TORONTO - The third and final day of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's International Biotechnology Convention & Exhibition began with rain.
But by the time the morning's first panel sessions had begun, the precipitation had stopped, giving way to a gray - but dry - day. Roughly 10 more hours for the record 15,635 registered attendees to explore the center's North and South buildings, conduct business and talk shop.
The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy presented its report on the growth of biotechnology centers in the U.S. Wednesday morning. Called "Signs of Life," the report examined the top 51 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and determined which are the most hospitable to biotechnology. Calling the science "the bandwagon for the economic development community," Joseph Cortright, a co-author of the study and an economist with Impresa Inc., of Portland, Ore., said the investment community has been waiting for "the next big thing, which is biotechnology."
His report defined a total of nine locations as premier biotechnology locations. In the report, San Francisco and Boston are labeled biotech leaders; San Diego, Seattle and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., are defined as biotech challengers; New York and Philadelphia are designated as pharmaceutical centers; and Los Angeles and Washington are called special cases.
Those nine areas draw biotechnology companies for two reasons, Cortright said: research and commercialization. Major biotechnology philanthropist the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., provides extensive money to the areas, and there are a high amount of patents issued in those locations, Cortright said. Commercialization opportunities - venture capital availability, research and development partnership potential, the presence of start-up and established biotechnology companies - also are important to biotechnology clusters.
The report provides a measuring stick for other hubs, giving insight and allowing areas to "get a sense of where they are and what they need to do to approach one of the established centers," Cortright said.
But, he warned, even as the industry grows, "biotech won't become progressively less expensive than preceding generations of projects," an example being the declining prices seen in the computer industry.
"In many cases, biotech therapies are as expensive or more expensive than the therapies they replace," he said.
During the break between morning and afternoon sessions, Benjamin Carson, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore took the stage as the conference's last plenary luncheon speaker. Carson was raised in abject poverty as a child in Tennessee, Detroit and Boston. Now one of the world's leading pediatric neurosurgeons, the affable Carson mixed humor throughout his engaging speech and spoke of the importance of having a dream to aim for. He also stressed that taking risks drives advancement, and told the crowd, "Don't use excuses, look for solutions."
Toronto-based Freedom for Animals, in response to a BIO 2002 morning panel session titled, "Biotechnology and Animal Rights Activism: A Battle for the Bottom Line," held a rally outside the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Gathering across Front Street behind the metal barricades thrown up by police before the convention started, the group was sparse and peaceful.
Alongside a member who supported a giant head representing Mother Earth about eight feet above his shoulders, spokesman Dave Marshall explained the reason for the rally, saying protesters like him were being represented in the session as arsonists and vandals.
"There's no history of that," he said. "Or very little."
His organization feels that biotechnology "turns animals into pharmaceutical machines" by using them as models to test new products. They estimate 500,000 animals are killed annually by science, and they don't see the need for genetically modified foods.
"No one asks for this stuff," he said. "No one wants it. And we don't know [which products are genetically modified] because they don't put labels on it."
And it doesn't matter if the animal model is a zebrafish or a primate.
Back among the dark suits, the conference wound down. At 4 p.m. sharp, the lights were dimmed in the exhibition hall. By 4:15, the sounds of introductions and company propaganda had been replaced by the noise of booth deconstruction. Lines formed behind escalators leading to the exits.
Feldbaum Looks Toward BIO 2003 In Washington
Carl Feldbaum, BIO president, sat in a small room tucked away on level 700 as attendees climbed escalators and stairs to catch transportation to airports and hotels. His suit jacket was off - the end was near.
Although Feldbaum doesn't feel the conference has the power to fix the ailing biotechnology markets - perhaps only the companies themselves can do that - what it does is provide an avenue.
"There is a certain exuberance here," he told BioWorld Today. "I can't disclose anything, but I've heard deals are getting done here. We give [companies] the opportunity for that. It drives a lot of the attendance."
On a day when former ImClone Systems Inc. CEO Samuel Waksal was arrested for alleged insider trading, the depressed state of the markets, Feldbaum said, is a mix of both good and bad. There is growth, but lower company valuations and downsizing; it is difficult to raise money but good science is being conducted.
"The window will open back up," he said. " When' is the question."
But, he said, echoing Cortright's report in the morning session, "both U.S. states and nations have recognized biotech as an economic development driver." With strong showings at the conference by numerous countries, many areas of the globe "think [biotechnology] is where it's at," he said.
"It happened in Research Triangle Park [in Raleigh-Durham]," he said, referring to the vision the area had years ago to build a strong economy based on medical research and technology. It now stands as one of the nine main biotechnology hubs in Cortright's report. "It's happening in Cuba, and also in Germany."
It will be a year before BIO 2003 kicks off in Washington, the home of BIO.
Feldbaum expects this year's attendance record to fall next year, "despite whatever economic environment we are in."
"It will be a very political meeting," he added. "NASA, the EPA, the FDA - they will all be involved next year. There's a whole new universe of opportunities that we plan to avail."