Zillions of Biotech Conferences Want You. Which Should You Attend?

5/20/13Follow @xconomy

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in April, and I was overloaded with events I was running for Xconomy in two cities that month. Two, the meeting was held in Chicago, where we don’t have a bureau. Three, I don’t like going to conferences where I get pitched lots of story ideas that make no sense for my publication, so I have to beat away the PR people with a stick. (Reporters: I know you feel my pain.) BIO, to me, is a great conference for people getting started in the industry, because there are so many educational sessions. There are certainly lots of Big Pharma business development people there, so I’m sure it’s worthwhile for many biotech dealmakers. But there are not enough innovators, and too many vendors, for my taste.

Sage Commons Congress. I attended this quirky conference in April in San Francisco for a few reasons. It’s loaded with the most diverse cast of intellectual, creative people you’ll find anywhere in the biotech and pharma business. I’ve spent the last few years covering former Merck executive Stephen Friend and this daring quest to spark an open source movement in biology. I’m curious to see where this nonprofit will ultimately go, and I knew I’d be one of the few media people there to cover it. This year was the final Sage Commons Congress, as the group needs to take its game to the next level by engaging researchers and patients online.

Calbio 2013. This conference is coming up next month in San Diego, and is co-hosted by BayBio, the San Francisco area biotech trade group, and Biocom, which represents companies in the San Diego area. I expect quite a few newsmakers to be there, and it’s close to home for me on the West Coast. Unfortunately, I can’t make it this year because I’ll be on vacation. Maybe next year.

BioPharm America. This conference is held in September in Boston. I’ve never attended this one, but it attracts a lot of the biotech executives in Boston that I want to stay in touch with, and also ropes in a bunch of pharma people from Europe that I want to get to know better. Plus, I need to travel to Boston at least twice a year to stay up on the biotech companies there, and September seems like a good time after everyone’s back from summer vacations.

Partnering for Cures. I’ve never been to this event organized by the nonprofit FasterCures, but it strikes me as the biggest gathering of patient advocacy groups, biotech companies, pharma companies, and regulators. Patient advocacy groups are rising in influence in drug development, as they are gaining money and development savvy. I feel the need to get to know this reader group better, so I’ll plan to be there in New York in November.

Advances in Genome Biology and Technology. This is the top technical meeting for whiz-bang genomics tools. It’s held every February at a remote place called Marco Island along the Florida Gulf Coast, where all the scientists kick back for a few days. I’ve missed out on a few big scoops the past couple years by missing this meeting, but I don’t think I can justify attending. To me, AGBT is why we have Twitter. It makes it so journalists like me can do the laundry at home on Saturday morning, while occasionally glancing at the phone to see if any news is breaking in real-time, 3,000 miles away. If so, I can always fire up the laptop and write something.

Personalized Medicine Conference. This conference is held in November at Harvard Medical School. I attended this one in 2011, and found it to be a good networking opportunity with scientists and businesspeople doing a lot of innovative things. There was also plenty of preaching to the choir, and not much debate about a subject screaming out for debate.

Personalized Medicine World Conference. Here’s yet another personalized medicine conference, except with shorter, focused talks featuring lots of entrepreneurs from in and around Silicon Valley. I went for the first time this year in January, partly because I’m interested, partly because it wasn’t scheduled too close to the JP Morgan marathon, and partly because the organizers asked me to be part of it. This event is good for networking, but the short talks make it hard to gain much understanding about what people are really doing.

American Society of Hematology. This event, held every December, is my favorite underdog medical meeting, even though I haven’t attended in a few years. Lots of real news breaks every year in the world of leukemia/lymphoma treatments, and there traditionally haven’t been many reporters there to chronicle it. Nothing like the scrum you see at ASCO. One other good cancer meeting that allows time for learning, and less frenzied scrambling and vendor hucksterism, is the American Association for Cancer Research.

BIO Investor Forum. This has been a decent little event for me in years’ past, because it’s small, and provides a quiet opportunity to network with a bunch of biotech CEOs at private and public companies. There aren’t many competing media, it’s at a grand old hotel in San Francisco, and the weather is usually great in mid-October.

Are there any other meetings out there that you consider to be must-attends? I’ve left out a lot of specialized scientific and medical meetings for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, antibiotics, infectious diseases, obesity, multiple sclerosis, ophthalmology, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, various rare diseases, and more, largely because I figure that they tend to generate one-off stories that are best covered from the office. But I’d love to hear from biotech readers which meetings make sense for you to attend and why. Be sure to leave a comment below, or send me a note at ltimmerman [at] xconomy.com.

