LILLE, France - Biotechnology conferences, no matter where they are held, provide an opportunity for showing off, being seen and seeing others, and letting the industry know not only who you are but also what you're doing. And that goes for companies young and old.

Of the 180 companies, 300 exhibitors and 3,208 delegates from 35 countries represented here at the European Biotechnology Crossroads Conference, some were focused on the opportunity that the collection of experienced French and European biotechnology minds offers, and others were present to discuss their experienced products.

Two short sessions were designated "Elevator Pitch" periods, the name taken from the fictional scenario of finding yourself in an elevator with a potential partner or venture capital executive and thus having a small window of opportunity to sell your company. Each company representative is allowed 90 seconds for his or her pitch. A screen behind each presenter showed a timer that counted down the 90 seconds, the name of the company, the name of the speaker and in which booth they could be later located.

Aros Biotechnology, a service company that does tissue analysis and called itself the "European leader in microarrays," told those listening it "also would like to provide service to you." Replicor Inc., of Montreal, a company focused on replication, said it is in the midst of a US$6.5 million Series B round of financing. Protein' eXpert, of Grenoble, provides custom research services in the recombinant protein production area and "is looking for partners" interested in its offerings. Cellial Technologies - located in the north of France and boasting working relationships with AstraZeneca plc and Sanofi-Synthelabo - focuses on the delivery of molecules through the blood-brain barrier and suggests it could "help you save time and money" in drug development.

Nearly 20 companies were able to deliver their frenetic pitches over the two days, with speakers keeping one eye on the crowd in front of them and the other on the timer.

But there were biotechnology heavy hitters present, too. Biogen Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., presented data on Amevive (alfacept), now before the FDA and the EMEA, having filed both applications in August 2001. In September, the FDA told Biogen it expected to fully review the application within six months, which could mean a launch in late 2002 or early 2003. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 16, 2002.)

Immuno-Designed Molecules SA, of Paris, presented old data on its cancer vaccines, Osidem, in Phase III trials for ovarian cancer in Europe, Australia and Canada, and Ovidem, in clinical work in melanoma.

And Remy Defrance of AstraZeneca's French division presented data as well, detailing its epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor, Iressa. He detailed Phase I and Phase II data, but, saying he had "a limited amount of time" to present, did not disclose any data on Phase III results. In August, AstraZeneca reported that preliminary analysis of the Iressa IMPACT 1 and IMPACT 2 trials showed that addition of the drug to standards of care (gemcitabine/cisplatin and paclitaxel/carboplatin) concurrently did not offer a survival advantage. That news affected not only AstraZeneca, but other biotechnology companies working in the EGFR inhibitor area, as well. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 21, 2002.)

However, in September, the FDA's Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 11-to-3 that a 10 percent response rate from a 216-patient Phase II trial (Trial 39) submitted by London-based AstraZeneca for Iressa was "reasonable to predict clinical benefit in non-small-cell lung cancer" for the drug. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 25, 2002.)

The session was meant to present new therapies being used in oncology, so it's no wonder AstraZeneca stayed away from the Phase III. And then again, biotechnology conferences are for celebrating the science, not for pointing out the risks inherent in drug discovery.