After 4 years, the VPH Conference was held as a physical event in Porto (Portugal) from the 6th to the 9th of September.
After 4 years, it was wonderful to see each other again in Porto. In the 2 years since the Paris meeting, our in silico community has again made significant progress in many ways. Looking at in silico medicine as a scientific field, there is an increasing number of studies where in silico technologies were important to reach new biological insights or allow the translation to (pre)clinical studies. Many of these exiting studies were discussed during the conference. There is also an increased uptake of in silico technologies within industry, both Medtech and Pharma, and a growing number of start-up companies exclusively providing in silico medicine services. Testimony to this were the industry sessions during the conference.
Regulatory agencies are working with the in silico community to establish the appropriate regulatory framework for these technologies. Policy makers across the globe are increasingly aware of the benefits in silico medicine technologies and their potential impact on society. Specific activities are ongoing with other stakeholders (medical professionals, patient organizations, health technology assessment agencies, payers) to identify needs and pitfalls for a further roll-out of in silico technologies across all aspects of the healthcare system. A nice example of the latter is the much appreciated public patient outreach workshop organized at the day before the conference.
It is a very exciting time to be working in in silico medicine given this acceleration in development and uptake. However, it is also a very crucial time to make sure we get it right. That we are generating robust and reproducible results that are thoroughly verified and validated. That we are generating results that can be relied upon to be used in clinical and policy contexts. The ongoing Good Simulation Practices (GSP) initiative aims to provide the guidelines to reach this reliability across the community. An important part of that are the right standards being in place for all applications. This is something our community is very well aware of as was evident from the large number of registrations for the ASME V&V40 workshop. The leadership of the ASME V&V40 subcommittee and a representative of FDA were present (on site and online) to explain the philosophy and the strategy of the credibility assessment for in silico technologies in medical devices.
Many of the challenges in in silico medicine cannot be faced by any one researcher team or company alone. Building an ecosystem where all the relevant stakeholders are present, is important. That was the topic of the round table that took place as usual as the last plenary session before the conference dinner. We heard from the European Commission (Kyriacos Hatzaras, DG CNECT), industry (Cécile Rousseau, Voisin Consulting Life Sciences), research institutes (data-scientist Gökhan Ertaylan from VITO) and academia (Raphaëlle Lesage, VPHi) what their perspective is on our growing ecosystem and how they are contributing to make it a thriving one. To quote Cécile: “it takes a village to raise a child and an ecosystem to raise in silico medicine”.
Right before the round table we tried out a new format: that of a scientific debate. The use of modeling and simulation to reduce, refine or replace animal testing is something that is often mentioned. But where are we exactly in this area? Is a full replacement possible? By having 2 members of our community (Marco Viceconti & Liesbet Geris) taking opposite extreme positions for the sake of the debate, we were able to examine all the relevant arguments. The fact that our community was split on the question before the debate and maintained the same opinion after the debate, most likely indicates that rather than taking a principled stance, we are all fully in favor of replacement as soon as we have properly validated alternatives in place.