BIO 2009: Focus on Research and Development, Partnerships and New Business Models

By Terri Somers - In these serious times, up to 15,000 biotechnology executives from around the globe are descending upon Atlanta today to do some serious business at the 2009 BIO International Convention. In this difficult economic climate, with a new administration focusing on healthcare reform and the world getting a glimpse of what a flu pandemic could look like, there are plenty of issues for the biotechnology industry to tackle.

“This year’s convention will focus on research and development, partnership opportunities, and the new business models required to meet today’s global health challenges, providing support and direction for our attendees as we all continue to navigate through these times of uncertainty, opportunity and change, “ said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

One of the convention’s annual highlights, the keynote luncheon speaker, which in years past has included the president, governors and legendary performers/patient advocates, is expected to be the usual huge draw this year. And rather than just one day with a big name speaker, attendees this year can look forward to two provocative lunch presentations. On Tuesday, Sir Elton John, who established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in the U.S. and U.K., is scheduled to speak at the convention’s keynote luncheon, at noon in the George World Congress Center. The EJAF is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations supporting innovative HIB prevention programs, direct care and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. The organization’s current U.S. grant making priorities target HIV prevention programs in the Southern United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, focusing on HIV prevention and care services for highly marginalized and vulnerable populations, and HIV/AIDS prevention education and the promotion of sexual health for adolescents. The UK arm of the EJAF focuses grant giving on projects in Africa, Asia and Europe. On Wednesday, expect sparks to fly at the keynote luncheon panel “The Challenges and Opportunities Surrounding Healthcare Reform.” Susan Dentszer of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer will have the job of moderating a panel that includes Democratic leaders Senator Tom Daschle and Gov. Howard Dean and Republicans Senator William H. Frist, M.D., and Karl Rove.

“This panel provides an opportunity to discuss and debate the best options and opportunities for the new administration as they move toward their goal of restructuring our nation’s health care system,” Greenwood said.

“As the Obama Administration and Congress explore how to restructure the delivery of the nation’s health care services, it is important that the biotech industry is involved in the debate,” Greenwood said.

As the biggest biotech event in the world, over 70 percent of the attendees are senior managers from some of the most innovative businesses in more than 60 countries and 48 states. Businesses around the globe use this gathering as a chance for one-on-one meetings with current or potential partners. And this year will be no different. As many as 14,500 one-on-one meetings are scheduled involving 1,7000 companies. And more than 180 capital presentations are scheduled this year. The biotechnology industry is also well aware that business also gets done when having fun. This year’s festivities include an opening night reception with a high-energy performance by the B-52s. And, as usual, Tuesday night is open so that companies can host their own private receptions. Meanwhile, more than 1,800 exhibitor booths representing companies, states, regions and countries will highlight the industry’s products and services on the conventions 176,000 square feet of the exhibition floor. Attendees can expect the usual eclectic mix of free souvenirs from the many booths, from pens, to key chains, flash drives, hats, bags – and remember last year’s hit, Crocs . This year the exhibition space is broken down into product zones as well as by country, region and state. Attendees looking to meet people with certain expertise, including bioprocessing , clinical trials, drug delivery, IT, business services, molecular diagnostics, therapeutics , biofuels and emerging technologies can now head straight to a specific zone and be surrounded with the type of talent and technologies they’re looking for.

“Through intriguing keynotes, dozens of educational sessions, partnering opportunities and networking, the interactions that occur here this week will help set the direction of our industry as we continue in our mission to heal, feed and fuel the world,” Greenwood said.

--By Terri Somers, BIOCOM

Terri Somers if the new Director of Communications at BIOCOM, the biotech industry trade group in Southern California. Previously Terri covered the biotechnology industry for six years at the San Diego-Union Tribune.