PHILADELPHIA - The cost of attending BIO 2005 began with the $1,595 full-conference registration fee for non-BIO members and the $1,095 paid by BIO members and other select groups.

That's if attendees registered before May 5 - if after that date or done on site, another $400 was tacked on.

The fee is a fraction of what companies actually spend here. Here's a look at two companies' spending patterns for BIO 2005.

By Wednesday's close, most of the record 18,679 total attendees wandering the halls and frequenting receptions should have had Invitrogen Corp.'s name firmly in mind - the company was a major sponsor of BIO 2005 and spent $200,000 to gain "a whole package of promotional activities," said Greg Geissman, public relations manager for the firm.

That money got Invitrogen's name on bus routes and conference hall signs. It also "defrayed some of the costs" for its booth, which, at 40 feet by 40 feet, is one of the largest company exhibitions.

This year, Invitrogen, of Carlsbad, Calif., also began a five-year sponsorship with the Biotechnology Institute, a national biotechnology education organization, which hosted its Education Conference here June 16-19. Invitrogen handed out a total of $45,500 in product vouchers to teachers invited to the Education Conference, including three top prizes of $2,500, $5,000 and $10,000. Invitrogen also sponsored the Chemical Heritage Foundation award given to Paul Berg, a professor at Stanford University.

Costs associated with travel raised Invitrogen's tab further. It brought about 30 or 40 employees to BIO 2005, and BIO estimates each attendee spends, more or less, about $2,000 on food and drink, airfare and hotels outside the convention. With that formula, it can be loosely estimated that Invitrogen spent another $60,000 to $80,000 to get its employees here and back, with a full stomach and a place to sleep.

That's fine, though, because BIO is a unique conference, Geissman said.

"At science or academic conferences, the focus is sales leads," he told BioWorld Today. "At BIO, the focus is different because the audience is different," and Invitrogen attends for several reasons.

Foremost are business development contacts. "I wouldn't venture a guess as to how many companies" approached Invitrogen during the conference, Geissman said, and the firm always has its eyes open for possible acquisitions or a valuable addition to its line of life science technologies.

It also attends for the media exposure.

"All the biotech, and all the mainstream media are here," Geissman said. The company uses the conference to discuss financial results, to launch new products, and to comment on recent biotech events and how they impact the firm.

Invitrogen executives participate in panel sessions, and did so this year, in hopes of raising its profile. It also uses the opportunity to recruit; Invitrogen has about 4,500 employees, and is almost always looking to fill positions.

Ambit's Long Days, Longer Nights

For smaller firms with less to spend but just as much to accomplish at BIO, the days can run together into one long hand-shaking, business card-trading blur. Ambit Biosciences Inc., of San Diego, sent an army of four, and Scott Salka, the company's CEO, estimated his firm spent $15,000 to $20,000 on the event.

"What you accomplish in three days at BIO makes that a bargain," he told BioWorld Today.

Pre-conference, the requests for meetings - from service providers, VC funds, large pharma, large biotech and peer companies - became unmanageable, and Ambit was forced to turn down about 80 percent of those requests, first cutting anything that fell outside the drug discovery firm's focus on oncology, inflammation and immunology. That still left Salka on a dead run. The company has no booth, but what it did have at BIO 2005 was a tireless leader.

"Look at this," he said, putting his coffee down and holding out his cell phone/PDA, the calendar pulled up - blue bars indicating scheduled events dominated the frame. From 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday, he ran from meeting to meeting, then left the convention center and attended receptions sponsored by F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., Merck & Co Inc., Johnson & Johnson, bio-business communications firm Atkins + Associates, and others.

After a full Tuesday in the convention center, it was more of the same for Salka, with receptions to attend by Oxford Capital, the French government and others. He even had an invitation to join Medarex Inc. in box seats for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. When word leaked out that the gala reception at the Philadelphia Museum of Art offered a breathtaking view of the moon rising over downtown's skyline like a giant gold marble, Salka made a point to get there, too.

Leaving the museum, he realized that with so much glad-handing and talking, he'd managed to eat only "some finger food," so he and a few others went to Pat's for a famous Philly cheesesteak.

"It was 1 a.m. before I got into bed," he said, and he had to be back up on Wednesday for a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the convention center, followed by an appointment with a "large VC firm" at the Ritz.

Every year he thinks about how many business cards he might need at BIO, and then brings substantially more. This year, he brought 500. By Wednesday morning, he was "down to three," he said.

The conference, he said, is "like the proverbial drinking from a firehose.'"

Ambit has 48 employees and closed its Series C round in May, adding another $10 million to top it off at $31 million. Still, is spending $20,000 to run four employees ragged worth it?

"Absolutely," Salka said. "In order to go meet all the people we have met in the past three days would have been more than that in airfare alone."

The conference ended Wednesday.

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