Blog | May 26, 2017

3 Can't Miss Educational Sessions At BIO 2017

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

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

BIO 2017

As we get closer to one of our industry’s biggest annual gatherings, the BIO International 2017 Convention in San Diego, June 19 – 22, I have begun to pin down my schedule for which educational sessions I plan to attend. For me, this has always been a challenge, as BIO has so much great educational content. And with many of the educational sessions overlapping, I find I have to pick and choose where I want to be, often with at least two options from which to pick. This is because I have experienced showing up to a session only to find it closed due to a filled capacity. But as I began to build my schedule, I thought, “What three sessions, beyond the one I will be moderating [Navigating A Clear Path For Public-Private Partnerships (Session ID: 21996) on Thursday June 22 from 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM PT], would I not be willing to miss?” Now please keep in mind that just because other sessions aren’t listed as being in my top three doesn’t make them any less valuable; like you, I have my own personal reasons for wanting to attend a particular session.  In fact, should you have a suggestion for “a can’t-miss session” at this year’s #BIO2017 meeting, feel free to include it as a comment to this blog.

Breakthroughs in Neurodegenerative Diseases: Are We at the Tipping Point?

This session (ID – 21874) is scheduled for Monday, 6/19/2017, from 1:00 - 2:15 PM in room 7A. Beyond the topic, what attracted me to this session was the fact that the panel has three high-level panel members (if you include the moderator) hailing from industry. Personally, I am often attracted to sessions that have executives of VP level or higher, as these folks often seem more willing to take a stand on a particular subject, or even openly and passionately disagree with fellow panelists. Anytime you can get an executive leadership team member from a big biopharma (i.e., Henry Gosebruch of AbbVie) on the same panel with an executive from a smaller startup, there is the potential for some interesting dialogue. And though I have learned that Steven Paul, M.D., president and CEO of Voyager Therapeutics, will not be able to make this session, I have been told that a suitable replacement has been found (i.e., Voyager's chief scientific officer, Dinah Sah, Ph.D.). Having a top-rated academic such as Harvard’s Ole Isacson on a panel isn’t usually a primary driver for why I pick a session. But on a number of occasions I have been pleasantly surprised when an academician has proven capable of bringing more than theory to a discussion. Given Isacson is a former SVP and chief scientific officer at Pfizer, I have high expectations that this will be a good session to attend. Add in a moderator like Merck’s Darryle Schoepp, a SVP with 26 years of industry experience, and you have all the makings for what could be a great kick off to this year’s educational content at BIO.

Plays Well with Others: Lessons Learned from Decades in Biotech Business Development

This session (ID – 22267) is scheduled for Monday, 6/19/2017, from 2:30 - 3:45 PM in room 8. I will readily admit to having a bias for any educational session with Jeremy Levin serving as a member. A cerebral executive, the CEO of Ovid Therapeutics brings a wide cross section of executive-level biopharma experience and is one of the few who can boast to having worked in Big Pharma, big generics, as well as small startups. When you add in Celgene’s EVP of Business Development, George Golumbeski, Ph.D., whom I had the pleasure to interview back in 2015, you already have a strong rationale for why this session is a can’t-miss. Both Levin and Golumbeski are highly transparent. In fact, when I first interviewed Golumbeski for the July 2015 cover feature, Celgene: Mastering Partnering & M&As To Build Its Next Generation Of Assets, we ended up having to schedule a second interview because we ran out of time and couldn’t get to all the things he wanted to share. In case you are interested, here are links to three of the four articles we developed from our conversation.

  1. How Does Being A Scientist Help With Biopharmaceutical Business Development?
  2. Want To Know What Deal Celgene's George Golumbeski Is Most Proud Of?
  3. Celgene's M&A Dealer - "The Best Career Decision I Ever Made."

While I don’t know Faheem Hasnain personally, I know he was the CEO of Receptos when it was acquired by Celgene in a deal orchestrated by Golumbeski for $7 billion back in 2015. What not-yet-told stories might these two be willing to share during this panel? Throw in Paul Sekhri, president and CEO of Lycera Corp., and Nina Kjellson, a veteran venture capitalist partner at Canaan Partners, and you have a session capable of providing more quotable quotes than a Howard Cosell Muhammad Ali interview.   

Our Common Goal: Ensuring Access and Affordability of Innovative Medicines

This is a “Super Session” (ID – 24587) taking place on Tuesday, 6/20/2017 from 12:15 - 1:30 PM in room 6A. The moderator for this session is the CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, as well as the chair of BIO, Ron Cohen, M.D. If anyone has seen Cohen moderate a panel, you might think he missed his calling. But like many of the talented executives in our industry, the physician turned business executive is multifaceted, and earlier in his life he did have some stage and television training. Back in 2016, Life Science Leader was interested in putting together an in-person roundtable discussion on the subject of drug pricing, and Cohen proved extremely helpful in getting a number of key executives to attend. Including himself, this panel at BIO has two other executives who participated in Life Science Leader’s discussion — David Meeker, M.D., EVP of Sanofi Genzyme, and the previously mentioned Jeremy Levin.

One of the challenges first encountered by many in biopharma striving to have a civil discussion on drug pricing was getting willing participants from the payer/insurance side of the table. That’s not an issue for this panel, which boasts two — Steven Miller, M.D., SVP and chief medical officer for Express Scripts, and Jeffrey Berkowitz, former EVP of UnitedHealth Group/Optum. Having previously worked for Merck and Walgreens, Berkowitz has been on all sides of the drug pricing equation. Miller, who previously served as the chief medical officer at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, rounds out the panel by bringing a medical institution/academic perspective. From my point of view, the only thing that could possibly improve this panel might be if it had a little diversity. But considering the caliber of folks assembled, this seems a rather minor point.

One other thing to note: on at least two previous occasions, three of these speakers (i.e., Berkowitz, Cohen, and Miller) have previously served on similar panels together. And while some might view this as being a negative, if the point of the panel is to move toward actual solutions, I certainly don’t. For it has been my experience that more productive dialogue often occurs between those who have actually developed a certain level of trust, which often only comes about when people aren’t just familiar with one another, but actually know each other, which requires more than just one engagement.

As previously mentioned, if you have a suggestion for “a can’t-miss session” at this year’s meeting, be sure to include in the comment section of this blog below.

Finally, while I often conclude such premeeting blogs with stuff like, “Look forward to seeing you at #BIO2017,” I’d rather say this time around, “I look forward to engaging with you at BIO.” Should you see me at the meeting, please be sure to say hello and expect that I will ask you for one of your business cards.