Blog | February 14, 2020

BIO CEO 2020 Is No JPM — And That's A Good Thing

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

Carol Lynch 1 BIO CEO 2020
Carol Lynch, president Sandoz U.S. and head of North America (L), and Rob Wright during fireside chat at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference, Feb. 10, 2020.

What do BIO and J.P. Morgan have in common?

Both know how to put on huge events (i.e., the BIO International Convention and Conference that rotates between major bio hubs every June, and the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that takes place in San Francisco every January). And while some have tried to compare BIO’s annual BIO CEO & Investor Conference (held every February in New York) as a mini-JPM, let’s be clear, the two are distinctly different — and that’s a good thing. To be sure, both attract very high-level executives and a similar investor-centric audience. And when BIO CEO was held in the Waldorf Astoria, it did have a somewhat crowded and historic feel like that of JPM at the Westin St. Francis. For example, I remember holding interviews in balcony seats of the Waldorf’s iconic grand ballroom, trekking up staircases and down narrow hallways to company presentations that once served as thoroughfares for U.S. Presidents (e.g., Roosevelt, Hoover, and Eisenhower) and bosses of crime (i.e., Frank Costello). At JPM many might suggest meeting at the large table that sits in the hotel’s lobby, while attendees of events held at the Waldorf merely had to say, “meet me at the clock,” and you knew exactly where you needed to be.

Since moving to its new venue, the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, BIO CEO seems just a little less crowded. As such, it makes you wonder if attendance is down. According to folks at BIO, it’s actually quite the opposite. Yet because the venue is more modern and spacious, and the fact that it isn’t competing with the outside chaos surrounding JPM, everything happening at BIO CEO (i.e., one-on-one partnering, educational sessions, company presentations) is fairly self-contained. Perhaps this is why BIO CEO, even while being held in New York City, feels a bit more relaxed. Because while the networking during JPM is unprecedented, at BIO CEO, at least for me, networking consistently occurs at a much deeper level. This might be because during JPM you tend to be running from one venue to another to fulfill a packed schedule of meetings, and depending upon the weather, that can make for either a pleasant or miserable experience. However, at BIO CEO, with the exception of an end-of-day reception held on the 8th floor, the bulk of activity takes place between just two floors, and there are plenty of tables scattered about where people can gather to connect. Within the westside ballroom (i.e., where breakfast and lunch are held), there are just the right number of tables and chairs. And if you’re open to joining people you probably don’t know, there is a high probability that these fairly random connections could turn out to be some of the best time you spend, at least that’s how it has always been for me. Let me elaborate.

A Nexus Of Networking

On Tuesday morning, I had a scheduled 8 AM breakfast meeting, which I’ll have you know, came about from my having attended the previous day’s reception and getting connected by a member of Life Science Leader’s editorial advisory board. The person was in public relations and wanted to tell me about one of their clients (i.e., a medical device company). We were soon joined by the company’s CEO. And as he gave me a high-level overview of the challenges that had to be overcome to gain access to the technology derived in academia and then build a company and board around it, I thought to myself: This would make for a great CEO Corner (an exclusive Life Science Leader op-ed section for presidents, company founders and CEOs of biopharmaceutical and medical device  companies). Now if they will just follow through.

As this conversation concluded, I was joined by another PR firm, and soon another biopharma CEO. We, too, had some rich dialogue resulting in an idea for a future editorial. But while we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice someone from another table frequently looking over at our group. I picked up on the fact that he wanted to come over, which he soon did. Andrew Satz is the CEO of EVQLV, a company striving to accelerate biologic therapy development via AI. He reminded me that we met this past summer during a networking event at BIO, and then he proceeded to share how reading our January 2020 cover feature on Genmab proved so beneficial. For this year was his first time attending JPM, and he was so impressed in learning about Genmab and its leader, Jan G. J. van de Winkel, Ph.D., that he opted to attend this company’s breakout session (a strategy I often employ). And seeing van de Winkel in action, he decided to introduce himself, which resulted in what he described as a highly productive meeting. But we talked about so many other things as well, and before I knew it, we had talked for at least 45 minutes.

Immediately following my discussion with Satz, I was approached by a person that had sat in the front row during a fireside chat I moderated with Carol Lynch, president of Sandoz U.S. and North America. This turned out to be another highly productive interaction. As did my running into Debra Bowes, founder and president, Chevy Chase BioPartners, along with the various connections made with a number of Life Science Leader editorial advisory board members (i.e., Allan Shaw, Brandi Simpson, Paul Hastings, and Rich Daly). But deep networking isn’t the only benefit obtained by my attending BIO CEO 2020.

Educational Sessions That Provide Valuable Insight

Although there were 77 company presentations taking place at this year’s BIO CEO (some of which I attended), much of my time was spent in the educational sessions. And though I found value in so many, I’ll exercise prudence by focusing on just two. The first was titled, “Market Outlook — Market Performance and IPO Class of 2020.”  And while you might expect panelists of this session to focus only on IPOs, they also talked about a variety of other topics. Here are a few bullets from the conversation. 

  • The floodgates remain open for the current IPO market, but with the coming election, at least one firm is looking at 2020 as a being a six-month year, and the closer we get to the election the more likely the financial spigots will slow to a trickle.
  • R&D in oncology remains the number one place where we are seeing biopharma R&D dollars invested, though a sea change in CNS now has this therapeutic category as a clear number two.
  • As for what makes for a successful IPO, there was talk around people, science, and passion, but the best predictor seems to be those that have been there, done that, and if successful it appears to be much easier for those individuals to attract capital the second or third time around.
  • While some might prefer a more moderate president, the reality is that the market tends to prefer an incumbent.
  • Jeff Galvin, CEO and cofounder of AGT, believes we are entering a cell and gene therapy boon analogous to that of the dot-com era. However, unlike so many dot-coms that proved to be “empty shirts,” what is going on in cell and gene is backed by incredible science with enormous potential.
  • At least one panelist mentioned that we are seriously underestimating the impact of the coronavirus, economically and otherwise.
  • Thus far, the performance of the 2020 IPO class is up 40 percent.

The other panel I wanted to mention was, “Industry Approach for Hiring and Developing and Inclusive Workforce.” The content was excellent. However, I regret to note that this session had the lowest attendance of any I attended. That’s too bad, because diversity and inclusion isn’t going away, and those responsible for hiring missed out on learning some best business practices being deployed by some of the world’s largest and most successful companies (e.g., J&J, J.P. Morgan). For example, Ahtis Davis, executive director for advancing black pathways at J.P. Morgan Chase, discussed how her company is using AI to screen applicants toward getting more diversity, and she explained how the tool can be used to help eliminate bias, such as when an applicant comes from a more prestigious school. But that was just one of many examples shared. If you missed this session, be sure to download BIO’s The Right Mix Matters first annual report called Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry: Building an Inclusive Workforce. Within it you’ll find a number of useful ideas, along with a lot of metrics for those interested in making their companies more diverse and inclusive.