SAN FRANCISCO - Ceremoniously exiting his post atop the Biotechnology Industry Organization, outgoing President Carl Feldbaum delivered a farewell Tuesday at the BIO 2004 International Convention.
"This is the last time I'll address this meeting as president of BIO," Feldbaum told a large lunchtime crowd. "In a decade of speeches, I've used this occasion to cut loose on topics I felt the industry needed to pay attention to - bioethics, global health [and] pollution, just to name three. Today, I'm not here to lecture you. Today, I want to focus on how far you've come, although I might not be able to keep myself from making a few suggestions along the way."
Feldbaum, who has been the trade association's sole president over its 11-year existence, pointed to a surge in government, media and public interest in the industry over that time - the result of its reach into everyday lives, he said. To some measure, it can be argued that BIO's mission as a singular industry representative has played a role in fostering such awareness.
"I hope I don't sound presumptuous when I observe that we now have a political power that we did not have when we began this viable enterprise over a decade ago," Feldbaum said. "We also have a common, credible, unified voice that this industry did not have before."
At age 60, satisfied with the organization's progress, he first announced his intention to retire four months ago. Feldbaum and his wife, Laura, plan to go west to their Idaho home. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 3, 2004.)
Taking the reins in 1993 with 16 people on staff and a yearly budget of $1.7 million, he presided over a period of organizational growth that mirrored that of the industry. BIO now employs almost 100 people and operates under a $40 million annual budget. Over the course of such internal development, it has established its presence across various facets of the industry, from government matters to fostering investor and media relationships for its member companies.
Perhaps nowhere is the group's reach more evident than at its annual convention, which this year drew close to 18,000 people to the City by the Bay. About a third of the participants registered from abroad, traveling from about 60 countries. In contrast, its first meeting attracted about 1,400 attendees in 1993 to Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
"Over a decade ago, it was mostly about potential and the promise of biotechnology," Feldbaum said. "Now it is all about performance."
To whom he will pass the torch remains unclear. The group's executive committee continues to search for a replacement. But BIO's chairman, Richard Pops, laid out a clear focus as the organization moves forward in disclosing plans to foster a worldwide health care initiative called BIO Ventures for Global Health.
"The benefits of our technology have been limited largely to people in wealthy countries," said Pops, who also is CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Alkermes Inc. "This is probably indicative of the relative youth of our industry, and I have a hunch that's going to change."
He said Feldbaum is leaving a departing challenge to the industry to look beyond current business models and address the needs of markets in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America that have not interested the industry in general. That type of vision, Pops said, would continue to permeate BIO's mission in the future.
"We repeatedly assert that biotechnology elevates life," Feldbaum said. "Serving the biotechnology industry has certainly elevated my life. It is not possible to fully express my gratitude for these years of energizing work and friendship that I have gained as your representative."
With that, he said goodbye and stepped away to a standing ovation.