Friday, January 16, 2009

Random Observations from the Chaos of the JPMorgan Meeting

It's a hell of a show, the annual JPMorgan shindig, even when its slightly muted by the disastrous economy. We've heard some of Roger's early observations but let us weigh in with a few of our own thoughts. More, uh, serious insight to come at our annual Webinar.

  • We're definitely behind the ban on bottled water and any other greenish campaign the folks in San Francisco undertake. This only led us to scratch our heads a bit when we walked into Union Square. How can any environmentally minded folks justify expending the energy necessary to keep an ice skating rink frozen on a sunny, 70-degree San Francisco day. Will this be a refuge for polar bears? According to one observer the influx of conference denizens this week made it seem more like "The Matrix On Ice." Now that's something people would pay to see.

  • Who knew we'd have to travel to balmy San Francisco to learn about freezes and frosts? Stryker executives, speaking at the company's breakout session, confirmed that many hospitals were putting a lid on capital spending. In fact, over half of the hospitals surveyed recently said they'd implemented a freeze or frost. This lead one wiseguy in the back to holler, "What is a frost?!" Okay, we didn't know either. Well folks, a "frost" apparently has become acceptable salespeak for a soft, mushy freeze.
  • Biotech CEOs! Need a quick buck? Start printing some T-shirts emblazoned either with "ObamaCare" or "Flat Rounds Are the New Up" or maybe "DRIPFED." Speaking of ObamaCare, popular opinion--at least among those willing to express themselves at the conference--is behind some form of nationalized health care plan in the US.

  • Poor Merck & Co. Not only were they inexplicably bounced from the Grand Ballroom into the slightly cozier confines of the Colonial Ballroom (what, Storage Room B wasn't available, mmmkay?) but CEO Dick Clark was put in the unenviable position of taking the stage to the sounds of Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust.' Clearly Merck hasn't been doing enough transactions with J.P. Morgan.

  • If we handed out awards (perhaps they should be called Jamies) to the most entertaining presentation, NuVasive Inc. would be a definite nominee and likely favorite. Not too many other companies fit both Jeopardy and Ultimate Fighting into their 20 minutes. And even fewer CEOs have an MRI of their own spine, complete with implants, as their company logo. Yep, that's Alex Lukianov's spine profile that you're looking at. As he noted, he's not only CEO, he's also a client.

  • The Jamie for subtlety goes to Art Levinson of Genentech. As the Wall Street Journal noted, not only did he set the record straight about the helix printed on conference badges, he also sent a subtle message to Roche and other big pharma about the role Genentech continues to play as an innovator. In his 25-minute presentation, he made sure to note the biotech's numero uno status for six of the past seven years as the best place to work according to Science magazine. He also pointed out that in 2007 the company earned the mantle of having the most life science patents issued, more than double what the US government's NIH behemoth were awarded. Nor is he so keen to diversify Genentech's business model. We're loosely paraphrasing here, but he intimated that while adding generic capabilities might be a perfectly good business strategy to hedge risk, if he went to his board proposing that kind of model, it would be grounds for firing. Indeed, it was an elegant performance--and likely his swan song given the rumors circulating about Roche's ability to finance the deal.

  • Sometimes actions do really speak louder than words. Pharmas trawling for innovation have been buying up biotechs and ring-fencing them, running them as so-called independent entities. But you've got to wonder, isn't that really lip-service? In the case of GSK, maybe not. Christoph Westphal did his annual magic at the event, representing Sirtris, a GSK company. Contrast that approach with Takeda, which presented at J.P. Morgan for the first time, and is heavily reliant on the success of its Millennium franchise given the approval delays facing its other drugs. Did Millennium's Dunsire give the pitch? No but she was trotted out in the very limited Q&A session in the break-out room.

  • Someone, somewhere out there did the math for a handful of normally easily accessed receptions: yep, it's cheaper to hire bouncers to keep out the riff-raff than to throw the doors open wide to assorted thirsty bloggers and other varieties of conference lowlife. Cheaper still to cancel the annual Monday night confab at City Hall.

--Ellen Licking, Tom Salemi, Chris Morrison

image from flickr user http2007 used under a creative commons license.

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