Executives Reunite at JPM as Biotech Kicks Off 2023
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JP Morgan week is – knock on wood – shaping up to approximate pre-pandemic attendance levels, as executives return to San Francisco after two years of COVID-19-enforced absences.
“The JP Morgan Healthcare Conference continues to set the tone in healthcare for the coming year,” said Mark Klausner, managing partner at ICR Westwicke.
Nonetheless, this year many executives waited until mid-December to register, and companies are still announcing their attendance. Just after New Year’s, some well-known Union Square hotels still had rooms available during the conference and a few even had prices below $1,000 per night.
This year, “It has taken longer than expected to get firm decisions from most companies and reporters who have attended the conference in the past,” Ignacio Guerrero-Ros, Ph.D., assistant vice president at RussoPartners, LLC told BioSpace.
The high cost of travel and meeting rooms and the widely predicted recession are top concerns expressed by many companies, according to multiple communications experts.
Safety Concerns Linger
Klausner and others say some of their clients and peers are questioning whether San Francisco is a safe venue. They are also still concerned about COVID-19 and this year’s flu and RSV outbreaks.
As of mid-December, however, registration appears to have picked up, so “We can expect a busy and productive conference,” Guerrero-Ros predicted.
Klausner is seeing the same trend.
“Nearly 100 percent of clients who were invited to present...said yes because it’s still a valued event,” he said. “Among clients who are not presenting at the event, about 40 percent are still attending,” though many are bringing smaller teams and are shortening their stays.
Gaurav Shah, M.D., CEO of Rocket Pharma, is attending due to the week’s position as “a unique platform to engage with leaders across the industry and share – first-hand – how we are advancing our mission to seek gene therapy cures for patients with rare and devastating diseases."
Shah reports that more than 400 public and private companies are scheduled for in-person presentations at the invitation-only JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. He is presenting on the first day.
While JP Morgan is the week’s headliner, there are plenty of satellite conferences in addition to one-on-one meeting opportunities for companies, investors and media that, for many, are the primary attraction.
Asian Events Still a Go
The new COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers entering the U.S. from China have not affected the Asian satellite events.
WuXi is hosting its Global Forum 2023 on January 10th, and the East-West Biopharma Summit Event occurs on January 8th. Access China Biotech Forum runs on-site January 9-12, with pre-and post-week presentations online or on-demand through January 20th.
This year, China Showcase, long a staple of Biotech Showcase, has broadened its reach, becoming Asia Pacific Showcase.
“There are other markets in the Asia Pacific region, including South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Australia that have opportunities,” said Sara Jane Demy, founder and CEO of Demy-Colton.
Limited Virtual Options
The overwhelming majority of the JP Morgan week events are in-person-only this year, although a few have online or on-demand options.
At Biotech Showcase, “We’re doing virtual partnering week after Biotech Showcase but will have no virtual speakers or panelists during the meeting. We are scheduling our virtual presenting companies (as part of the in-person event) so you’ll be able to see the presentation in the regular presentation room, which we think increases value,” Demy said.
“The main purpose of being in San Francisco in January is to have the opportunity to meet in person with potential partners and investors to secure deals,” Guerrero-Ros said. So once people decide to go there, their presence at the satellite conferences is a given.
For example, by mid-December, Biotech Showcase registration approximated 2020’s pre-pandemic levels. For the first time, it will be hosted entirely at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square Hotel. Meeting calendars showed approximately two dozen ancillary events during and immediately after JP Morgan.
People are eager to have face-to-face meetings.
“Although we have demonstrated we can efficiently operate remotely…there will never be a substitution for in-person meetings,” said Andrew Mielach, vice president, account management at LifeSci Communications.
“The connections you make with your peers by breaking bread together and exchanging a handshake are not something you’re able to share via Zoom meetings.”
David Harel, CEO and co-founder of CytoReason, also emphasized the importance of forming and maintaining relationships. Attending events in person is part of that.
“During the past two years, we were able to adapt to a hybrid work system, but still made the effort to travel and meet all the companies we collaborate with to show our commitment to advancing AI drug discovery and development,” he told BioSpace.
“We will be attending JP Morgan in person to continue creating these strong relationships and will also participate in virtual conferences and webinars to expand our global reach and connect with companies developing next-generation therapies…and technologies.”
The looming recession may not affect dealmaking.
As Guerrero-Ros said, “It is expected that the pace of dealmaking will accelerate despite a potential recession. However,” he continued, “Some companies have chosen not to attend based on cost and benefit [ratio]” as executives eye an uncertain economy. Inflation is taking a toll, too, as airfare, lodging and food are more expensive than they were pre-pandemic.
Brian Wiley, chief business officer at Portage Biotech, spoke of striking a balance between in-person and virtual meetings.
“Virtual meetings are now established as a standard practice,” he told BioSpace. “Many companies have significantly saved both time and money compared to what used to be almost entirely face-to-face meetings. However, despite all the benefits of virtual meetings, relationships play a key role in both partnering and scientific collaborations. There is also tremendous value in being able to read the room, and in the interactions that occur before and after the scheduled meetings."
“I believe we will see a balance struck between these two formats, which will likely reduce overall attendance at in-person conferences – especially those that do not provide good opportunities for these valued interactions,” Wiley said.
A degree of stratification may occur, too. “Companies have experienced how a virtual setting avoids the usually hectic and time-consuming activities of the conference, ensuring that only selected meetings with potential benefits will be held virtually,” Guerrero-Ros noted.
“It is well-known that most successful deals are not made during the day-to-day meetings, but during after-hours networking events.”