By Randall Osborne

NEW YORK — The convergence of varied scientific disciplines under the biotechnology umbrella, and the gathering of them in the city known worldwide for its strong investment sector, led this year's 12th international Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conference to surpass all expectations, said President Carl Feldbaum.

"This is not a narrow conference of molecular biologists," Feldbaum said. "Even on the science side, we're getting people involved in cancer, vaccines, robotics, computer graphics, 'nano'-scale technology. They're all here."

The five-day conference, which ended Thursday, drew about 4,500 registrants and "60 or 70" exhibitors had to be turned away because of lack of space, Feldbaum said.

"It was painful to give them up," he added.

"When we started out, you could have thrown this in an American Legion hall, or a tent," Feldbaum said. "Each year, we have exceeded [previous years' attendance] in a quantitative way, but this year there's a different feeling about it. People are looking around and saying, 'What have we become, so quickly?' They're saying, 'What's going on?' What's going on, frankly, will take us a little bit of time to sort out."

Meanwhile, plans already are in the works for the next conference, to be held at a larger venue in Seattle.

"I don't think it will be a test [of New York's attractiveness]," Feldbaum told BioWorld Today. "Many people will come to Seattle because of what happened here."

Seattle offers a proximity to the Pacific Rim, he added.

"Just as we had an enormous surge this year from Europe, next year we'll have a surge from Asia," Feldbaum said. "And people have been telling me — the French, the Germans, the Dutch and British — that this is a meeting they're going to come to again. So we may hang onto a lot of that."

'Binding Energy' Emerging In Biotech

Feldbaum said he found it "hard to imagine that next year's meeting could possibly match this, at least numerically, and I don't know if it's a goal we should articulate. I don't know if it's meaningful."

More important than the numbers, he said, were the solidarity and excitement shown by diverse disciplines involved in biotechnology.

"Going in, we had separate tracks," Feldbaum said. "We were hoping for a binding energy, and that's what happened."

Still, the numbers must be accommodated — and doing that may require more than Seattle's more spacious venue.

"It's tough for me, managing BIO, to decide whether we can continue to do this internally," Feldbaum said. "We operate at a Mom and Pop level. 'You're all friends, y'all come.'" But planning may need to be done by hired organizers of such events.

"The levels of expectation this year have risen to a sufficient height that we need to further professionalize it," Feldbaum said. "You don't want to get complacent. That's the danger with this kind of success." *