Report from BIO 2006

This article, adapted from our "On Pharma" weblog, summarizes a number of the key pharmaceutical-related presentations from the BIO 2006 show, which was in Chicago from April 9 through 12.

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By Agnes Shanley, Editor in Chief

File 8, BIO `06 (Apr. 11):
Clinton receives standing ovation; stresses interdependence
and the need for a “world view”

About a half an hour before former President Bill Clinton was due to make his plenary address at BIO, thousands of people began to line up outside the convention center auditorium. Assuming we'd never all get in, and formulating a "Plan B" for the next hour, I started toward the end of this endless queue, but was soon whisked away by a BIO organizer to a well-hidden and (mercifully short) press line, and…miracle of miracles, a table fairly near the stage.

BIO's organizers and convention center staff deserve a huge amount of credit for pulling off this event, which went extremely smoothly.

There were two huge projection screens at either side of the stage. No doubt, the event organizers had developed material for the screens that would set the stage for a speech that would focus on philanthropy and good works (the focus of Clinton's Foundation), but having photos of the world's poor and medicine-deprived, and sobering facts flashing on the screen, rang a bit hollow. Although biomedicines and other new cures will eventually reach some of those who need them, seeing these images at an event like this was a bit like seeing an article about global famine sandwiched between ads for $10,000 Louis Vuitton purses and $5 million real estate in the New York Times Sunday magazine.

The former president looked very well, and his entrance on stage brought the audience [representing a wide spectrum of political views] to its feet.

Clinton discussed the interdependence in the world today, and the need for balance in global relationships. 9/11, he said, was the outcome of lack of this balance.

He took a not-so-gentle stab at those on the conservative right, emphasizing the need for science and evidence, and accusing them of attempting to muzzle findings on climate change.

Clinton compellingly argued for the need for all individuals everywhere today to have a true "world view," and to be able to distinguish between important and transient issues.

He did not shy away from reciting sobering statistics about the U.S. healthcare system, ranked 37th in the world, or, more disturbingly, the fact that one out of every four deaths on earth is that of a child, five years old or younger, from diseases that include AIDS, TB, malaria and cholera. (Not exactly at the top of the priority list for many pharma companies in the "developed" world today.)

He discussed the work that his Foundation is doing to reduce the costs of HIV treatments in developing nations, and his plans for addressing the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

The need for security was an undercurrent throughout his presentation; Clinton praised the Chinese government for its handling of the SARS outbreak, and reminded the audience of the Spanish flu pandemic, and the need for vigilance.

Clinton also voiced his support for agricultural and industrial bio, particularly the development of biofuels.

He didn't play to the audience, losing opportunities to bring it to its feet more than once, but his message was on target, and well worth the wait. He left the stage to a standing ovation.

As he said, human beings are 99.9% the same, genetically. Perhaps it's time to focus on what unites, rather than divides us.

File 7, BIO `06 (Apr.11):
Take Biocom’s survey on FDA or face the consequences
(Remember, there’s no “at will” employment at FDA)

Having a hard time getting through to FDA? Find that inspectors and field review people are singing completely different tunes? Or is working with the Agency pure pleasure? Please take this survey, as soon as possible, to let the Agency, your peers and all concerned parties know.

This morning, a group of experts including Eliot Parks, Managing Director of Life Sciences for Biocom, Karen Midthun of FDA, and lawyer John Manthei, discussed the 11-year-old survey, why it exists, and what it may achieve. The Agency’s working hard to improve its processes, yet a “real disconnect” continues to exist between the Agency and industry. Eliminating that disconnect is critical, if drug development and manufacturing are to improve — so take a few minutes. They may pay off hugely.

File 6, BIO `06 (Apr.10):
Puerto Rico’s committed to world-class R&D; governor wins BIO award

For the past few years, Puerto Rico has been moving beyond manufacturing, laying a foundation that will advance R&D innovation in pharma and biopharma. The island may not be able to devote the billions that Singapore is pouring into its recruitment and R&D efforts, but it is achieving significant results. Its exhibit at BIO illustrated its commitment and focus, and the professionalism and dedication of its workforce and educators.

The going has not been too easy, given the current economic climate, but the island's economic development board has restructured and fine-tuned its priorities, one of which, clearly, is biotech R&D. Driving these efforts is INDUNIV, which is strengthening ties between industry and academia.

The University of Puerto Rico is very strong in engineering and life sciences training, and is an active member of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education (NIPTE) which is advancing the science of drug manufacturing, and new NIPTE initiatives on the island are expected shortly. The island's biocluster is gaining momentum, and the government is clearly devoting its resources to advancing upstream R&D efforts. So much so that BIO named Puerto Rico governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila Governor of the Year at BIO `06.

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