West Coast Editor
SAN FRANCISCO - The prospect of giving start-up firms a new venue here to learn (and deal) that matches the success of the previous "H&Q" conference is real, said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which presented the first "Emerging Company Investor Forum" for that purpose.
"Nothing can replace H&Q - yet," Feldbaum said. "But this is a hardy attempt at providing an alternative, and I think it's an excellent start that far exceeds any of our previous investor meetings in the Bay Area."
He said BIO plans to do "a very tough post-mortem, as we do on each of our events, and get 360-degree opinion about how it went and how to do it better. But the returns so far - like catching people as they walk away from the polls - is very positive. They say, Do it again.'"
The January H&Q meeting once bore the Hambrecht & Quist tag but now is (thanks to mergers) known as the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference.
"Our younger companies came to us and said, We need a biotech-specific event based in San Francisco to help put the spotlight back on us, after H&Q morphed into a much wider-spectrum health care event," featuring larger-cap firms, big pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and other service groups, Feldbaum said. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 12, 2004.)
"We wondered how the banks would respond and whether they would be concerned about BIO moving into that space," Feldbaum said. "In fact, just the opposite happened. They responded with a lot of enthusiasm and said, We'll partner with you.'"
The three-day meeting, with more than 1,000 registrants, offered roundtable discussions on such disease areas as obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammation, he noted, similar to sessions at BIO's CEO and Investor Conference held every winter in New York.
"Because of the science moving so fast, people do want to be educated on what's happened since the last time we got together," Feldbaum said, and the talks in those sessions go beyond company presentations.
"I think we have disciplined [participants] well enough that they stick to the program and talk about the disease," he said, calling the meeting "a mix of pertinent education and commercial opportunity."
He called the emerging-company forum "comparably successful" to the New York event, although "there's an eagerness and enthusiasm out here that we did not encounter our first time. Maybe it's the distance from the jaded Wall Street. Also, 2004 has been a good year for the industry, and that affects the mood of everything. "
Company presentations are still part of the package in San Francisco, and BIO reserved part of the Palace Hotel's second floor for one-on-one meetings.
"The key, we have found, is to set the stage in terms of what's happening in the big circus rings - reimbursement, R&D," Feldbaum said. "Then we break it down into further subsets by disease. Then we have the individual company presentations, and to finish it off is an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the people who made the presentations to fill in. Anecdotally, we hear people say, Hey, you know that deal we made? It started last year at the meeting in San Francisco.'"
Feldbaum, who became BIO's first president in 1993, is running out his final days as chief. U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood, a Republican from Pennsylvania, has retired from Congress to accept Felbaum's position. Feldbaum plans to depart in January, retiring near Ketchum, Idaho. (See BioWorld Today, July 23, 2004.)
"I'm going to take a month, two months, three months - not much longer, to put things together and figure out what I want to do," he said, adding that he wants to spend some time with friends in the industry and has a book agent as well as an agent to handle speaking engagements.