Friday, May 11, 2007

BIO Security

The BIO annual meeting never ceases to amaze. This year in Boston, the conference drew over 20,000 people. The exhibit hall had the feel of a World Cup soccer event and was as creative as ever with espresso bars and great beers from all over, and Biogen Idec put together a great booklet of places to see and be seen if you decided to leave Shangri La and take a tour of the city.

I found the meeting sessions to be particularly strong in the content department, something I hadn't felt the last time I went in Philadelphia. The policy and regulatory tracks were what I stuck to, and I found myself rarely bored. By the way, Nicolas Rossignol, who heads up the European Commission's division on pharmaceutical legislation, is a rising star. I thought that when I saw him testify before the Senate HELP Committee a few months back, and that perception was reinforced during the follow-on biologics session at the conference. So, all in all, BIO and the conference team deserve a round of applause for putting on such a large and high-level event.

But what was up with the security? My decision to go to the meeting was last minute so I had to register on site. Bad choice by me. No badge, no soup. I was told to go to a side door, take an elevator down to "level zero" and then, "you'll see signs" the guard told me. As an aside, I would love to see the crime rates for the last week in Boston because all of the cops, special forces and snipers were at the convention center. I followed the guard's directions to the letter, but the "you'll see signs" part of it was a lot longer than I expected. You have to travel the entire outside perimeter of the convention center, which looks like the type of place you would get offed in the Sopranos , to get to the registration site. The badges have barcodes and you are scanned into each and every session by people guarding the doors. When did we get to this point? Where's the trust people? The head of FDA's biologics center Jesse Goodman complained that it took him 45 minutes to get into the building and they weren't going to let him in at one point.

Did anyone else have the same feelings as me on the tight security? I would love to hear some anecdotes. I know a few people missed their one-on-ones because of it.

One last note: in San Diego next year, can we please have more coffee stations separate from the exhibit hall? I went through serious withdrawal at one point and didn't have time to make it down to "level zero." Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

I also noted the seemingly ubiquitous security. Even outside of the event it seemed like a Boston was hosting a European soccer event!

Ramsey Baghdadi said...

The outside did resemble Champions League as well. How about that cab line to get back to the hotel? I think the Boston authorities forgot to notify the cab companies that there would be an influx of 22,000 people from out of town for the week. Thanks for your thoughts.

MichaelRS said...

The Boston authorities clearly forgot to inform the cab union. I talked to some cabbies on Saturday and Sunday and they had NO idea at all. That said the town was indeed fairly empty those days.

What I encountered was indeed even a degree of unfriendliness towards the visitors. Repeatedly. TSA at the airport was over precise, cops standing around unhelpful all of the times, and always lacking a sense of humor. I am not sure how that was supposed to attract business to Boston.

Most annoying is fundamentally, the overwhelming police presence, thought to discourage protesters. Strategically that approach is wrong in two ways:
(1) Professional protesters are seeking the fight and excitement and will protest anyway, the more force, the merrier.
(2) It generates the perception that something dangerous is done through biotech that needs forceful protection. At the end of the day I believe everyone is in biotech to help people and NOT because we want to do something that needs force. It is just the wrong message and bad PR. It is what we did wrong with nuclear power and we are now doing it wrong with biotech.