Defining what happened in San Francisco between 12 and 16 January at the J P Morgan Conference is perhaps doing a significant disservice to the Pharma and Biotech business hub of which this conference is but the core. For over three decades the J P Morgan Conference, now with 300 companies presenting to 4000 investors, has served to bring Pharma executives together with the financial community and nascent biotechnology companies with pipeline filling opportunities. The emergence of the Biotech Showcase event and the meetings arranged in hotels and cafes in the general locale of Union Square have seen the week develop into far more than purely the exclusive J P Morgan event. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the exclusive nature of the sessions organised by JP Morgan is a bad thing. If it means that it attracts the senior level industry executives to the city and them making themselves available more widely outside of those sessions then ensuring no dilution of that core focus is a great thing, from which the fringe attendees to San Francisco benefit hugely.
The reviews and feedback from last week’s events will be numerous and insightful from many perspectives, so here I thought I would include some useful links to resources that highlight some of the key discussion points during the week and explore with the reader whether the model could translate to London. The main event organisers very helpfully provide an A-Z ondemand web cast service of the dozens of company presentations where those unable to attend the sessions could get some great insights into the forward-looking strategy of the industry’s major companies. Furthermore, J P Morgan’s own global biotechnology experts set out their favourite stocks to watch in their 2014 Report. EBD’s Biotech Showcase conference, only a stone’s throw from the JP Morgan event, had some enlightening sessions of its own. The insights from sessions with titles such as ‘Big Data in drug discovery’, ‘Parkinson’s disease: On the threshold of new therapies in an area of high unmet need‘ and ‘The changing dynamic of the drug development ecosystem’ are all captured via the partnering360 insights platform available through http://www.partnering360.com/.
It was my first experience of the week in San Francisco when the J P Morgan and now Biotech Showcase events roll into town and almost in keeping with the bullish feeling among the life science investment market the weather was also unusually sunny and warm too. It is hard to describe how the scale and yet apparent informal ‘fringe event’ nature of much of what was going on was stimulating such energy. Make no mistake, the apparent ‘fringe’ element in no way reflected any comedic or distraction element as we see at the Edinburgh Fringe each summer. It was clear that significant business was getting done!
So what makes the J P Morgan week in San Francisco work?
For sure it must be the connection between bankers, investors and CEOs first and foremost, but if one wonders if such a festival of bio-finance could work in London for instance, then the immediate barrier that hits you is SCALE. It is perhaps obvious why UK investors and companies are attracted to the US – where a growing number of biotech companies reporting $multi-million balance sheets are looking for deals, let alone the deep and bullish investment pools. If we were to see a surge in IPOs of biotech companies in London, we could start to see development of cash-rich biotechs and hence see growth of the analyst base and the initiation of a virtuous circle. Can such a surge occur with a limited analyst pool? Could it be a Catch 22 situation? There is also the fact that, given the relative sizes, the European biotech sector appears far less unified than e.g. the Bay Area or Boston, again emphasising the difference in scale of the sector either side of the Atlantic, something a truly pan-European bio-finance event could address.
Can such an event take place in London?
As mentioned above, the bio-finance festival-feel of that January week in San Francisco seems to generate so much energy and belief. This then converts a can-do attitude into a will-do attitude within the industry. Such confidence-building can do no harm to any industry in any location. Could some of that dynamism be harnessed and brought back to the UK and Europe? Europe has some great building blocks in the form of BioEquity and the Citi European and Jefferies Global Healthcare Conferences, respectively. Perhaps one could build a fringe festival around the Jefferies Conference in London, where attendance by the majority of Europe’s biotech and life science investment companies would attract the critical mass of US investors and companies required to generate a similar buzz? Some elements would appear to be essential such as the need to have the initiative led by financial institutions rather than biotech institutions and a location where hotels and cafes for the fringe event are clustered. Oh and a healthy slice of warmth and sun, to mirror the al fresco spirit of San Francisco of course, but I accept even the most dedicated of organisers may struggle to control that one! There is no short term fix. After all the J P Morgan Conference is 32 years old and the challenge is not simply one of bringing companies and investors together. There is a more complex cultural issue I suspect in terms of attitude to investment. Although cultural change can be slow, the world is more connected and mobile than ever before, so efforts made now by such enablers as the Mayor of London’s MedCity, the London Stock Exchange and London’s world leading financial institutions via CityUK could plant that small acorn from which growth, investment and job creation will develop.
As always with One Nucleus blogs, comments and healthy debate are welcome!
Written By Tony Jones, One Nucleus
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.