Investors Irate as J.P. Morgan Bars Press From Biggest Biotech Conference of the Year

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The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is held every year in early January, and this year it will be Jan. 8-11 in San Francisco, as usual. What isn’t quite as usual, and has some journalists and investors concerned, is a change in policy that limits media coverage.

The meeting is a major event in the industry, and partly because of the media coverage, many of the biggest deals are announced there. An example is two years ago when Shire announced it was buying Baxalta for $32 billion.

But the organizers of the conference this year have said that the media will be barred from the Q&A breakout sessions, which is being interpreted by many in the media and some in the industry as favoring large, institutional investors over smaller ones.

J.P. Morgan told journalists who were covering the event that “press is NOT permitted in the small breakouts that immediately follow the presentations, nor on the (one-on-one) floors.”

When asked why, the organizers claimed it had to do with the small space. Long-time media who have covered the event noted that this has never been an issue going back over a decade.

The Boston Business Journal wrote, “In recent years, there’s been a movement toward making that conference more accessible to small, private investors who want a shot at the potential profits available from the lucrative sector. Those efforts have succeeded in getting more companies to webcast their presentations as well as the subsequent question-and-answer ‘breakout’ sessions—place where the important information is often revealed that could affect investors’ decisions whether to buy or sell shares of specific biotech companies.”

At least one company executive, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals' chief executive officer John Maraganore, pushed back a tiny bit on Twitter, writing “unfortunate that media (was) excluded in breakouts at #jpm2018” and noted that the company planned to continue its live webcasts of the event.

But not all companies do. Brad Loncar, a private biotech investor in Kansas City, Kansas, has been pushing for years to get all companies to webcast their Q&A breakout sessions. The Boston Business Journal asked him about this latest policy, and he said, “Making these rooms exclusive to only certain investors implies there is pay-for-play going on. Wealthy and connected investors are getting better info than everyone else, and that shouldn’t be. By barring journalists from attending, it is another avenue through which those who can’t attend will never hear what has been said there.”

The Boston Business Journal wrote, “Naturally, J.P. Morgan has a vested interest in giving its biggest, most loyal investors extra perks (like exclusive stock information), and some speculate that’s what this is really about. But the end result, that large, institutional investors are getting better information on companies than anyone else, to the detriment of small ones, doesn’t sit well with many.”

It’s worthwhile to note that the sourcing for this article is from Boston. In the U.S., the two biggest hubs for biopharma are Boston and San Francisco, and by holding the meeting in San Francisco, does give at least a feeling of precedent to the West Coast’s interests. Although to be fair, most investors, executives and reporters would prefer the meeting be located in California as opposed to Massachusetts if it’s going to be held in early January. J.P. Morgan’s headquarters is in New York City.

The conference brings in more than 400 companies and 8,000 attendees. All J.P. Morgan conferences are by invitation only.

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