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42 days until the 2006 Olympics of Biotechnology in Chicago

As I sit writing this article, we are 42 days away from the Olympics of Biotechnology happening in Chicago! For those of you used to thinking, "But wait, isn't this meeting normally in June?", you would traditionally be right. The annual BIO meeting has been always held in June, but not this year.

The BIO organization made a strategic decision this year to hold the meeting about 2 months earlier than normal for a couple of key reasons:

1. Avoid coinciding with the American Society for Clinical Oncology, or ASCO (www.asco.org) meeting normally held early in June (this year it will be June 2-6 in Atlanta). The ASCO meeting gets bigger and bigger every year and generally attracts more than 25,000 oncologists from all over the world as well as much of the pharmaceutical and biotech industry working in this field. This meeting has gotten so big, it is increasingly known as Onco-Disney, as so many things happen here.

Wall Street typically is present and monitoring this meeting vigilantly, and you will see streams of press releases in the weeks preceding, during and after ASCO in which drug companies make everyone aware of what new information on their cancer therapy was presented at the ASCO meeting. Stock prices for these companies also get pretty volatile at this time. All told, it makes it very difficult for BIO to compete with this meeting.

2. Access to a very large convention center, given the growing scope of the annual BIO meeting itself. As 18,000 people attended last year in Philadelphia, the convention center was severely taxed; it also meant that as this event continues to grow by leaps and bounds every year meaning that ever larger convention centers will be needed to house the event, limiting where it can logistically be held. Chicago fits the bill very well in this regard, but perhaps not in June.
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Earlier you heard me call this event the "Olympics of Biotechnology"; as we have just witnessed the end of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and the Olympics are held every four years, why is Rosen comparing this annual biotech event to the Olympics?

Like the real Olympics this event is about bringing together the global community, and biotech is now a global business and industry, with about 4500 biotech companies around the world (of which about 1,500, or one-third, of them are in the U.S., and two-thirds are outside of the U.S.), not counting all of the pharmaceutical companies around the world.

Last year in Philadelphia, 56 countries participated in the annual BIO meeting, and more are expected this year. Although there are no medals handed out and no direct head-to-dead competitions, down on the exhibit floor you can feel the competition from all the international and country pavilions.

This international participation has grown so much that the first official day of BIO, April 9, a Sunday, (note that some of the BIO events actually start on Saturday, April 8) has an international program running from 10am - 6:30pm, beginning with a ministerial seminar with key ministers from various countries. There are already 24 country delegations registered, and there will be 3 tracks of country delegation presentations. At 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. that day, there is an international marketplace reception.

Putting together an event of this magnitude is no small feat, and doing it with less time than is normally allotted (10 months versus 12 months) and in a city and part of the country where the event has never been held before creates additional logistical difficulties. Add to it, that early April in Chicago is not exactly the best time to visit the city (who knows we might even have snow).

Also add to this that this year's BIO falls on two important religious days if you are either Catholic or Jewish. The first day of BIO is April 9, which is Palm Sunday, and the last day of BIO, April 12, is Passover, meaning that anyone who is Jewish and traveling from around the world and needing/wanting to get back in time to be with family would need to leave on the 11th, Tuesday, and hence miss two days of BIO.

Never fear, external groups are helping to come to the rescue: the America-Israeli Chamber of Commerce of Chicago and the Israel Life Science Industry and IBIO are hosting an event at the Illinois Science & Technology Park on April 6 and 7 for Israeli biotech, medical device and venture capital companies to attract them to Chicago (disclosure: the author is a member of the board of IBIO and the America-Israeli Chamber of Commerce).

All of this is great but can Chicago and the Midwest, an untested biotech cluster for this kind of super event, deliver the goods and beat the record attendance and other parameters of a successful meeting that Philadelphia achieved in 2005?

Well, it's too early to tell, but if organizational activities and early results are predictive, it seems like a good bet! IBIO and BIO together have organized a number of working committees going back to last summer. These committees have met on a regular and frequent basis and have drawn a wide spectrum of people from the Chicago and Midwest community, which is what is supposed to happen.

Additionally, a number of public forums have been held to provide updates on the event in Chicago, as well as bring in past geographic chairs of the event from San Diego, Toronto, Philadelphia, etc., to share experiences and recommendations for preparation.

Afterall, BIO is a galvanizing meeting. When the BIO meeting was held in San Diego several years ago, San Diego afterward emerged as a major biotech cluster.

This year's represents a number of departures from the norm for this meeting. With a recognition of the life science activity in the Midwest, it is no longer just an East-West Coast phenomena. We have already discussed that it will happen 10 months from the last meeting, but next year's meeting in Boston will also not be held in June, but in May.

The range of topics will broaden much further than the traditional focus on drugs portraying the wide diversity of life science activity in the Midwest including:

• Medical devices (surgical, orthopedic, cardiovascular, etc.)
• Diagnostics
• Nanotechnology
• Agriculture and Food Science
• Industrial and Environmental (including biofuels)
• And of course, Drugs

Another differentiating component about BIO 2006 is the involvement of key Midwest and Chicago universities in the event.

So the logical question is, with 42 days to go before the event, how are we doing? Ultimately this event is measured with many parameters, including:

• Total attendance
• Number of countries
• Number of sponsors and exhibitors (and total $$ brought in from these two activities)
• Calibre of content
• Number of companies presenting
• Total financial success
• Presence of key politicians and heads of state
• Deals done
• Buzz!! (and more!)

IBIO and BIO have both been good at keeping everyone current about progress on the above, and it appears that we are ahead of all of the key parameters, and tracking well, with one exception.

Before I mention what the exception is, it is important to note that one parameter of attendance is the availability of hotel rooms, and at this point hotels seem to be sold out. One the face of it, this news is a good sign.

Now this doesn't mean that one can't get a hotel room in Chicago, it only means that the group of hotels for which BIO has negotiated a special rate for the conference is sold out. Even in those hotels, rooms can still be accessed with probably the exception of the Hyatt at McCormick Center. Thank goodness that as conventions go, this one is hardly the biggest to hit Chicago, so we still have plenty of hotels to go around.

So I mentioned earlier, there is one exception where we are a bit behind the key parameters. Usually the region or place where the BIO event is held has a strong local attendance at the event, as much as 25-30 percent of total attendance. So far, registered attendance from the Midwest has been light, and we are all hoping that this will kick-in to a great extent over the next 42 days.

So fellow Midwesterners, now is the time to show your support for this major event which will have a transforming effect on our industry in this region. Register now!

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, a Wisconsin-based in-vitro diagnostics company. 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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