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BioPharm Executive: Going Mobile

1/24/2011 3:00:16 PM

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Going Mobile

The 29th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference--the traditional kick-off to the biotech year--just wrapped up in San Francisco. I'll admit I wasn't one of the nearly 8,500 attendees cramming the Westin St. Francis's "look, ma, no fire codes!" hallways. I was, instead, one of over 120,000 attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which took place around the same time. Those might seem like two entirely unrelated events, but it's a good reminder that all this great science, furious dealmaking, and financial derring-do is ultimately aimed at one endpoint: consumers.

There are hints that healthcare is moving towards the efficiency, mobility, and consumer control that marks much of what is going on in the electronics world. By all accounts, mHealth--the hip term for mobile health--had only a small presence at this year's J.P. Morgan conference, but there's been some interesting venture funding in the area and I predict it will play an ever increasing role over the next several years.

For those not in the know, mHealth general refers to incorporating mobile devices like smartphones into healthcare service and information--things like patient monitoring, telemedicine and advice, clinical trial management, epidemiology, and data sharing. That may still not matter much to companies engaged in conventional drug development, but it should matter that consumers are increasingly becoming the drivers of their own care and are increasingly active decision-makers in the care they receive. It makes sense to be looking ahead at how the ubiquity of powerful handheld computers will change consumption habits. Social network-esque sharing of information on drug outcomes, side effects, and efficacy is going to become rapid and relentless. Plan for it, folks.

For the record, the Nasdaq Biotech Index rose 1% during the course of the conference. For the past six years, at least, stocks have always rallied at least a bit during the meeting, but there's been something of an inverse correlation between stock performance during the conference and stock performance during the rest of the year. The recent year with the biggest J.P. Morgan rally--2008, the Nasdaq Biotech Index up over 4% in four days--was the year with the largest annual decline (down 13%). The recent year that came closest to being down during the conference (2009, in which stocks were down until a last-day-of-the-conference rally) was marked by the best full-year performance (up over 15%). Take that for what it's worth. And happy New Year!

-Karl Thiel

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