Thursday, April 27, 2006

Moo! Cows, bull semen and biotechnology

One of several exceptional spokespeople from New Zealand that we worked with at BIO2006 is Dr Suzanne Bertrand, Innovation Manager (a great title) for Livestock Improvement (a great name). She was the outstanding speaker at the New Zealand Ag and Food Seminar (with a charming Quebecois accent and killer use of visuals in her slides), so I was on the lookout for interview opportunties for her.

As it turned out, Chuck Zimmerman (one of our first blog visitors) was having a hard time finding BIO2006 material for World Dairy Diary, an online blog-style trade publication.

WDD is a lively multimedia pub enriched with photos and audio, featuring short daily articles with such arresting headlines as:
"Camel Milk Production Faces Humps" and
"Great Lakes Manure Expo Encourages You to 'Keep it in the Root Zone'".

Chuck has published an audio interview of Suzanne that is informative, educational, entertaining and even sexy--listen carefully for the line about the Holy Grail of dairy cattle improvement!


emm Link

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Exit Strategies

Fierce Biotech had an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article this morning on the failure of recent biotech IPOs...

Biotech IPOs underperforming on Wall Street
New IPOs from drug developers have been coming at a steady pace, but investors are gaining little joy from them, says The Wall Street Journal. In a close look at the IPOs filed this year, the WSJ says that drug developers are arriving on the public markets without a product, without revenue and without a lot of cash in the bank. As a result, the biotech IPOs are delivering only small gains in first-day trading and drug developers are routinely cutting their asking price. Also, instead of paying a premium for a piece of a biotech company, the investors who buy into these IPOs are often able to pay significantly less for a share than early investors.

Hence, the increasing number of company buy-outs? At least one VC friend says so, with M&A becoming their favored acquistion strategy once a certain level of human proof of concept has been achieved. Sounds like medical device start ups. Certainly big pharma and big biotech are looking for products and willing to pay big bucks for them.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A less sanguine view of BIO2006 I

The Economist's reporter put a rather more skeptical spin on the BIO2006 conference in this article:

"EVERY industry has its big conferences, but biotechnology must host one of the largest. Some 18,000 scientists, businessmen, financiers and hangers-on descended upon Chicago recently for the annual Bio conference. The gathering boasted plenty of posh parties, high-flying political visitors and boozy nights out at blues bars. To judge by this expense-account fiesta, biotech certainly seems to enjoy a lot of easy money just now. "

As an attendee of several of those posh parties, I'd suggest that the amount spent on parties and promotions mostly reflects the investment by governments, NGOs (like BIO) and big pharma in biotech outreach; governments to attract a hot industry to their jurisdictions, and big pharma (and big agribusiness), bogged down by big company administration, marketing and regulatory affairs to find partners with less fettered R&D to feed their pipelines. Apart from the big profitable players, the biotech parties were mostly modest hotel conference room affairs.

Read the article and then come back for more commentary on the economics of biotech.



Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Just under 19,500 attended BIO2006

The official BIO release has all the stats.

The view from the TV balcony, where we were escorting people for BioTechNation interviews (we'll link to podcasts as they publish), was pretty awesome. 1,700 companies from 46 states and 39 nations were on the exhibit floor, so it was not an illusion that it seemed bigger than last year, not even counting the cornfield.

The overarching conclusion is that biotechnology is maturing and branching out and that "The convergence of health, food and agriculture, and industrial and environmental biotechnology..." is the big trend this year.

We'll post links to some of the media clips from interviews at BIO and seek out more connections on agbiotech, biofuels and bioindustrial.

emm Link

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Post-Chicago leftovers

Joan and I have both moved on to visit family so blogging has been and will be light until next week.

The field Museum Gala event Tuesday night did redeem Chicago. I'm used to the Museum being as empty and quiet as a cathedral, so having it stuffed with thousands of guests under lavish Morrocan (garish pink and orange silk divans, pierced copper lanterns) and African (shields, wooden bowls, bark cloth prints) decor was rather disorienting. Belly dancers, African dancers and drumming had everyone's attention; the food was excellent and gorgeously presented and the bars were fine. Not just the enormous Main Hall was open, but the galleries above as well (great place from which to see the dancers).

From speaking with others, I was not the only guest to get teary-eyed going up those famous stairs (a 1950s Julius Caesar was filmed on them with a young Marlon Brando as Marc Antony and Charlton Heston as Big Julie)--the first and deepest impression of a Temple of Science for many of us who were thus inspired to careers in science.

The breadth and depth of the whole BIO2006 conference was amazing. Next year we'll live-blog again and better.

Oh, and Dick Deluxe reports that Mississippi Heat, the band we saw at the Belgian party at Buddy Guy's is probably the best art blues band in Chicago today, so that's an endorsement. Buy a CD:


Bye-bye Chicago

Well, it's over for the on-site stuff... not a moment too soon. This event is overwhelming and certainly kept us hopping this year. Margery said that she recorded over 90,000 steps on a pedometer one day, and I think I've walked just as much. It was very productive too, at least on behalf of our New Zealand contingent.

