Yeah, it rained last week in San Francisco.
But the rain did not stop untold thousands of us from gathering at the many hotels, watering holes, and coffee shops around Union Square.
How many of us are present in San Francisco every second week in January? 15,000? 20,000?
It’s hard to tell, considering the number of simultaneous conferences. Off hand, we can think of:
It is unlikely that this is a complete list, and obviously the many evening receptions and parties are not included.
Nevertheless, while a challenge to navigate, it’s always a great way to kickoff the new year, catch up with old friends, and meet new prospects.
Others will undoubtably emerge in the weeks ahead.
What did we observe in our admittedly limited exposure to the rainy proceedings?
China is Red Hot
At the Biotech Showcase, there was a noticeably strong contingent of China-based companies. Domestic Chinese companies were well-represented, seeking assets to develop and commercialize in China.
We also met with a number of Chinese VCs who were looking for US-based, early stage investment opportunities (even seed-stage opportunities). Interestingly, several of these VCs have offices in the US.
Russell Conjugation, or Emotive Conjugation, is a rather obscure, but interesting linguistic tool. Basically, it is a way to conjugate a verb in order to capture our tendency to view our own behavior more charitably than the behavior of others.
I am firm (positive)
You are obstinate (neutral)
He is a pig-headed fool (negative)
I am in deep trouble, but I can see a clear path out of this problem.
You are like an astronaut stuck out in deep space. You might get back home; you might not.
He is in a Black Hole of a mess. There is no way out for him.
example attempt is:
We discover, develop, and market products which save lives.
Your [pharmaceutical] industry is critical to our economy, but alternative pricing models are needed.
Those price-gouging bast*rds prey on the lives of the sick and the old through profiteering and fancy accounting schemes.
In the last example, the subject (our industry) is exactly the same in all three instances.
A Big Pharma CEO is more likely to use the first sentence. An economist or analyst outside the industry is likely to use the second. And, a populist government official seeking reelection is likely to use the third.
Same subject, yet different emotional descriptors.
We were reminded of Russell Conjugation as we began to read about what the incoming US administration may do with respect to drug prices.
Many of us were concerned that Candidate Hillary Clinton would attack “Big Pharma,” especially after the EpiPen fiasco of last Fall. Now we have someone who is arguably even more populist about to enter the White House.
In parallel, pharma companies will continue to argue that medicines are a small portion of overall medical care, and that drugs save lives.
However, this is a rather esoteric argument to make, and clearly our new President is not one to discuss esoterics.
Further, the fraction of patients whose lives are actually saved by a pharmaceutical are relatively small.
So the cost and lifesaving arguments made by our industry are largely falling on deaf ears…ears who instead want to attack innovation for the sake of votes.
The bigger problem with Russell Conjugation as it is employed today is that we typically see and hear emotive language used to attack our industry (Third Person), while the actual facts remain hidden in complex reports and pie charts on corporate and other web sites.
We need to develop and utilize a different framework and vocabulary to counter the “profiteering” charges levied against us.
We have no objection to government payers negotiating with companies (both branded and generics) on drug pricing. Lowering drug prices paid by the government benefits all taxpayers in the long run.
Part of our time in San Francisco was spent meeting with and interviewing independent consultants to join Lacerta Bio (more to follow). In reviewing these discussions, it became clear that there are a LOT of talented, experienced folks out there who are running one and two-person consulting operations.
And, these small companies have expertise in many different areas and slices of our value chain. Regulatory, licensing, marketing…it’s all out there, ready to work efficiently, and at a lower cost compared to hiring full time employees.
While some of these are our competitors, it is nevertheless gratifying to see so many talented people eschew corporate life in exchange for the freedom that a blend of talent, experience, , and technology can provide.
The lack of gender and ethnic diversity in our segment of the industry was quite visible, especially in the lobby of the Hilton. This is less of an issue at the usual partnering conferences, like BIO and BIO Europe. But we never really noticed until this trip how much this week in San Francisco is dominated by dark suited men.
Uber is fantastic.
Reserve your hotel for 2018 today, unless you enjoy staying in two-star hotels for $800+ per night.