Zillions of Biotech Conferences Want You. Which Should You Attend?
Biotech industry conferences are happening, somewhere on this green Earth, every day. If you’ve been around a while, and you’ve attended a few, chances are you get invitations, or marketing pitches, that ask you to attend a different meeting every day.
If you’re new to the business, you may not be on all the lists. But if you want to advance, you want to network with the big fish who attend these meetings. You want to find out where the action is, and where it’s going.
So then the question becomes: Which conferences should you attend?
Before I dive into my own calculus on meetings, let me just say there’s a good reason for all this activity. Even though the Internet has created a historic advance for connecting people and ideas, it’s not enough. Human beings still have to meet each other face-to-face to form the relationships we need to understand each other, and do business. So we agree to carve time out of our busy schedules, spend some dough, and sometimes get on airplanes for a few industry conferences every year.
Each person has to have their own specific criteria for what makes an event worthwhile. But I think Stewart Lyman, a frequent contributor to Xconomy, spoke for a lot of people when he said a couple years ago “when I go to meetings, I want to learn something new, gain a wider perspective, and do a little networking.”
Now, if you’re a biotech CEO or a chief financial officer, you are probably on the road constantly in search of money at one banking conference after another. I don’t really know the differences between the various conferences put on by UBS, Cowen, or Goldman Sachs, so I won’t try to size them up.
But I do make it my business to go to a lot of conferences each year to stay current on who’s who and what’s what in biotech. I have my own personal set of questions I ask to help me sort through them. Will I learn something new there that will help me gain insight? How many people will be there? Are there going to be a lot of newsmakers there that I already know and want to stay in touch with? Are there newsmakers there that I haven’t met, and want to meet? Will I have to travel far? How much time and money is this going to take? Will it fit into my schedule? How many competing media outlets will be there? If there are too many, that’s bad, because I don’t want to be just another guy writing the same story that 10 other outlets have. One of my credos is that man can’t live on commodity news in the Internet age.
So how does this play out in reality? I figured it would be fun to do a quick rundown of a few major conferences on the calendar, with a short explainer on why I chose to attend it, or skip it.
JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. This convention is held in San Francisco’s Union Square every January. This is the granddaddy of all biotech industry conferences, having been around for more than 30 years. All the top executives in biotech and Big Pharma are there, along with the major venture capitalists, fund managers, Wall Street analysts, and media. You spend marathon days inhaling facts, claims, aspirations, wishful thoughts, and half-baked predictions. Then you spend all night socializing on the cocktail party circuit (inside tip: drink lots of water, not wine, unless you want to keel over from dehydration). I go every year, and would never consider skipping it.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Many readers will be shocked to hear this, but I haven’t personally attended the ASCO meeting since I was for working for Bloomberg News in 2007. I cover cancer news aggressively, and this is the biggest single event for cancer news of the year, held every June. But it’s also a hype-a-palooza dominated by other media who have been around longer, and have more readers, than Xconomy. I figure I can spend four days of time and $2,000 of hard-earned money roaming Chicago’s McCormick Place to compete in a massive echo chamber, or I can selectively cover a few ASCO stories from my office, do them as best I can, and use the rest of the time to zig when other media zags, giving my readers something they won’t find anywhere else.
Life Science Innovation Northwest. This conference is the biggest biotech industry conference in the Northwest, held in July in Seattle. It’s local, so this one is easy to attend. I always make sure to say hello to my existing contacts, meet some new people, and squirrel away a few story ideas that I can publish later. Readers who think Seattle is Timbuktu might want to take a closer look. The region is going through a biotech slump, for sure, but there’s more here than many realize.
OME Precision Medicine Summit. This event was assembled at UC San Francisco earlier this month, and led by chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann. I had a chance to attend part of this, but skipped it, because of travel and schedule conflicts. I’m kicking myself for missing it, because this looks like it was a great meeting, full of interesting people pushing hard to advance meaningful reforms to the way drugs get developed, and treatments get tailored for patients.
Xconomy events. Duh, these are a must-attend. Need I say more?