Virtual Meeting of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society

The 16th meeting of the Oligonucleotide Therapeutics Society (OTS) was meant to take place this year from September 27th to 30th in Montreal, Canada but had to go virtual because of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic.

I was looking forward to this meeting, not just because of interesting talks but also because the OTS is really something special. Last year I was at the meeting in Munich (see here) and what I experienced was a real society. When a first-timer was standing alone, someone immediately came by and started a conversation trying to connect you to somebody of your field. Even poster sessions were different than I ever experienced at any other conference. Everybody engaged in these sessions and nobody was standing alone at his or her poster. But this year the conference had to go virtual and I was wondering how the OTS spirit could be found in a virtual format.

The scientific sessions (from chemistry to clinical trials) were very well organized zoom webinars and the talks were highly interesting, especially the session “N=1 and Rare Diseases / Patients as Investigators”. The invited talks were taking place between 16:00 and 22:00 which felt a bit like jetlag without traveling. The short talks were all pre-recorded and available on-demand. There was no official poster session, because it is not possible to find a time slot that fits for everybody no matter where they are. The virtual posters were pre-recorded presentations with a 3min time limit and questions could be asked during the whole conference.

Networking was possible throughout the meeting by simple messages to other participants (more than 1000) or by joining the spatial chat. The last one is a browser-based video chat in which every participant is one small circle that can be moved around in the meeting room. With that you are able to go to somebody and join conversations. You can only see and here the people who are close to your circle.

The conference was ended with a virtual party. In a Zoom Meeting up to 150 participants watched the highlights of the “At home talent show”, were entertained by the comedian Donald McMillan and engaged in a team competition playing a puzzle game in breakout-rooms.

All in all it was a great virtual conference and the best I’ve been to so far. I am looking forward to the next OTS conference and I hope it will be possible to meet in person. But nevertheless it would be great if the OTS keeps an additional virtual option because that would enable many more people to join these great meetings.