Heard it @JPM in Hallways, Elevators, Street Corners, Suites
By Staff Reports
SAN FRANCISCO – The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is always bigger than life and full of memorable moments. This year was no different.
Here, members of BioWorld Today's team share vignettes captured during the jostling, cajoling, schmoozing and snarking that enlivened the Westin St. Francis and every nearby nook and cranny for four overindulging, sleep-deprived days and nights.
CEOs seemed more casual and upbeat. There was a sense of hunkering down, sticking to the knitting, we-can-get-through-this feel. We've been to super-depressed JPMs and almost giddily happy ones (wow, that was long ago). This one seemed down the middle, trending toward upbeat.
Return to Business as Usual
This year, organizers didn't have to contend with the Occupy Wall Street crowd, though the conference wasn't entirely protest-free. This is San Francisco, after all. Without the specter of a tent city within shouting distance of the hallowed halls of the Westin St. Francis, security was apparent but not authoritarian – unlike the previous year, when burly guards turned away all but conference attendees and those who could produce a room key to the hotel.
That change, along with a sense of optimism among participants and speakers, marked a return to normalcy for conference attendees. Still, the crush of the crowd every 30 minutes within the hotel's narrow halls was not for the claustrophobic. Pity the poor person trying to swim against the tide when luncheons concluded in the Grand Ballroom.
Rise of Social Media
About five years ago, a few intrepid souls – mainly on the media side – had a few drinks together in what essentially became the first J.P. Morgan "Tweetup." That event has grown steadily, as has the presence of social media at the conference, which last year earned its first Twitter hashtag (#JPM13) and a tweet stream that was sufficiently large to graph the spheres of influence among conference attendees, analysts and media.
This year's J.P. Morgan was a breakthrough, however, with more than 100 RSVPs for the Tweetup and a standing room only crowd at the venue, Local Edition. The conference also spawned the introduction a hilarious alter-ego hashtag called "jpmpickuplines" (e.g., "If you were words on a term sheet, you'd be the fine print" and "You had me at actively investing in new companies"). Most remarkably, the traffic reached trending status on Twitter Monday afternoon – a considerable accomplishment in an industry that's been criticized as social media-averse. We can hardly wait to see what #JPM14 will bring.
The Party Scene
With the de rigueur socializing that's a hallmark of J.P. Morgan, it's always astonishing that business actually is conducted and deals get done. This year, 84 private events were listed on the "official" party schedule – that's if you count the "breakout session morning run" at 6 a.m. Monday organized for hardier souls by MacDougall Biomedical Communications.
Though most parties were open to all, conference participants were discreetly reminded that some "invitation only" affairs really were by invite only. Those soirees were hosted mainly by big pharmas – still clinging to their sense of control, we assume – but likely less lively than mixers attracting the common biotech folk at watering holes around Union Square. Either way, no one had an excuse for all work and no play.
The Bottom Line: It's Still About the Patients
Cynical observers like to suggest that J.P. Morgan is all about the money and, well, the conference is sponsored by one of the world's largest financial institutions. However, many company presenters reminded the crowd that the ultimate reason for the wheeling and dealing, up-fronts and milestones is to deliver beneficial therapies to patients – many of them desperately ill.
That message was poignantly emphasized by Jeff Leiden, CEO and chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., who concluded his presentation Monday morning with the vignette of a cystic fibrosis patient named Emily who had been treated for several years with Kalydeco. The picture on the screen portrayed a smiling young woman standing in a running outfit with a race bib pinned to her shirt. She had written the company, noting that she was in Florida with her brother, walking down the street. "'When I drew a deep breath in and I let it out, I didn't cough,'" Leiden read. "'Not only didn't I cough, but I felt that my lungs were clear. This was something I had never felt in my life before.'"
The goal of Vertex, Leiden concluded, is to help others like Emily to achieve the same sense of well-being. That's a mission that should resonate throughout the biotech community.
BioWorld's Tweets, Observations, Eavesdrops
• Kicking off #JPM13 with another $1B deal, MacroGenics Inc. and Gilead Inc. join forces.
• "Are you ready for this circus?" – One guy to another, first day.
• Piano music and low hum of crowd in Grand Ballroom at Westin St. Francis signals kickoff is near.
• San Francisco streets outside #JPM13 stirring; keynote kicks off in 30 minutes.
• Monday's keynote: 10 of 12 biotech IPOs priced in 2012 are trading above issue price.
• Per its usual, Celgene Inc. hits home run to open #JPM13. Hard act to follow.
• JPM's Doug Braunstein wrapped up a rosy outlook for health care financing in 2013. Packed room waits for Celgene Inc.
• Celgene Inc. CEO Bob Hugin:
- $CELG ESTEEM 1 & 2 trials "highly statistically significant and clinically meaningful" in psoriasis;
- $CELG expects compounded annual growth rate of 19% over next 5 years;
- $CELG and partners placed 4 new compounds into clinic in 2012, expect to add 4 more in 2013;
- $CELG expects to report first quarterly sales > $1B and EPS of approximately $4.90;
- $CELG achieved "remarkable positive results" in 2012, company stronger than ever.
• "I can't believe it. We can actually breathe this year." – Remarking on the crowds, not packed together'
• "This better be worth it." – Outside the Mannkind Corp. presentation.
• "The homeless people here really *are* aggressive. It's like sticking change into a bum gall machine."
