James Greenwood is president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C. BIO represents more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotech centers, and related organizations across the U.S. and in more than 30 other nations.
BIO will hold its annual international conference in Chicago from May 3–6. GEN recently spoke to Greenwood about the current state of the biotechnology industry and what this year’s conference has in store for attendees and exhibitors.
GEN How would you compare the state of the biotech industry today as opposed to a year ago at the same time?
Greenwood: A year ago we were right at the convergence of what I call a perfect storm. We had two things going on that were tough for the industry. The first is, we were deeply into the depths of a global recession, which meant that lenders didn’t have resources to provide to venture capitalists who, in turn, were unlikely to be investing. They were very cautious. As a result, we had difficulties of capital formation.
That was coupled with all of the policy uncertainty around healthcare reform about which no one knew what Congress was going to do on a variety of issues. That added to the cautiousness of the investors and to the uncertainty within the industry.
So here we are a year later, and we are emerging from both of those storms. The economy is beginning to recover, and healthcare reform legislation has been enacted. I hope that both of those things augur well for the industry going forward.
GEN What’s BIO’s official stance on H.R. 3590?
Greenwood: BIO hasn’t taken a position on the Act as a whole. We have focused on certain provisions such as biosimilars. We’ve had great success in building into both the House and the Senate Bills a policy on follow-on biologics that will be conducive to the success of the industry.
We have focused on incorporating into the Senate Bill $1 billion in refundable tax credits, which we have called our “therapeutic discovery tax credit” provision. It will allow small life science companies with 250 or fewer employees to take, as a credit, 50% of what they spend on developing novel therapeutics.
For some companies that don’t have revenue, this will actually mean that they’ll get a check from the Treasury Department that might be critical to their being able to survive the current economic crisis.
We’ve also focused on making sure, to the extent that there is comparative effectiveness language in this legislation, that it not be used to make decisions of coverage and reimbursement.
GEN In light of the current economy and the uncertain policy environment, what are some of the most pressing issues facing the biotech industry, and how will the convention in Chicago address those issues?
Greenwood: Well, on the economic side, things are still tight. It’s difficult to get financing. The IPO market is opening up ever so slightly. So, it’s more important than ever that people in the industry worldwide have an opportunity to network and participate in our BIO Business Forum where they can have their partnering meetings. We expect to schedule something on the order of 14,000 one-on-one meetings in Chicago, and that’s a very good opportunity for companies of all sizes to create new collaborations, new investments, and new deals.
On the policy side, we will spend a lot of time at the convention explaining in panel discussions what the impact of biosimilars legislation might be or comparative effectiveness legislation, for example.
GEN Biotechnology has truly become a global industry. Would you talk about the range of countries that are sending representatives as convention delegates or exhibitors, and why these international visitors are so important in terms of affecting the evolution and growth of the bioindustry?
Greenwood: We expect delegations from 60 different countries outside of the U.S. Some of the largest delegations, and ones that are growing, come from countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. The industry is indeed global, and there is expansion of the market and market opportunities, especially in places like India and China.
We have research being done in countries on virtually every continent, so it is wise for all of them to be able to come to one place for several days of the year to form collaborations that can create new opportunities to gain access to markets, first-rate research, and clinical trial work. The whole range of activities involved in biotechnology now can be done virtually anywhere in the world.
GEN Why was Chicago chosen to host this year’s convention?
Greenwood: We came to Chicago in 2006 for the first time. We wanted to go there because part of the mission of BIO is to move the convention around the country so that we get to expose different segments of the U.S. population to the world of biotechnology. We also get to showcase the biotechnology hubs in different places to our participants from around the world.
We had great success in 2006. It’s a great convention city. The attendance was very good. We drew attendees from the whole Midwest region so we thought we’d like to repeat that success in 2010.
GEN Given the fact that many companies have restricted travel budgets, what’s the benefit and return on investment for both large and small companies to attend the conference in Chicago?
Greenwood: Well, again, going back to the global nature of the industry, you can arrange to fly to China, India, Singapore, or Malaysia, and to Central and South America and to Europe and Japan and so forth. That’s a lot of jet fuel and a lot of time and expense. Or you can come to Chicago in May and all of the key players from all of those countries and more will be in one place at one time. It’s an extraordinarily time- and cost-efficient way to do your partnering and to learn from one another and to gain knowledge from the sessions that we put on.
On top of that, we have some particularly fascinating speakers this year. We have former Vice President Gore, who will talk about his views on global warming, which are important to our companies that are in the biofuel business. Then we’ll have what promises to be a fascinating conversation with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on the Wednesday plenary session.