Professor Rajv Khanna

Conferences are much more than about bums on seats, as two members of the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre’s Convention Advocates Partnership working in the scientific sector told micenet editor Brad Foster recently.

Executive director and CEO of the Queensland Eye Institute, Professor Mark Radford, was in London when I spoke to him by phone last month. He is travelling considerably more after chairing the Asia-Arvo (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) 2017 conference earlier this year.

The conference – the largest dedicated to eye and vision research in the Asia Pacific – had the effect of putting those working in Brisbane in this sector at the forefront of the international scene. As such, his expertise and that of other local scientists has grown. International organisations want them; they are being asked to collaborate on new projects; they are, in fact, pretty hot property.

Another BCEC Convention Advocate member, Professor Rajv Khanna, coordinator at the Centre for Immunology & Vaccine Development at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, was flying to Melbourne for some high-profile meetings. Professor Khanna was fresh from running Immunotherapy@Brisbane 2017, the second conference in a series that focuses on emerging scientific breakthroughs of immune-based therapies.

Like Professor Radford, Professor Khanna is in demand. And both share the opinion that Brisbane is a hotbed right now for scientific and medical research. They further believe that it has been the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre and its Advocates Partnership which has helped considerably.

“The link between convention centres and research and development, and the ultimate effect on mankind is not fully understood,” Professor Radford says.

“What the BCEC does is about the big picture. The role of the centre is integral to science, to Brisbane and to the community.”

The Immunotherapy@Brisbane conference began in 2015 and is held every second year. Numbers are between 200 and 300, which Professor Khanna says is manageable and allows for the all-important collaboration between delegates to occur.

“We developed the conference program in a way that allowed the academics to present their work, their research and development, and also invited clinicians – people actively treating patients – and allowed them time to interact with other attendees.

“We receive enough sponsorship to allow us to pay the expenses for our international guests. I understand that one of the big pharma companies is talking to a local company on a collaborative project.”

That, he says, is part of the benefits of the conference collaborative system, and one that is paying big dividends to the city.

Now based in Brisbane for the past 20 years, Professor Khanna says he has been witness to the city’s growth and development in the science and medical sectors, “not only in business but in academia, campuses, and clinical infrastructure. Hospitals have been completely rebuilt. The Children’s Hospital would match any anywhere in the world.

“Whenever I travel abroad people are now talking about Brisbane and immunotherapy.”

And it seems that ophthalmology and Brisbane are also a talking point around the world if the success of Asia-Arvo 2017 is an indicator. More than 500 delegates made the BCEC their home for the four-day meeting, which also included the one day Translation Vision Summit that focused on the commercialisation of the discipline and had different attendees including regulatory authorities, venture capitalists and researchers.

“From my experience holding meetings of this calibre helps to put your city on the map,” Professor Radford explains.

“It identified Brisbane as an important player in ophthalmology and the importance the city and government places on medical research in this field.

“Conferences are a great way to share ideas. People find others to collaborate with on projects. We also find that conferences get people into our city and after they have experienced the city they think that this would be a wonderful place to live and work.”

Professor Radford also believes that the BCEC Convention Advocates Partnership creates and fosters greater collaboration, particularly because the Advocates come from a range of disciplines. As well as its annual dinner, the BCEC runs sector dinners for Advocates allowing them to engage with government members and each other in a casual environment.

“I would say that the role of the centre is integral in promoting science and medical research in Brisbane. The centre, along with the conferences we run, put our institutions and our people on the world map. It’s a win win.”

Originally established to acknowledge the centre’s long-term relationships with the local scientific fraternity and the importance of leveraging the link between science and business, today BCEC Advocate partners successfully combine innovation and intellect with business using conferences to create legacies for Brisbane and Queensland.

The Advocates program continues to evolve with the development of seven new conferences in niche scientific areas where Brisbane has strong expertise, with more concepts in the pipeline. Four new Advocates specialising in the areas of chemistry and science, public health and the environment were welcomed into the Partnership at this year’s Annual Advocates Gala Dinner in June.

Upcoming Conferences secured through Advocate participation include:

  • The XXVI Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics (ISB) 2017, which brought more than 1000 of the world’s foremost scientists in the field of biomechanics to Brisbane last month.
  • 9th World Congress of Melanoma & 14th International Congress of the Society of Melanoma Research, for the world’s leading melanoma researchers and clinicians to showcase the latest developments in melanoma diagnosis, treatment and research
  • TropAg 2017, International Tropical Agriculture Conference. The world’s leading tropical agriculture event for anyone concerned with addressing the many challenges in tropical and subtropical agriculture and food production.

BCEC general manager, Bob O’Keeffe, says this hard-working and dedicated group of elite leaders of academia, science and business, plays an essential role in promoting Brisbane’s world-changing research capabilities and raising the city’s profile as an international business destination.

“Securing high calibre international scientific meetings attracts the world’s brightest and best thought leaders to Brisbane, sharing a wealth of knowledge and stimulating research and investment opportunities,” he said.