09 Jun On location: BIO 2004
SAN FRANCISCO – Biotechnology is high-stakes, high-payoff business for many stakeholders looking to grow companies in their communities. It is also an industry that faces scrutiny from the government and political distracters. The Wisconsin delegation at the BIO 2004 Conference was among scores of regions with elaborate booths, parties and networking opportunities, all designed to showcase the quality of research, infrastructure and life-work culture of each respective area. The Wisconsin pavilion’s theme “Wisconsin: Room to Breathe” featured a cross section of Wisconsin’s top biomedical companies and research institutions.
Forward Wisconsin organized the state’s showing and was its major source of sponsorship followed by the Department of Commerce. The University of Wisconsin touted, “We know bio, we do bio.” The Medical College of Wisconsin, and Marshfield Clinic had major presence designed to exhibit their portfolio of talent, intellectual property and featured spinout companies. Eragen Biosciences seized the opportunity to have the largest biotech company presence in the Wisconsin pavilion. And the Wisconsin Technology Council promoted its efforts to promote the IQ Corridor, from Minneapolis through Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago, as a region steeped in technological opportunities.
The Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association was able to present 18 of its participating members as a result of a well-coordinated effort that was supported with grants from the state of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s presence was well noted by San Francisco’s media community, which featured stories on how various regions are positioning themselves to take part in this booming industry segment. Regions’ slogans include India’s “Genome valley, and Bangalore Helix,” North Carolina’s “The State of Minds,” Iowa’s “Life Changing,” Texas’ “Wide open for Business” and “ Positively Minnesota.” Omaha, with a theme of “Bio’s Hot in Omaha,” featured faux flames dancing above the booth. Overall, 28 states had pavilions.
It was reported during the conference that the biotech industry had a 12-percent job growth rate annually from 2000-2002, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce survey of 3,200 companies last year. The study pointed out that biotech companies contributed $272.8 billion or 2.7 percent to the gross domestic product.
According to BIO 2004 organizers and the San Francisco Chronicle, the biotechnology industry employed 194, 600 people in the United States at the end of 2002. It was pointed out in the local press that this is more than all the people that work in the toy and sporting good industries.
Market tracker and Senior Research Analyst for IDC Life Science Insights Zachary Zimmerman emphasized Wisconsin’s strong presence in the biotechnology industry.
“After the Boston and Bay Area we consider the biotech industry in Madison to be on the same level with efforts in San Diego, Seattle, Philadelphia, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. All have a focused around major research universities,” Zimmerman said.
“Madison is on track to be one of the most lucrative and exciting places to be in biotech. We are very impressed with the work of companies such as OpGen, who we track very closely.” he added.
The delegates participated in numerous private meetings with foreign ambassadors, politicians and venture capitalists as well as attending business development meetings for partnerships and financing.
Protests and demonstrations
The conference was surrounded by controversy as protestors attempted to close down the event, but were contained by a force of 1,200 San Francisco police officers in full riot gear. Over 120 people were arrested but most of the protestors were orderly.
The protestors primarily were demonstrating against genetically modified food. The city closed down the streets surrounding the Moscone Convention center, only to cause anguish for the city’s commuters and businesses that consequently faced a massive traffic jam. Police helicopters constantly flew above the conference and attendees required full credentials to get within two blocks of the meetings and exhibits.
The summit was a huge global marketplace. Fifty-nine countries were represented in 29 international pavilions, all touting their local cultures. The Japanese trade association held a lavish affair featuring a live “Iron Chef” cook-off, complete with TV coverage.
State Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles and Forward Wisconsin’s president, Mike Armiak, were among the “Iron Chef” judges as they were selected by the Japanese delegation. Visitors to France’s both were treated to a glass of wine, while Germany’s pavilion served beer and pretzels.
Stem cell research – Reagan’s legacy
Ronald Reagan was a topic of discussion and directed attention to the continual debate involving the Bush administration and stem cell research. Attendees discussed how advances in treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or cancer could be accelerated if religion and politics were separated from research.
Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, said Reagan’s death and Nancy Reagan’s advocacy for stem cell research have helped sway opposition.
In support of continued research, a number of U.S. senators, including 14 republicans who oppose abortion, made public a letter they sent to the president requesting that the number of stem cell lines be expanded. In April, 206 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a similar letter. Currently, 19 stem cell lines exist.
Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services said, “The president knows and understands stem cell research shows great promise, but he has some ethical and religious concerns. But, we still have 19 stem cell lines, and the problem impeding research is not the number of stem cell lines but, the fact that we do not have enough scientists participating in embryonic stem cell research. We don’t have enough scientists that have gone through the courses that are necessary in order to find ways that would allow them to grow these stem cells correctly and safely and allow them to replicate.”
“At my request, NIH is finding ways that we can expand the inducements to see how we get more scientists in to take a look at how they can use ways that. Jamie Thompson has set up a course to do. That is to teach scientists to grow these stem cell lines successfully. All of this is necessary. Right now, there is not a dearth of stem cell lines for research,” Thompson added.
The BIO conferences began in San Francisco in 1995 and attracted 2,700 people and very little press coverage. This year, attendance is estimated at 18,000 people and hundreds of reporters from around the world are working on location. There were 1,375 exhibitors occupying 440,000-square feet of space.