Now it's time to follow up on leads and collect any clips, etc.

Very diverse indeed

I heard several pleased comments, including from journalists, that BIO was so diverse this year. Ag Bio, industrial, energy... all have finally joined healthcare on center stage. And I think will continue to grow in prominence.

In fact, a comment by a P&G spokesperson at another recent conference positioned industrial biotech (including new materials and bioenergy) to overtake healthcare in future, not to distant years.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Agbiotech returns!

At least BIO, the emerging countries, New Zealand, Iowa and the rest of the Midwest hope so.

I worked for the other genetically engineered tomato company (DNAP) in the mid-'90s, so I had a front-row seat for Monsanto's rBGH PR disaster that fueled much of the anti-GMO movement.

This year, BIO planted a tiny field of GM corn on the exhibit floor with a few other plants on display (the cotton was easy; extra points if you recognized the soybean plant and only the cognoscenti will know that those leggy yellow mustardy plants are rapeseed--the source of canola oil). Around the field, videos of farmers from around the world explain the benefits of biotech crops. The sponsor: Monsanto. I think they learned something about PR, although this venue is preaching to the choir, it does make a nice sight-bite for TV interviews.


Monday evening party report

Margery wangled us invites to the Scotland affair up top of Soldiers Field; nice single-malts and a piper on the terrace overlooking the Lake.

But as usual the Belgian delegation offered the best party: Belgian beer and pomme frites (avec creme fraiche) at Buddy Guy's Legends on Wabash. The venue still has the old blues funk about it, although a smoke-free blues club is sorta like a cathedral without incense. The band was Mississippi Heat ("The hottest band in Chicago") and lived up to the hype--great harmonica player in Blues Bros wide white tie and porkpie and a truly fine powerful female singer--excellent sidemen on guitar/guitar/bass/drums. Over amped, but that's what earplugs are for, to block the IM distortion.


The Partnering Dance

I ran into an old friend and former client who I only seem to see at BIO and similar events -- somehow, we kept stumbling into each other at the same parties on Sunday and Monday... and then again on the bus this morning.

He's here for the partnering forum, and told me about the online scheduling that registrants can do for their meetings. While most of the people requesting meetings had indeed read his company's profile, others seemed like spam because they were so far off the mark.

BIO itself also requested a meeting using this automatic software, just to try to sell him a membership.

Green Kitchen

One of the neater PR-savvy displays this year is the "Green Kitchen". They've set up a small display kitchen within a half grain bin next to the little cornfield, where all the counter tops and cabinetry are new biomaterials. This includes hemp countertops that resemble Corian in appearance and hardness (materials developed by Avanti Polymers, of Manitoba, Canada) and wheat straw cupboards from Dow BioProducts ( Apparently some of the latter are available at Home Depot. There is also a corn-derived carpet as well as plastic cups and cutlery from corn.

They also had some beautiful fabric developed by DuPont from corn -- it was soft, flowed nicely and is machine washable. I'll take a jacket from that please!

In fact, I suggested that next year they have a give-away for a nice women's jacket made from the stuff.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Manic Monday

Lots to report, little time before the evening parties.

Breakfast with New Zealand and Iowa to discuss further progress and future plans in their 3-year offical biotechnology collaboration. Most people have no idea how much Iowa and NZ have in common, but I was struck when I first met them how much Kiwis are like Midwesterners. Farm-based economies with high-tech and well-educated people out of ag schools. Salt of the earth, every one of them.

Did get to meet Stephen from Patent Baristas and had a lively conversation about blogs, RSS, patent law and ag-biotech. What a cool use of electronic media to find and meet a stranger at a ~20,000 person event!

Then helped Joan herd cats all afternoon filling slots for NPR's Biotech Nation radio program. Lots of NZ spokesfolks on biofuels and digital anatomy models--how about a 3D digital model of you, right down to the cellular and molecular level? Through the magic of CAD/CAM, I could realize a lifetime fantasy of having a model of my own skeleton! I think the fully custom athletic shoes and sports car seats will sell better, though.

Also Una Ryan from AVANT Immunotherapeutics (another client) on the future of vaccines worldwide.

And now off to Soldiers' Field (go Bears!) for Scotland's Scotch tasting, then to the Nektar Therapeutics (another client) reception; they are celebrating the approval in the US and EU of the world's first inhaled insulin device. If we can still walk, Belgium is hosting beer and pommes frites at Buddy Guy's Legends, so we may get our blues after all.


The Economic Development Circus #1

One of the big reasons for exhibitors to be at BIO is economic development. Not only do you have a large number of countries here, but also just about every US state. I sat on the bus this morning with a nice woman from Nebraska. She herself was involved in robotic surgery research but had also been the organizer of their booth. They sound like an average developing area, although with the advantages of Novaritis and another big pharma having offices locally. Otherwise it was a number of smaller companies, the local university, and the sort of life sciences firms that have only recently become a part of BIO (i.e. nutraceuticals). Will have to stop by and see what the showing really is...