• "2013 a good year? Just means more companies up than down. A lot depends on what's already in pipeline." - Elevator conversation.
• Theravance Inc. expects discussion of possible signal on fatal pneumonia during FDA adcom on Breo in March but confident about study data.
• Theravance Inc.'s Winningham:
- 2013 "transformational year" for $THRX, with expected regulatory actions, transition to commercial biotech;
- $THRX looking for 2 potential shots on goal on MABA triple mechanism therapy;
- Winningham: $THRX/$GSK respiratory opportunity is $20B in combined markets;
- $THRX expects discussion of possible signal on fatal pneumonia during FDA adcom on Breo in March but confident about study data.
• InterMune Inc.:
- ASCEND study of Esbriet "exquisitely well-powered" for primary and secondary endpoints" > 99% ;
- Projected 2013 Esbriet revenue in launched countries $40M-$55M, could reach $70M with new EU, Canada launches;
- Last patient in InterMune Inc. ASCEND trial of Esbriet randomized today; study to complete in Feb. 2014;
- Esbriet launch in Germany "among five best ever in orphan space."
• Nektar Therapeutics's Robin on public response to naloxegol Phase III safety data: Study conducted "by the book," controversy "tempest in a teapot."
• Abbott spinoff AbbVie Inc. in grand ballroom now: There is a pipeline beyond Humira.
• Rapidly advancing its interferon-free HCV candidate; potential launch in early 2015 – Abbott spinoff AbbVie Inc.
• Street chatter: "Until they write a check, they're not serious."
• "I've been bathing in data and so far I don't feel the need for a shower."
• Stairways at Westin St. Francis doubling as office space for the masses.
• Pedestrian traffic heading both ways on Powell this morning. Lots of activity beyond the Westin St. Francis.
• Dendreon Inc. CEO:
- To generate cash, $DNDN needs to reach $100M;
- We will not be on the Superbowl (this year) with DTC ad for Provenge;
- Now that reimbursement landscape is clear for Provenge, there's increased comfort;
- We expect first TV ad for Provenge early 2Q13.
• Attendees navigate crush of crowd to pack Ironwood Inc. session on Linzess plans.
• Keynoter Bob Woodward:
- What the hell is going on in Washington?
- On why things aren't moving in DC: It's the Merlot-Nicorette Meetings (Boehner drinking Merlot / Obama chomping on Nicorette);
- The next 90 days could be one train wreck after another for Obama/federal government;
- The awful lesson about govt. is change only comes from crisis. We're going to have to have crises to fix things;
- Obama told Woodward he'd willingly lose an election to fix debt/deficit;
- It's not all Obama. Party leaders are too isolated; Reid & Ryan have never even met.
• Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Jeff Leiden: Kalydeco is the first drug to receive "breakthrough therapy" designation from FDA.
• Tobira Therapeutics' Hindman:
- Phase II positive data reported today; initiated a series C aiming to raise $50M;
- On wedging its cenicriviroc into HIV space: It's a $16 billion market concentrated on the back of seven agents.
• Alexion Pharmaceutical Inc.'s CEO Leonard Bell:
- Alexion is laser-focused on providing orphan drug therapies with transformative impact on patient's lives;
- Alexion expects milestones in 9 clinical programs in 2013, including 4 disclosed and others "under the radar."
• UCB Inc.'s Ismail Kola:
- 2012 was a crossover year. Our new meds grew or sold larger than our existing meds. We're poised to deliver growth;
- We have significant upcoming Phase II data coming for romosozomab in fracture healing;
- 43% of Phase III trials fail due to lack of efficacy; we have paradigm to pick winners;
- First a chemicals co, then pharma, now biopharma, $UCB faced patent expires; now Cimzia/Vimpat/Neupro are growth drivers.
• $VSTM poised to begin pivotal study for VS-6063 in mesothelioma.
• Impressive audience for Westphal in $VSTM presentation.
• Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Inc.:
- Expected data by YE but #Sandy shut down CRO for five business days, then holidays; we have to sit tight while last data locked down;
- Question in breakout: When data delayed, usually not a good sign. What's happening?
- Keryx started a Phase II trial last month to evaluate Zerenex as phosphate binder and oral iron supplement for anemic CDK patients;
- Zerenex has potential to become first phosphate binder for approval in pre-dialysis CKD;
- Zerenex Phase III data "in hands of CRO," due any day.
• Galapagos NV:
- We have more than a JAK inhibitor;
- We chose RA as primary GLPG0634 indication but considering IBD, psoriasis; rights aren't limited to RA;
- GLPG0634 Phase IIa positive statistically significant results; data coming later this year;
- GLPG0634 Phase IIb, 700-patient trial to start 2Q13;
- Developing a new class of antibiotics with no cross-resistance with existing antibiotics; into Phase I late 2013.
• There's breathing room in the halls on Thursday at #JPM13. Good or bad for final presenting firms?
•#JPM13 love/hate affair heard in hall: First guy: I can't wait til this thing is over. Second guy: But it's the best conference. Both: Yep.
• Mireille Gillings, president & CEO, HUYA Bioscience International: We have a lot of skeptics out there who believe there is no innovation in China. Well there is. We have access to a huge base of innovation.
• Biosimilar pioneers in stealth mode yet hundreds are in pipeline; execs at #JPM13 China/Asia track tight-lipped.
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