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  • Julio Gagne

    AACR for me.

  • Heather

    The AAPS Annual Meeting (November) and AAPS National Biotechnology Conference (May) are both must-attends for our company each year.

  • http://www.lacertabio.com Carlos N Velez/Lacerta Bio

    It depends on whether you need a purely scientific/academic conference or more of a BD/Networking conference. For us, we were at JPMorgan/Biotech Showcase in January and BIO in April. We’ll go to EBD BIO-Europe in November, which tends to be larger than the Spring version of BIO-Europe. These three are more networking-focused, which makes sense for us. We used to go to AAPS annually, but our client mix right now just doesn’t justify the need.

    I went to Biopharm America in Boston a few years ago. It was pretty good. I too was surprised how many folks came over from Europe.

    I disagree with your comment that there aren’t enough innovators. They’re there, but their in the Business Forum trying to out-license their assets.

    I would also add BioTrinity in the UK to the list. It’s held every May in a rural location West of London. This year had ~800 attendees, and next year’s event will be in London. For the size of the conference, it’s a good value because it’s run by a not-for-profit. I’ve attended in the past, and I’ve met many small UK & EU companies who can’t or won’t travel to the US for BIO.

    I wish either BIO or EBD would have an annual networking conference in India. Aside from CPhI India, there doesn’t appear to be much of a conference scene there compared with China or even Brazil. It’s a tough trip, but it might be worth it if the attendance is large (say, 750 or more) and if there is a direct flight from NY/Boston/London.

    We’ll likely go to Drug Delivery Partnerships in January, 2014. But that is also driven by our current client mix.

    Safe travels!

    • http://twitter.com/BiotechStockRsr BiotechStockResearch

      I have to give a shout out to the American Urological Association meeting. I have a particular interest in prostate cancer due to our coverage universe (Dendreon, Medivation, Exelixis, others) and this meeting never fails to disappoint. If we did not attend in 2011, we wouldn’t have been the only analyst team to ring a warning bell about Dendreon’s Provenge revenue problems BEFORE they imploded in August 2011. And if the current management team can save the company, we’ll likely learn about it first at AUA.

      Beyond prostate drugs, I’ve come to lean on AUA for insight into how the treatment of cancer works in this country. Understanding how patients are handed off from PCP to specialist to hospice has been enlightening. Severe problems with adherence to guidelines. Docs who stubbornly refuse to update treatment practices despite Level 1 evidence to the contrary. Patients who’d rather believe some quack on the internet than the doc examining their chart. The role of profit in guiding treatment decisions. And, in the case of PSA, how a few loud voices are able to skew screening guidance and harm patients just to satisfy their ego or own pecular, narrow world view.

      These are all important themes in our research that AUA has been invaluable in helping me understand.

      • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

        Great points about AUA, David. I’d be willing to bet that you could notice some similar patterns of healthcare dysfunction by attending other specialized conferences. I’m particularly curious about what happens to a medical specialty once it becomes super-commercialized. Can you imagine attending the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology or the American Society of Retinal Specialists now vs. 10 years ago? These were backwater conferences then that only a few physicians attended. Now they are benefitting from a few effective new drugs for macular degeneration. The physicians are suddenly awash in pharma industry cash and investor interest/money. I wonder how that has changed the way these physicians practice medicine, and how they think about themselves and their discipline.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    Carlos, thanks for the note. I’ve heard good things about BioTrinity, and the various Keystone conferences for updates on basic science.

  • Blair Van Brunt

    Partnering For Cures is amazing. Many innovators. lots of networking. not as many patient groups as there could be. We formed our own meeting (the conference did not provide a space or designate a time for the patient groups) and we had possibly 10 reps from diff groups. 2 years ago I introduced myself to a team who presented a successful drug re-purposing program for The Lymphoma & Leukemia Society at the meeting and who is now “my team” for a re-purposing drug project that our org is sponsoring. I am in contact with Faster Cures (parent of P4C) to help them establish more time and room for the patient groups.
    Blair Van Brunt
    Chair, Drug Discovery Committee
    Shwachman Diamond Syndrome Foundation

  • James Mosedale

    Dear Luke,

    Thanks for another enjoyable article.

    I recently found out about a website that might be relevant to readers of this article; at the AACR I spotted a business card with the web address http://www.conferenceace.com on it and the website allows people to review biotech conferences and displays the reviews. It’s a little basic but I like the idea and think if they get a good number of reviews coming in it’ll be a very useful tool.

    Kind regards,

    James