By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
One of the meetings I most look forward to attending is the annual BIO International Convention and Conference. Always in June, and rotating between U.S. cities, this year’s gathering was slated for San Diego, which is probably my favorite of convention cities. Why? Well for starters, the weather is typically delightful — as are the locals. Combined with the convenient location of the city’s convention center being right downtown, you typically find yourself walking to afterhours receptions held within the Gas Light District, Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), and the USS Midway Museum, all having been utilized when BIO has come to town. Forgive my visit down meeting memory lane, but having attended BIO in-person every single year since first joining Life Science Leader (twice in San Diego), I say without hesitation, it’s my favorite of the big conferences. Perhaps this is because I find BIO to be the closest nexus of networking to rival JPM. Or, maybe it’s the fact that my attendance has led to numerous cover features, countless content ideas, along with a number of additions to our editorial advisory board. Perhaps it’s BIO’s people, whom I’ve had the occasion to work quite closely with over the years. How about all of the above?
Pulling Off BIO Digital Proves Remarkable Accomplishment
Like so many business (and personal) get-togethers that have experienced the pain of being kyboshed by COVID-19, BIO’s annual in-person meeting did not take place as planned. But unlike HIMSS and SXSW, whose organizers demonstrated incredible courage and thoughtful leadership when announcing the cancelling of their massive meetings mere days before they were scheduled to take place (March), the leadership at BIO had the benefit of time — which they did not squander. I mean, didn’t we all have an inkling that BIO wasn’t likely to happen this year once a number of similar sized conferences collapsed? Could we have blamed them had they opted to completely fold their 2020 international convention tent? But such was not the case.
Perhaps the good people at BIO were inspired by ASCO, a similarly sized annual gathering typically taking place a week or so prior to BIO, which announced plans for its annual meeting to be held virtually back in late March. To be sure, there were likely a large number of factors, including financial, that contributed to the organization’s decision to pivot this year’s meeting to an all online platform. Regardless, it seems BIO Digital 2020, held June 8 – 12, came off with relatively few hitches. Sure, there were the typical delays we’ve all gained increased familiarity with while using various virtual meeting platforms. However, I’m not aware of any major gaffs of an educational session being a total execution flop. Nor have I seen frustration vented via social media of the organization’s One-On-One partnering platform not functioning as advertised. And for that, all BIO employees and volunteers should be commended for having pulled BIO Digital off.
Having twice served as cochair of BIO’s educational planning committee (2015, 2018), I’m well aware of the amount of effort involved by committee members in reviewing, grading, ranking, fine-tuning, and selecting from hundreds of submitted session proposals, which to move forward for in-person presentations. Now, take all that work, well more than half done by late Q1 2020, and pivot it all to a platform never used by BIO in such capacity. It is a remarkable achievement and a success by any measure, unless you start comparing to metrics of past in-person meetings. For example, BIO Digital 2020 boasts having virtually brought together more than 6,500 attendees from 64 countries. That’s almost one-third the number that attended BIO in Boston in 2018, which happened to be the same year the organization set an official Guinness Book world record for the largest business partnering event. And while I’d be surprised if BIO Digital had one-third the number of one-on-one meetings as it did when setting the record (46,916), it seems likely that BIO Digital may have set a world record for the largest business virtual partnering event ever held.
What’s The One BIO Digital Session Every Registered Attendee Should Make Time For?
I’d like to start with a little transparency. Because despite the success of BIO Digital 2020, I sincerely hope it is the last BIO International Convention and Conference I ever have to attend virtually ever again. Because here’s the thing. Virtual will suffice under the current calamitous circumstances caused by COVID-19. But let’s be real for a moment. I spoke to a number of people this week for which BIO has always been a mainstay. And given the opportunity to sit through a BIO Digital educational session with marquee speakers, or take care of work they were doing remotely, all opted for the latter — including yours truly. Part of it could have been the time difference, as all BIO sessions were scheduled on Pacific Time (PT), and depending upon where you are located in the world, this could have been a major inconvenience. Part of it could have also been that I wasn’t involved in moderating a session this year. But part of it has to be that not everyone is fully bought into virtual meetings being the next big thing. Because while I did have one biotech CEO tell me they believe the virtual platform is likely here to stay for investor meetings because, “It’s working,” that same CEO isn’t so sure a virtual platform transfers as well for educational content not supported by continuing education units (CEUs). This isn’t to say there isn’t a bunch of extremely valuable educational content from this year’s version of BIO. It’s just been a little less prioritized for many given the current state of affairs. However, registered attendees can access all content from BIO Digital Week until July 11, 2020. And if asked as to what is the one BIO Digital session every registered attendee should set aside an hour of their time to attend, it would be, “Leading Through Crisis: Speaking Up and Out on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Issues Impacting our World.” I believe you will find it eye opening, perhaps more so if you follow the advice of Global Blood Therapeutics CEO, Ted Love, M.D., and read, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” While we could debate as to whether or not it is, “The most thoughtful document ever written by an American,” what cannot be debated is that what the author wrote about nearly three decades ago, is still happening today — and it needs to stop!