By Randall Osborne

NEW YORK ¿ Finding ¿new money¿ for smaller-cap biotechnology companies is often simply a matter of having their stories heard by the right investors, said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and his group may have found an efficient way to accomplish that.

BIO¿s first CEO and Investors Conference, based on a new model for such events, drew about 800 registrants ¿ almost twice as many as expected, Feldbaum said.

¿Frankly, this meeting had the potential to fall flat, and it went the other way,¿ Feldbaum told BioWorld Today. ¿We felt, going in, that it was a roll of the dice. I was just gratified to see people showing up.¿

Rather than line up a series of company presentations in the conference, BIO grouped sessions by disease indication ¿ cancer, heart disease, etc. ¿ and let CEOs, analysts and clinicians take part in each session.

¿We were trying to accomplish two different things: interest investors in thematic areas, and give our CEOs individual exposure,¿ Feldbaum said. ¿You lose a little bit in the compromise, but I don¿t think we lost a whole lot.¿

Grouping by disease indication was ¿a rational, logical progression from the way it¿s been done,¿ he added, but other modifications may be fine-tuned.

¿We¿re testing,¿ he said. ¿We¿re still testing.¿

The more-casual format retained features of the traditional, presentation-based conference, but also ¿ by making a place for interaction among panel members ¿ seemed to encourage prospective investors to approach companies directly with their own questions, Feldbaum said.

¿For example, Mitch Sayare [CEO of Norwood, Mass.-based Immunogen Inc.] gave his talk, and it could only be 20 minutes, but then half the crowd followed him out for a long [question-and-answer period] in the hall,¿ he said.

Holding the conference in New York gave companies access to would-be investors on the latter¿s home turf, too.

¿The CEOs are going dawn to dusk,¿ Feldbaum said. ¿If they¿re not onstage, they¿re giving their spiels to private groups.¿

BIO staffers soon will be discussing next year¿s conference, which Feldbaum expects to be held in New York around the same time of year.

¿It¿s very clear to us that the meeting will be a fixture,¿ he said. ¿As this meeting becomes part of the New York calendar, as I expect it will, I think we¿re going to get a much broader class of investors.¿

Despite the plethora of biotechnology conferences, Feldbaum said an important place exists for the new format, which was born of necessity.

¿We don¿t need another¿ conference, but we need this one,¿ he said. ¿Banks are holding their own investment conferences, and they are inviting whoever they wish to invite. They have their favorites, their clients, and they invite them. The problem is, there are many more companies that need exposure, who are members of ours.¿

Some of the other conferences¿ sponsors added their names to the long list of sponsors for BIO¿s event, Feldbaum noted.

¿You don¿t like to go into competition with your own clientele ¿ some of [the banking firms] are our members, too ¿ and I don¿t think we are in competition,¿ he said. n