Beyond The Printed Page | December 7, 2020

How Will The Pandemic Impact Biopharma's Annual Kickoff?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
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COVID 19 Virtual Conference

When I emailed questions to this year’s annual outlook finance article participants in early September, it still wasn’t clear if biopharma’s annual kickoff meeting (i.e., JPM in San Francisco in early January) would be in-person or virtual. As such, one of the questions posed to a group of biopharma finance execs was around how the pandemic might impact JPM and the Biotech Showcase, as this combo has become one of biopharma’s most important annual get-togethers. But we now know the plan is to be 100 percent virtual and taking place Jan. 11–14, 2021. Still, the question still seemed valid, though we thought the insight provided by respondents would be better shared sooner rather than later. So, we opted to pull the question and share via Life Science Leader’s popular online-exclusive section Beyond The Printed Page section. And if you like what you are reading here, we hope you will consider becoming a Life Science Leader subscriber today.


ExecMICHAEL ARENBERG, J.D., CFO, DURECT: After a steady learning curve during the past several months (for everyone) related to the efficient use of virtual platforms , I believe the healthcare and life sciences industry has done a good job at adapting its mindsets and protocols to get the job done effectively. We have seen record financings as well as partnerships and other types of deals closing successfully. We have all learned to reach a balance between interpersonal engagement and effective business communications with the new virtual norm. My expectation is that this year’s event will not be as impactful as it usually is, but I think there is still a need for a big healthcare event to kick off the year so I think JPM will be back next year, probably in San Francisco.

ExecHERB CROSS, CFO, ATRECA: While the challenges that hotel capacity and other infrastructure limitations in San Francisco create each year for JPM are well understood, given the history around the event and the time of year, I can’t imagine holding the conference in any other location. I do feel a virtual JPM will be dramatically diminished from what the conference has become. So much of what companies look to accomplish around the JPM conference revolve around activities that are adjacent to the conference itself, such as 1x1 partnering and corporate development meetings, as well as ancillary conferences and the various networking events hosted by firms other than JP Morgan.

I have found virtual investor conferences provide a great venue to engage with investors, and I am sure JPM will be no exception, but the other activities that typically occur at JPM will no doubt be severely curtailed. Given the historical importance of the event as the beginning of the new year in biopharma, I suspect it will be back up and running in 2022, to whatever degree the current status of the COVID pandemic allows.

ExecJANIS NAEVE, Ph.D., MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMGEN VENTURES: Whether the 2021 conference will have the same draw is yet to be seen. Although by January, almost everyone will have adjusted to engaging in a largely virtual world, if they haven’t already. Over the past six months, Amgen has participated in a range of conferences and investor events, and these virtual events have now become our new normal. The need for investors and biotechs to connect, share ideas, and identify investment opportunities will always remain. However, I do think some of the spontaneity of the in-person JPM conference (i.e., chance meetings with startups in between presentations or running into acquaintances at conference-adjacent events) will be missed. That is all to say that the question isn’t “do we need JPM,” but rather how will JPM combine its influence/reach with technology to evolve for a post-COVID-19 environment.

ExecSANJAY SUBRAMANIAN, CFO, OCUGEN: Gauging by our experience at other virtual conferences, I think a virtual JPM will be less impactful relative to previous years. In years’ past, we attended JPM and looked forward to the meetings we had scheduled months before with people we wanted to meet or catch up with, and to develop new connections. While a virtual meeting may provide additional opportunities for scheduling one-on-one meetings, it doesn’t provide for a spontaneous interaction with new people from across the world. I am confident that it will shift back to an in-person venue in the future.