Conversation with Jim Greenwood
By Gil Y. Roth
We recently spoke with Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), about expectations for this year’s BIO convention, which will be held May 3-6 at McCormick Place, in Chicago, IL.
Contract Pharma: What are your expectations for the 2010 BIO International Convention?
Jim Greenwood: I expect we’ll have between 15,000 and 17,000 attendees, along with 1,700 exhibitors spread out among a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall. We’re also expecting representation from 48 states and 60 countries.
Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO
CP: We know 2009 was a difficult year for the biopharma industry. From your perspective as BIO president, how do you characterize the atmosphere?
JG: We’re emerging from what has been a perfect storm of worldwide economic downturn and policy uncertainty in Washington. As the credit crunch limited the dollars available to investors, they became exceedingly cautious and that led to a rough time for emerging companies, a number of which went out of business while others went into hibernation, essentially. That was exacerbated by the uncertainty of healthcare reform and its impact on the industry as a whole. We’re hoping to see resolution on that, one way or the other, in the next few weeks.
As we move into the second quarter of 2010, the markets are beginning to open up, we’ve had an IPO or two, and we’ve seen robust VC activity. It’s the companies that have very good late-phase data that are attracting investors. Investors are continuing to be very choosy in where they place their bets.
As far as reform goes, we’ll either have an extensive new set of laws on the books, or Congress and the President will have decided that they can’t pass it. Either way, we’ll have greater certainty moving forward.
CP: How does BIO reflect the changes going on the biopharma industry?
JG: Because times have been tough, we’ve seen a downturn in the number of registrations and attendees for our annual event. We’re hoping we bottomed out last year and that we’ll begin to see growth in Chicago this May.
No matter how tough the times have been, there’s been no decrease in participation in our Business Development and Partnering sessions. That’s illustrative of how — more than ever — people need to network and look for partners who can help them bridge difficult financial times. So we expect the partnering will be as robust as ever.
CP: Do you have preliminary numbers for those meetings?
JG: We’re expecting 12,000 to 14,000 of our one-on-one meetings.
CP: What role do you think the location of last year’s event (Atlanta) played in the low turnout?
JG: The quality of attendees in Atlanta was strong, we hosted more than 14,000 partnering meetings and there was great energy at the event. We’ve found that some people decide to attend the Convention at the last moment. When the event’s in Boston, San Diego or San Francisco, there’s a large pool of biotech personnel who could decide to get in their cars and drive to the event. Since Chicago has a strong regional biotech community, we’re expecting a similar effect at the last moment.
CP: How’s BIO adapting to the new environment?
JG: We haven’t done anything very dramatic. We have to keep our budget in line with our registrations, so we always have to stay efficient in our delivery of services to our attendees. But I wouldn’t say that BIO has changed very much based on short-term economic realities.
CP: Are you reaching out to groups that you may not have focused on in years past?
JG: We’re heavily reaching out to the international community. As many as 30% of our attendees come from outside the U.S., so it’s important to focus there. We reach out to the people who attend one year and not the next, to bring them back to the show.
CP: What does Chicago offer?
JG: There are a few reasons why we’re going back to Chicago. We had a very successful event there in 2006. It’s a great town, a fun town, and people enjoy being there. There’s a major pharma presence there in terms of Abbott, Baxter, and Hospira. There’s a large device industry there. There’s also a robust research and academic community. And the city, state and Midwestern region in general are interested in drawing attention to what’s going on in terms of biotechnology.
CP: Are you seeing more contract service providers among exhibitors this year?
JG: The number of providers has been on the rise, certainly. It’s been a growth area for us, and that’s why we created the Contract Services Zone in the exhibit hall. We had 300 exhibitors representing CMOs and CROs last year, and we expect at least that number this year. Around 80% of the zone was filled as of two months before the show, so we should at least match last year’s number.
CP: How about the sessions outside the exhibit hall?
JG: We will have 125 education sessions along 17 tracks, covering the gamut of technological and business development issues. There are some notable speakers coming to the Convention, too. I’ll be chairing a panel with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; they can ask me as many questions as they choose. And Al Gore will be delivering a keynote as well.
CP: And is our current President going to make an appearance? He is from Chicago, after all.
JG: He has been invited.
CP: What industry trends are reflected in the sessions that you didn’t see on the horizon five years ago?
JG: Among the technologies? Let’s see:
- Synthetic biology. The idea that you can actually create new life forms via DNA building blocks; that’s certainly new and exciting.
- Progress in regenerative medicine. We’re seeing the first-ever in-human trials of stem cells for treatment of severely paralyzed spinal cord systems.
- RNAi. There are opportunities there, led by companies like Alnylam.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells. The idea that you don’t have to use embryonic stem cells but can take somatic cells and induce them into becoming pluripotent.
CP: And five years from now?
JG: If I could predict that, I would be running over the stock market!
CP: Good point. See you at the BIO International Convention!