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U.S. Governors, Foreign Firms, Thousands of CEOs at World’s Top Annual Biotech Event

July 4, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

2016 BIO International Conference Draws ‘Who’s Who’ in Industry, Innovation, Politics

Over 5,000 global industry CEOs, startups, elected officials, investors and medical professionals met in San Francisco this past June 7-9 for the world’s biggest annual biotechnology convention.

The event, hosted each year by the Washington-based Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), draws the biggest marquee names in the industry, and plenty of foreign interest.

The event’s dozens of sessions covered everything from bioethics to brain health, clinical trials to commercialization, infections to intellectual property and rare diseases to regulatory science.

Sessions also included trainings for executives, one-third of which come from outside the U.S.

With biotechnology a vital part of their state economies, a number of elected officials were on hand this year to cheerlead and hawk their hometown corporations.  Some 20 governors have attended since 2011; Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe got this year’s Governor of the Year award.

But biotech powerhouse New Jersey, at five Assembly Members and one Lieutenant Governor, boasts the most public officials attending at present and past events.  Indeed, the Garden State was touted at BIO 2016 as a national leader in bioscience innovation, jobs and life quality.

New Jersey’s record is followed by the three elected reps from startup-heavy Massachusetts.

Career biotechnology business authorities Craig Shimasaki, Ph.D. and Yali Freedman, Ph.D., and, yes, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were also on hand for book-signing sessions.

A “Fireside Chat” with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D. fleshed out public-policy offerings—along with a curious keynote panel event on who will be the next U.S. President.

But the event’s most colorful feature was its exhibit booths, with thousands of vendors, startups, corporations and non-profits vying ever-creatively to outdo others in snagging attention.

As business cards were exchanged and new relationships forged all across the floor, an endless array of branded promotional items changed hands, too, from foam footballs to USB keychains. 

A side effect of the federal Physician Payments Sunshine Act, whose resulting national database tracks all gifts of value from drug companies to doctors, were Big Pharma’s trinket-free booths.

Because there’s no way to be certain who is and isn’t a doctor, most drug companies avoid the little gifts altogether at industry events.  Instead, BIO 2016-goers could enjoy frozen yogurt at Merck’s booth, espresso at the Johnson & Johnson stand, and consumer products Advil and Chapstick at the Pfizer display.

And if you were a doctor from Minnesota, then, no, sorry—state law barred you from enjoying cookies and coffee at Amgen’s booth.

The three-day confab, perhaps not surprisingly, was primarily sponsored by such Big Pharma corporations as Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi.