clinical societies as well as neuroscience research societies and patient organisations. The Foundation was introduced by Chair, Prof. Patrice Boyer, Co-Chair, Audrey Craven and Board Member, Prof. Philip Gorwood, who presented its main mission and what was to come. More details on the Foundation can be found on the official website: https://www.brainfoundation.eu/
Day 1 came to an end with a networking reception and live musical performance by a professional saxophone duo from Belgium.
Day 2 kicked off with a networking breakfast themed, “Meet the Industry and European Societies”. Brain Innovation Days sponsors and EBC Members were given the spotlight and the opportunity to mingle with attendees, introduce their organisations in more detail and share materials at their stands. Towards the end of the breakfast, a how-to session on finding the right message to bring your innovation to market and strengthening your ‘elevator pitch’ was led by Thibault Vandenhove from Ooho, an agency that helps bring global health tech, med tech & digital health startups to market.
A full day of exciting brain innovation content launched from there, with Prof David Nutt delivering the first Brain Talk, looking at the potentials of psychedelics and how they will revolutionise the treatment of some brain disorders, presenting his research as Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and the work of newly-formed Psychedelic Access and Research European Alliance (PAREA), of which he is Chair.
The late morning turned attention to the business side, starting with a discussion panel with leading European venture capital investors focused on or actively investing in brain-related innovations. Moderator and event Knowledge Partner, Christian Suojanen, CEO of Broadreach Global, spoke with Diana Saraceni and François Veron on what drives investor interest, where the opportunities and challenges lie and what people should know and prepare before approaching investors.
This panel naturally segued into the much-anticipated 2nd Brain Innovation Days Pitch Competition, where five finalists pitched their start-ups in a nail-biting 180 seconds to a jury of high-level investors and funding agency representatives for the chance to win the Jury Award and Audience Award of Best Pitch. On stage were: Amir Bozorgzadeh pitching Virtuleap, Jonathan Balfour pitching Panaxium, Jurij Dreo pitching BrainTrip, Mai Nguyen pitching Optoceutics and Mehrdad Seirafi pitching Alpha Brain Technologies – with Panaxium eventually hailed Best Pitch by the Jury and BrainTrip awarded Best Pitch by the Audience vote.
We thank our Jury — Enric Claverol-Tinturé (European Innovation Council), Diana Saraceni (Panakes Partners), Christos Vaitsis (EIT Health), Maarten Van Gorp (Imec.istart) and François Véron (Newfund Capital) — for their time and dedication on the day. All details on the Top 5 and the Jury Members can be found here.
Attendees certainly were not short of activities during the Days.
The networking lunch showcased just how eager the wider community was to connect, with plenty of one-on-one matchmaking and spontaneous discussions underway. Others took the opportunity to discuss over a game or two of checkers in the gaming area or while exploring the Rethinking Migraine in Times of COVID-19 exhibition, sponsored by Lilly and Pfizer.
Additionally, 15 companies showcased their work in the Innovation Hall via an Innovation Showcase stand or poster presentation, with impressive work and tools such as Epicranial electrical stimulation, cobots, AI-optimized EEG-based biomarker, novel interactive BRAINTEASER tools for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) management and more on display. Find all details here.
A photobooth was not to be missed in the Rethinking exhibition space, where attendees could pose for print-on-the-spot photos in front of the Brain Innovation Days fresco, which was drawn live on Day 1 by event partners, Cartoonbase, a creative agency with a team of artists, editors, writers and business experts ready to bring messages conveyed to life.
Lunch came to an end with a How-To Session led by Christian Suojanen on Raising Capital for Brain Innovation and with an impactful Brain Talk given by Tim Buckinx, CEO of Epihunter, who spoke on the importance of innovation in the perspective of a carer and a patient representative and his own work with a patient-driven innovation.
The final two panel discussions of the day turned focus to the policy side, exploring potential innovative funding models for the future and how to better leverage public-private partnerships for innovation in the brain space. Panelists representating major funding institutions and the private sector — Carlos Buesa, Oryzon Genomics SA; Richard Johnson, Healthy Brains Global Initiative; Enric Claverol-Tinturé, European Innovation Council; Annika Eberstein, Philips; and Tomasz Dylag, European Commission. Discussion began with introductions and a look at the current state of European Commission and IMI models and looked beyond at the interests of the brain community, what is missing in order to address these, how existing models can be improved and if any new measures or programmes are needed in Europe.
‘Ready, steady, go’ focused on scaling up health systems readiness, a topic already touched upon on day 1 in conversation with Josep Figueras and Frédéric Destrebecq, exploring lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic and how best to rethink the management of brain disorders and redesign care pathways. The aim of the RETHINKING Projects, coordinated by EBC, is to develop policy priorities around challenges in brain disorders and present a consensus on what needs to be achieved to resolve the most pressing challenges in brain conditions, today and in the future. There is a clear need to redesign the care pathways to ensure optimal treatment and care for all people living with brain disorders in Europe, which was the main topic of discussion in this session.
Before the 2022 event drew to a close, the winners of the Pitch Competition were announced and closing words given by EBC President, Prof. Wolfgang Oertel and Executive Director, Frédéric Destrebecq. Together with Masters of Ceremony, Bettina Hausmann and Usman Khan, all attendees were thanked for making the 2nd Brain Innovation Days a great success and invited to save the dates for the third edition in 2023: 24-25 October.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to making the Brain Innovation Days a massive success.