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Biotech phenomenon becoming mainstream in world economy

CHICAGO – Being part of the more than 18,000 people who recently attended BIO 2005 in Philadelphia made me realize that biotech has not only become a worldwide phenomenon but it’s also becoming mainstream in the world economy.

It also reminds me of how rock ‘n’ roll became mainstream in the 1960s. Though most adults at first wouldn’t accept it, the launch of the Beatles on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show was a statement that rock was here to stay. So is biotech!

Within the first 15 minutes of arriving at BIO 2005 to pick up my registration credentials, I had already run into at least a half dozen people I knew (of which 50 percent were from Illinois, which is a good sign).

Before I get into some of my descriptive comments about the meeting and what it portends for Chicago in 2006, as the main detective in the old TV series “Dragnet” used to say, here are “just the facts, ma’am”. According to BIO, the following summarizes some of the salient results of BIO 2005 in Philadelphia:

• 18,679 attendees with about 6,000 of them (more than 30 percent) from international destinations.
• 48 states were represented (32 state/regional pavilions).
• 61 countries were represented (30 international pavilions).
• 24 patient and medical health advocacy groups put on displays.
• 12 governors attended (Puerto Rico, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Ohio, Iowa and others). There were also a number of big-city mayors (I personally met the mayor of Boston).
• There were 1,525 exhibiting companies in 151,000 square feet of net exhibition space in 315,000 square feet of gross exhibition space (exhibit space was sold out!).
• The expected direct impact of the meeting into the Philadelphia economy was $38 million with an additional $100 million expected to be generated for the region surrounding Philadelphia.
The last time the BIO meeting was held in Philadelphia was in 1996. The attendance was 3,071. Nine years later, the 2005 event increased this level by six fold. The BIO annual meeting continues to grow in scale. Let’s take a look at this growth, which is yet another indicator of the mainstreaming of biotech:

Here are some more BIO factoids:

• In terms of meeting content, there were more than 900 speakers, 180 panel sessions, 16 international seminars and 24 session tracks organized by topic as well as 240 individual company presentations.
• Keynote speakers included: Grammy Award winner Melissa Etheridge (and a breast cancer survivor), golfing legend Arnold Palmer (and a patient advocate) and actor Richard Roundtree (a cancer survivor).

All in all, BIO 2005 was quite impressive!

You know this meeting and the industry has come mainstream when you see the number of Big Pharma exhibit booths and their sizes. Just to name a few, Pfizer, Wyeth, Sanofi-Aventis, Esai, Abbott and Baxter all had substantial exhibit areas. The various meetings were heavily dosed with Big Pharma people who in the past would have “pooh-poohed” this meeting.

Another indicator of biotech’s entering the mainstream was presented by industry watcher Ernst & Young in its annual review presented at BIO. According to Ernst & Young, the biotech industry had annual revenue of $54.6 billion in 2004, which was up 17 percent over the prior year. The biotech R&D spend of $20.2 billion increased by 12 percent in 2004.

Another indicator of the global reach of this industry is that there are now 641 publicly held biotech companies. Of these companies:

• 330 are in the U.S.
• 131 are in the Asia-Pacific region
• 98 are in Europe
• 82 are in Canada

Still another indicator, according to Ernst & Young, is venture capital investment. Back in 1999, only 4 percent of VC money went into investments in the biotech sector. In 2004, this level was up to 21 percent of all VC investment. Having said this, there’s still a drought in early stage company funding.

The Midwest was heavily represented with substantial exhibit areas for Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota.

My only beef here is that all the Midwest pavilions and exhibit areas were sprinkled all over the exhibit hall. A more impressive showing would have been to cluster them all together to demonstrate the combined Midwest prowess, which would be my recommendation for 2006 in Chicago.

The exhibit area was humongous! The visual stimulation is almost too much to take in at first and you tend to feel overwhelmed.

You could spend the whole time at BIO just visiting exhibits and doing business. The exhibit area was like Manhattan with streets and avenues. In fact, my recommendation for being able to locate exhibits in Chicago is to actually create street names (using Chicago streets) for the different paths to exhibits.

The startling thing about the exhibit areas was that it really reminded me of an international bazaar. The Chinese and Korean pavilions used regional Oriental decoration to differentiate themselves. I saw exhibits from both Chile and Argentina for the first time.

All the fun just didn’t take place during the day. Key countries, regions and states also held important events at night. I happened to go to the JETRO (the Japan External Trade Organization) bash at the Loews’s Hotel. This packed event featured Japanese drummers and a Japanese flutist on one stage who played some very dramatic music. It sort of reminded me of a Japanese Blue Man Group.

On another stage were three women in traditional costume playing very long Japanese stringed instruments. This reminded me of a blend between dobros and sitars (if you can envision that). The sushi lasted all of about 15 minutes. The Japanese handed out gifts (ties to men and scarves to women) as part of their typical gift-giving culture. They also raffled off free trips to Japan.

Illinois also held a large celebration to advertise its coming to center stage in 2006 with its “Lose Your Blues at the Ritz” party and a live rock band held at the Ritz Carlton.

Jack Lavin of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) held court and welcomed the large audience to Chicago and the Midwest. Keeping with the blues theme of this party, iBIO President David Miller auctioned off (among other things) an acoustic guitar autographed by Eric Clapton.

What really amazed me about the BIO meeting was – despite its size – I ran into more people I hadn’t seen in a while without even trying. The correlate of this is that the people you want to see are difficult to find. Still, it really felt like a large village or almost like a class reunion. It was large but intimate.

Everywhere I went at BIO I ran into people I know and deal with from the Midwest.

This was very encouraging as I get the sense that an excitement is truly building in our region for 2006. It will be critical that the attendance milestone surpasses the 20,000 level (25,000 would be incredible). McCormick Place, which is one of the largest convention centers (if not the largest) in the U.S., should lend to that.

One challenge for Chicago will be that McCormick isn’t ensconced in the immediate downtown area. Chicago is a much larger city than Philadelphia and it’s more spread out. How you retain this sense of intimacy while attracting even more people will be a challenge.

See you next week and enjoy your Independence Day!

Michael S. Rosen is president of Rosen Bioscience Management, a company that provides CEO services including financing, business and corporate development to start-up and early stage life science companies such as Renovar and Immune Cell Therapy. Rosen is also a founder and board member of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization. He can be reached at

This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC, accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Paul Zukowski responded 9 years ago: #1

Chicago in 2006, eh? That's convenient. I like the idea of grouping the Midwest states' biotech booths. Present a united front.

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