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Greatest Show on Earth? Perhaps.

The BIO circus rolls into Atlanta in May, but amidst all the hoopla, a lot of deal-making is done.

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

Anyone who’s been to the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) show knows that it can be a bit of a circus. Big-name multinationals and mom-and-pop startups alike (2,000 exhibitors in all) scream for attention in the crowded, go-for-broke biotech world. You’re likely to see celebrities and politicians as well as oddities such as a cornfield growing in the middle of the convention center (as was the case in Chicago a few years back).

This year, having Elton John on the bill — to deliver a keynote on HIV/AIDS, a quite serious subject — only adds to the big-tent atmosphere. It’s a show to see (and at which to be seen), ranking right up there with the annual consumer electronics show or Detroit auto show in terms of amusement and pageantry.

It’s also a show where networking happens and deals get done. There may be just as many MBA’s as PhD’s in attendance. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to BIO — May 18-21 in Atlanta. There’s a lot to take in, but here is where I’m focusing my interest:

It’s a Small World
Contingents from some 30 U.S. states and 40 international countries and regions will host their own pavilions — kind of like a makeshift Epcot Center. You can stop by Malaysia, Manitoba and Madrid all in one hour if you like, all the while sampling local delicacies or snatching up tchotchkes.

Howdy Partner
As noted, BIO is as much about doing business as about showing off and hoping for business. More than 14,000 partnering meetings involving more than 7,000 companies are expected to take place — for this week at least, Atlanta will be the “venture capitol.”

The BIO 2009 Web Site
Yes, http://convention.bio.org is where you go to register and get pre-conference info, but it also has some other cool reasons to visit. What other shows allow you to create your own badge, offer an interactive floor plan (not just a PDF) and sponsors a “Be the Buzz of BIO” contest for best video of a company selling its products or solutions?

Party Central
Just in Atlanta for the good times? There’s a Bio Party List online that gives you all the pleasure events that will mix with the business, from the Big Bang Reception to the daily Think and Drink Discussion Forums.

Biotech Crash Course
Not sure of the difference between a Chinese hamster ovary and a chicken egg? You belong at the all-day Biotech Primer on Sunday.

Going Clubbing
Another Sunday option is the BIO golf outing on Sunday, May 17. Hey, a guy or gal can dream.

Diversity Summit
For the first time, BIO will host a “Diversity in Biotechnology” summit on Monday of the show. Biotechnology is intertwined with economic and workforce development, health disparities and community outreach, and so it makes sense to address these issues. Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin will be there, and Genentech’s Dr. Michael Penn, Jr., will lead a panel discussion.

Playing the Host
One of the perks of hosting BIO is that you get to brag about your biotech capabilities. This year’s honor belongs to Southeast BIO, an organization of more than 1,200 companies in the southeast U.S. It’s Web site (www.sebio.org) is a repository of information about these companies, and (nice application alert) helps to arrange visits to any of the sites or networking opportunities.

Tweet Me Right
Get your BIO gossip and up-to-the-minute updates (even if you don’t want them) at the BIO Twitter site: http://twitter.com/BIOConvention.

Exhibitionists
The following are a random sampling of some of the more intriguing companies and organizations that I’ve added to my event planner:

Alligator Bioscience, Booth 4517: You’d never know it was a Swedish company from the name, but Alligator is a biotech company with its own pipeline focused on inflammation and cancer.

AntiCancer, Inc., Booth 1915: AntiCancer focuses on fluorescent protein-expressing mouse models of cancer, recombinant protein-based cancer drugs, a hair follicle targeting drug delivery system for hair growth, acne and other applications.

Ben Venue Labs, Booth 4810: BVL specializes in clinical and commercial parenterals, and has a separate cytotoxic/genotoxic, 240,000 square foot facility under construction.

China Medical City, Booth 3933: CMC, a pharmaceutical and medical hi-tech development zone in Taizhou  City, will see a steady stream of investors and start-ups.

DioSynth Biotechnology, Booth 4923: Part of Schering-Plough, DioSynth has done significant work in applying Quality by Design to process development — worth investigating.

Hawaii Pavilion, Booth 1223: Hawaii is billing itself as “ideal” for clinical trials and a good place for budding biotechs. How many will be tempted to drop off their resumes, just on a whim?

National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), Booth 4613: Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency whose mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. What’s not known so well is that NIST has a biochemical science division that has, among other things, an HIV structural database and macromolecular crystallization database.

Pall Life Sciences, Booth 5307: Pall has ramped up its single-use mixing and filtration systems of late, and is worth a visit to see its new Stax stackable depth filtration system.

Quertle, Booth E-52: Quertle.com bills itself as an exciting new website at which to query and investigate biomedical literature. Its pitch: “Ask real questions. Get real answers.” I’m intriqued, and its site launch will be May 18 during the show.

RNL Bio, Booth 5911: RNL, HQ’ed in South Korea, specializes in adult-derived stem cells and has two products in Phase II trials. A definite stop if you’re not familiar with how adult stem cells are used to develop new therapies.

Spraying Systems Co., Booth 5714: Am I the only one who enjoys seeing demos of tank cleaning and tablet coating?

Symyx Technologies, Booth 2002: A specialist in lab software and e-notebooks, Symyx has announced a number of partnerships of late to advance lab automation and workflow.

Wisconsin Pavilion, Booth 4103, and Australia Pavilion, Booth 2133: You may get free samples — just one way to create your own wine and cheese tour.

Xcellerex, Booth 5417: The company continues to push the disposable envelope, especially with its new modular, portable, all-disposable FlexFactory platform. I’m curious to find out if the booth is portable and disposable as well.

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