Inside a Life Sciences Industry Confab: Notes from Convergence

6/17/09

It didn’t bother me that my attendee badge was missing from the registration booth when I arrived at Convergence: The Life Sciences Leaders Forum in Newport, RI, last week. I suspect it was stolen by the same conference gremlins who bilked my badge at the NVCA annual meeting this spring, the 2007 BIO meeting in Boston, and several other events that I’ve attended in recent years. And though I started my stint at Convergence down one badge, I left it up a fist full of business cards, courtesy of the life sciences and healthcare innovators, executives and investors who had assembled for the three-day confab.

The gathering, organized by Boston-based Future Forward Events, produced plenty of unexpected moments, like when Genzyme’s iconic chairman and CEO Henri Termeer told attendees, during his fireside chat with Sirtris CEO Christoph Westphal, that Westphal had called him for advice during Sirtris’ negotiations last year with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. (Read on for other tidbits from the Termeer-Westphal chat.) Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion, at least for the first two days of the meeting that I attended, centered on the dramatic changes occurring in the industry due to the dour economic climate and the ongoing policy and leadership changes in Washington, D.C. And in a change from years past (this is the sixth year for the event), everything was on the record unless the speaker clearly stated otherwise. Which means I can share many of the insights I gleaned from the panels and speakers and from my conversations during the event’s ample mingling opportunities. I even did a couple posts on Twitter during the event. Here are some highlights:

—Healthcare policy wonks were well represented at Convergence, and for good reason. The life sciences industry faces major hurdles due to policy changes under discussion at the federal level. Alan Eisenberg, executive vice president of emerging companies at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, listed the top policy issues that the industry group is following, including: proposed patent reforms and their potentially detrimental effects on life sciences firms; the regulation of generic, or “follow-on,” biotech drugs; improving the opportunities for firms in the industry to raise capital; and, perhaps most important, healthcare reform. On some of the big spending plans currently circulating in Washington, Eisenberg said: “Any one of these has the potential to suck the oxygen out of capital.”

—As I mentioned, we were clued in on some of the behind-the-scenes conversations that took place between Sirtris’ Westphal and Genzyme’s Termeer before London-based Glaxo purchased Cambridge, MA, Sirtris for $720 million last spring. Termeer told the audience that Westphal … Next Page »

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