Medical Device Daily Associate

As the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference begins today — marking, in the process, its quarter century of existence — the full house of an estimated 6,000 attendees will be treated to a host of presentations from companies both large and small, making their pitches and promising ’07 success.

As the event assumes its traditional place as the inaugural healthcare conference of the year, the hallways of San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel will be crammed full of attendees set on meeting, greeting and networking at a frenetic pace, and they will have plenty of heavy hitting and up-and-coming companies to choose from.

Indeed, a glance at the conference agenda reveals that 316 companies are slated to make presentations over the four-day event, presenting attendees with some dilemmas about which events to attend and how to find the quickest route from point A to point B to pack as many in as possible.

JP Morgan analyst Michael Weinstein told Medical Device Daily that he believes people flock to this conference, in particular, for several reasons.

First he said, “They want to get a read on sentiment for healthcare broadly going into the year.” In conjunction with that, he said, “they want to see within healthcare where sentiment is shifting towards one sector vs. another.” And the third reason he noted is that the conference “is such a good vehicle to network — you can really talk to anybody in healthcare,”

Weinstein said he believes a lot of the focus at this year’s event will be on what the federal government is doing in regards to healthcare as well as trying to figure out what the power-shift to a Democratic legislative majority means to the sector, particularly in regards to Medicare reimbursement.

And he offered his own view that there will be a slowing in corporate profit growth, at least over the first half of 2007.

“If that does play out,” Weinstein said, “then the more defensive parts of healthcare are going to look more attractive.” He said this could mean that initially, pharmaceutical and large-cap biotechnology companies could do very well.

For those whose interest leans towards the med-tech side, plenty of titan presences are available to check out. Medtronic (Minneapolis), St. Jude Medical (St. Paul, Minnesota) and Boston Scientific (Natick, Massachusetts) will be there. And an appetizing lineup of orthopedic firms will include Zimmer (Warsaw, Indiana), Stryker (Warsaw, Indiana), and Wright Medical (Arlington, Tennessee).

The diagnostics arena is also well-represented, with standout companies such as Qiagen (Venlo, the Netherlands), Abbott Laboratories (Abbott Park, Illinois), Dade Behring (Deerfield, Illinois) and Laboratory Corp. of America (Burlington, North Carolina)

Some other prominent companies will also be present to make their cases for investor dollars and analyst accolades. This list includes Edwards Lifesciences (Irvine, California), Kyphon (Sunnyvale, California), Intuitive Surgical (Sunnyvale, California) and American Medical Systems (Minneapolis).

Some relative newcomers that are making promising inroads in the med-tech field — and grabbing the attention of investors — are FoxHollow Technologies (Redwood, City, California), Hansen Medical (Mountain View, California), ev3 (Plymouth, Minnesota), FlowCardia (Sunnyvale, California) and diaDexus (South San Francisco, California).

There will also be some intriguing presentations at this year’s conference that focus on general topics that should pique the interest of investors and companies involved in the healthcare sector. A panel investigating the “Going Private Phenomena in Healthcare,” will be held later today and be moderated by John Coyle, managing director of JP Morgan.

On Tuesday, the lunch keynote speaker will be David Brailer, MD, who was the first National Health Information Technology Coordinator and is now the vice chairman of the American Health Information Community, a federally chartered commission with 17 members from the public and private sectors.

No one will want to miss Wednesday’s luncheon which will be comprised of a JP Morgan equity research panel exploring the health of the healthcare market in a presentation titled “VITAL SIGNS — STAT! Prognosis for the Healthcare Investor 2007.”

Overall, Weinstein said the med-tech sector took a bit of a hit.

“2006 was a difficult year because we saw some slowing of some of the key device markets and we saw a number of companies have issues or execution problems over the course of the year.”

Specifically, he cited Boston Scientific with its integration problems related to the mammoth Guidant (Indianapolis) buy at the beginning of 2006 and the massive April recall by Bausch & Lomb (Rochester, New York), of its Renu with with MoistureLoc contact lens solution. He also mentioned the general pushback that has been associated with drug-eluting stents as a potential issue that still needs to be resolved.

In comparison, Weinstein sounded a positive note for the coming year, noting that “generally, the sentiment is going to be pretty positive at the conference, and that’s part of the reason why I think the attendance is going to be so strong.”