It's easier to get up in the morning if it's sunny, breakfast is already prepared, the path to the breakfast table is lined by a string section playing gentle music and someone more commonly seen on ESPN is scheduled to speak. Day one of the BIO 2003 Convention started just that way.
Through the doors just past those musicians, the plenary breakfast session boasted scientist Maxine Singer as well as Washington Wizards basketball player and NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse. Singer, who has worked at the National Institutes of Health and served as president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, took the podium to speak about the importance of teaching science to today's youth, so as to benefit the biotechnology of tomorrow. She knows something about passing science through the generations - her son, David, is former CEO and president of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Affymetrix Inc. and currently chairman and CEO of Genesoft Inc., of South San Francisco.
Stackhouse, who lost two sisters to diabetes, launched his organization, the Triple Threat Foundation, to help combat the disease. He spoke about advancing the fight against diabetes and helped hand out the 2003 Aventis International BioGENEius Challenge awards to four recipients.
Around mid-morning, South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc., fresh off its late-Friday approval of the asthma drug Xolair, held a press conference to discuss the drug. Calling it a "completely different way to treat asthma," company representatives provided guidance for the drug's potential in the U.S. It is estimated that there are 500,000 asthma sufferers in the States suitable for Xolair treatment, Genentech said. At $433 a vial, the drug is expected to cost between $10,000 and $12,000 a year.
Dianne Parks, vice president, cardiovascular and specialty sales, said the company would use a 250-person sales force in the U.S. - half from partner Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland - to push the drug.
At 11 a.m., the exhibition hall opened, the red ribbon snipped by Washington D.C.'s mayor, Anthony Williams, and secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, Donald Evans, while a small, patriotic drum-and-flute band played "God Bless America." Attendees descended stairwells to the hall's floor to take in the pavilions and booths. By now the general buzz - besides the imminent arrival of President Bush - is news of the freshly announced Biogen Inc. and IDEC Pharmaceuticals Inc. merger, valued at about $13.7 billion. There is complaining - among the press, at least - that neither company has representatives at the conference able to talk about the blockbuster deal.
But generating even more discussion was the day's luncheon speaker - the commander in chief. His acceptance to speak, while being a loud validation of biotechnology's rise through the ranks of international issues, shook things up. The schedule of sessions was juggled and already-tight security became tighter, as convention hall personnel kept attendees out of certain areas and shuffled them to alternative routes. The security line for the president's speech began at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the hall in which he spoke and ran straight back, fat and thick, nearly to the doors leading outside.
And while the official theme of BIO 2003 is "Thinking Beyond Tomorrow," an underlying theme might be music: the string section that soothed passers-by outside the breakfast hall, the drum-and-flute trio that built suspense for the exhibit hall ribbon cutting and, at the top of the stairs, a piano-led chorus belted out generally uplifting songs, including "That's What Friends Are For" and "Wind Beneath My Wings."
That was needed entertainment, as getting through security took more than an hour. The space attendees were funneled into was tremendous, and the house was packed. With six screens behind him to flash his blown-up image to those in the farther reaches of the hall, President Bush took the podium, following his introduction by Tommy Thompson.
"Welcome to the nation's capital," he said. "Thanks for having me stop by."