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The legacy of BIO 2006, what it will be and how we need to plan for it now

An interesting meeting took place this past week at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center hosted by the Chicago Technology Forum. The focus of the meeting was an opportunity to hear from four individuals, who have been intimately involved in the last annual BIO meetings in different cities, as a preview to what we might expect or should prepare for when this “Olympics of Biotechnology” meeting comes to Chicago in April, 2006.

Some Chicagoans have likened this event to the biotechnology equivalent of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which created the “White City”, an event that drew 27 million visitors. That's pretty incredible when you think about the state of transportation at that time, although new trains called the “Exposition Flyers” using Pullman coaches were installed and could go up to 80 miles an hour from the East Coast.

Another similarity between these two events was that the 1893 fair represented the first time many Americans had ventured west of the Alleghenies to see what was billed as “the greatest cultural and entertainment event in the history of the world”. In the case of BIO 2006, it is clearly the first time that the BIO organization has ventured with this event into the American Midwest, as the event has traditionally been an East Coast-West Coast “see-saw” with occasional stops in Toronto, Canada.

In this BIO event if Chicago were to get over 20,000 people from more than 60 countries, it would be considered a big success and if the number were to approach 25,000, this would be a huge success. However, success is measured not only by attendance but by the “biobuzz” meter, and the hunt for deals and business networking.

So who was at the meeting last week, and more specifically what lessons did they impart?
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Bob Rosenberg of the University of Chicago, who creates and runs these events known as the Chicago Technology Forum, is an avid technologist and biotechnologist. His goal with this meeting was to get this Chicago/Midwest audience, a mélange of bio-businessmen, students, city/state government officials, and university administrators (as well as what Chicago produces in great quantities: lawyers!), to tune in now to what Chicago and the Midwest really want to get out of this event. In other words, using the jargon of the meeting, what will be our “legacy”?

Rosenberg introduced Ray Briscuso as meeting moderator. Ray has, for years, been at the helm of BIO as executive director and very intimately involved in the hosting of this event in numerous cities. Ray recently stepped down from his BIO role but still is a consultant to BIO and is assisting BIO and Chicago in pulling together this event, and seems to be commuting to Chicago these days and a frequent visitor to the Holiday Inn.

Ray set the tone stating that BIO 2006 was a first for the BIO organization in a number of ways:

• First time the event has been held in the Midwest (if you exclude the Canadian midwest, Toronto)

• First time that BIO will have an event that is not primarily focused on drugs – in Chicago it will be about the mainstreaming of biotechnology into our society as reflected by the diversity of biotech that exists in the Midwest: agricultural biotechnology, industrial biotechnology, medical devices, nanotechnology, diagnostics, etc.

• First time where major research universities have taken a primary role in shaping the event (University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Northwestern University, and MRUN – the Midwest Research University Network consisting of 10 major Midwest universities)

• First time that the event has embraced a larger region of the U.S., in this case the Midwest (although the Philadelphia meeting represented the interests of 3 states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware; and the San Francisco meeting represented all of California – a country in its own right; and the Toronto meeting represented, in essence, all of Canada)

By now, Ray Briscuso knows the Midwest well! Four to five years ago, a contingent from Chicago went to Washington to convince him and the BIO leadership why they needed to consider Chicago as a site for a future BIO annual event. BIO knew that Chicago was a great convention town but was it really a BIO town; had the industry sufficiently matured to make this an exciting event to draw thousands from around the world. Even as recent as a year and half ago, well after BIO had made its decision to select Chicago, there was a lot of second thoughts within the BIO organization.

Ray proceeded to introduce the three BIO warriors on the panel:

• Lorne Meickle, president of the Toronto Biotech Initiative, who had presided the last BIO event in Toronto (note: BIO has held its annual meeting twice in Toronto)

• Joe Panetta, president and CEO of BIOCOM which is southern California’s biotech organization. Joe had presided over the BIO meeting in San Diego held about 5 years ago and then participated with BayBIO, the San Francisco area biotech association, held in San Francisco in 2004.

• Dennis “Mickey” Flynn, president of Pennsylvania BIO, who had presided over this year’s meeting held in Philadelphia.

Each of the three had their “war stories” to tell, but they coincided on a couple of key points:

• The critical need to focus now on not just a successful meeting but key issues that will last well after the meeting is over; in other words the legacy issues. In this case "legacy" means pervasive changes regarding the biotechnology industry you would like to effected in your community as a result of the meeting, such as state and city government perception and involvement as industry advocates, attraction of venture capital from other parts of the world, attraction of other life science companies to the region, particularly from overseas, greater positive public awareness of the benefits of biotechnology in your state/region, stimulus of growth of biotech companies and activities in the region.

• Putting your bid in immediately after the meeting has concluded for a shot at another meeting (the lead time has increased for selection of sites from3-4 years to about7-8 years), so as to ensure follow-up “umbrella” effect of BIO on further galvanizing all of the above

• Getting the local and regional media involved actively before the event

• Figuring out a unique contribution that the Chicago/Midwest event will make to future BIO meetings (it appears already that the early and deep involvement of Chicago’s and the Midwest’s unique research university network may be that contribution)

All three were also in agreement that each of their regions was not a principal biotech cluster before the event, in fact each were kind of biotech back-waters; however the event, itself, became an enabler for the city/region to crystallize.

BIO 2005 in Philadelphia, the most successful BIO meeting ever, which was held in June, 2005 (about 7 months ago), is still dealing with and trying to implement its legacy strategy, and already put in its bid for another BIO. All three also agreed that there was not a high awareness of biotech in their communities prior to the event, which changed significantly as a result of the event.

Without a doubt, there are all kinds of benefits a BIO meeting will have on Chicago, the least of which is the dollars spent by 25,000 people spending money on hotels, restaurants and entertainment over 5 days (over $30 million was spent in Philadelphia). Ray Briscuso emphasized that in most of the cities where the meeting had been held in the past, it was either the largest or one of the largest conventions ever held; with Chicago, this event, in reality, is one of the smaller conventions (ranks about 12th on the list of conventions to be held next year in attendance. BIO has deliberately avoided convention cities in the past, because the event is not about the convention but about proximity to great research and great biotech companies (fortunately Chicago met all three conditions); hence you will not see BIO meetings in Orlando and Disneyworld.

The greatest tangible benefits to a city and region would be the national and global spotlight on that city and the impact of that spotlight on deal generation for local companies (apparently Philadelphia’s deal value amounted to over $120 million of bio-deals). This spotlight includes politics as well, and the possibility of generating positive political fallout for the local biotech industry is immeasurable.

All three panelists and Briscuso felt that Chicago and the Midwest had a leg up over them in terms of the plethora of great research universities, range of biotech activities, and presence of multiple stellar large life science companies, such as Abbott Labs, Baxter, Hospira, Takeda, Astellas, Dade-Behring, ADM, and nearby giants such as Medtronics, Stryker, P&G, Zimmer, Guidant, Eli Lilly, St Jude Medical, Cardinal Health, etc.

As the meeting wound down, everyone concluded how important it was to have had shared these valuable insights with the Chicago organizing group. Kudos to Rosenberg and Briscuso for bringing these BIO warriors into town and imparting their bio-wisdom! Now our challenge will be to determine the most effective LEGACY issues for our event!

See you next week!

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 rosenmichaels@aol.com.

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.

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