Atlas Venture VC Criticizes JP Morgan Conference for Tone-Deaf Attitude

San Francisco California

Has the sun set on the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference's presence in San Francisco? 

San Francisco is expensive. That’s hardly a newsflash, but as the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference hangover lingers, the cost of attending the annual life sciences kickoff event continues to be on the minds of many people in the industry.

On Monday, Atlas Venture’s Bruce Booth published a blog post that expressed frustration about the cost of attending JPM, as well as other concerns. In his post, Booth noted that the word “excessive” has become synonymous with the week of JP Morgan. Booth said hotel costs are exorbitant, with the price ranging from $8,000 to $20,000 per person. Not only that, but hotels have begun to sell time for meetings in their lobbies. Tables can cost $30 per hour or more. One pharma executive told BioSpace last week that he sat down at a table in a hotel to rest his feet and collect his thoughts between meetings and was approached by an employee of that establishment informing him of the cost to sit there.  

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Not only is lodging and meeting space at a premium, but Booth also pointed to the high cost of food. Coffee costs up to $21 and a simple breakfast of eggs had a price tag of nearly $30, he said. Add in the costs of airfare and local transportation and it gets pricey.

“Dropping $50-100K to send half-a-dozen people to JPM is commonplace today, sadly,” Booth said.

Booth was critical of the costs of attending, but he also pointed to some optics concerns that were not flattering to the industry. While the increasing price of prescription medicines is a concern across the country, Booth noted that many companies announced their own price increases during or just ahead of the conference. Not only that, Booth pointed to a logo design of a shiny gold pill as being out of touch with people.

“The juxtaposition of shiny gold and our industry’s medicines in a world where healthcare costs are considered out of control is the pinnacle of tone deafness,” he wrote.

While there is significant venture capital flooding the industry, Booth lamented that the idea of developing medications to help people suffering from various diseases seemed to be lost in the financial din of things. He wrote that he heard more about financing and market size than he did the voices of patients whose lives are transformed by the drugs being developed.

“…it’s critically important to remember that behind every data point is a person. This year I didn’t hear enough about patients in the St. Francis, in our meetings, in the receptions, or on the streets. But perhaps I wasn’t in the right places,” he said.

Booth noted that this may have been the last JP Morgan conference he and Atlas will attend.

Since the blog was posted on Monday, it has gained quite a bit of traction online. Ron Cohen, chief executive officer of Acorda Therapeutics, said on Twitter that Booth’s blog was worth the read.

“We sent 5 people this year, far fewer than in the past, for many of the reasons given,” Cohen tweeted, along with the #moveJPM hashtag in support of moving the conference to a less-expensive city.

While Booth was critical of the event, other JPM attendees who responded to his blog defended the value that they gain from the annual event. Michael Scherz, CEO of Basel, Switzerland-based Metys Pharmaceuticals AG said the meetings he had at the event “promise to be transformative for our Basel-based start-up.” He did lament, though, the ostentatious nature of consumption and consumerism that takes place at the event, he wrote in response to Booth’s blog.

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