It’s amazing how months of preparation for a conference are realized in 4-5 intense days.
From Sunday afternoon until the wee hours of Thursday morning, BIO-Europe in Berlin was jammed with 40 meetings, good meals, a few great receptions, a Buzz Session, two cigarettes, a few glasses of
absinthe refreshment, and a new project or two.
As we have discussed in previous post-conference posts, it’s difficult for us to provide a summary of the week, especially the company presentations and panel discussions (which are usually quite good and informative).
However, we defer to others to provide those insights and learnings.
So, what did we learn from our week in Berlin?
Bad Planning means Bad Execution
In our Out-Licensing seminars, we talk a lot about the importance of proper planning well in advance of a conference.
Assuming your objective is to have as many high-quality meetings as possible (as opposed to a company paid junket), then conference activities should begin at least a month prior to the opening of partnering.
Read that last sentence one more time before proceeding.
Here is one advanced tip (we do not like the work “hack,” but if you do, feel free) for partnering power users.
If you believe (based on previous conferences) that you will have 10-20 meetings, we recommend marking your self as Unavailable for the entire day on Wednesday. This “forces” the system to schedule meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
This will make for a few tiring days, with 13-16 meetings each on Monday and Tuesday.
However, this reduces the chance of an important meeting being cancelled because the other party “…had to return to the office urgently on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.”
Use the partnering system to your advantage. Force it to schedule as many meetings as possible on Monday and Tuesday, especially your “High Priority” meetings. This reduces the chance of missing an important meeting becuase your counterpart decided to leave early (why anyone would want to live early, barring a genuine emergency, is another question).
Assuming you can find the restroom doors, the CityCube was perfectly adequate for our needs. This year’s edition of BIO-Europe was attended by over 4,000 delegates (a record), and there was plenty of room for everything.
To our knowledge, this was the largest BIO-Europe ever. With 2,199 companies in partneringOne for Berlin, that’s a nice increase over the 1,948 companies in Cologne for BIO-Europe 2016.
Why is that? We have three hypotheses why this conference is growing:
Asia – There was a palpable increase in the number of mid-sized companies from South Korea, China, and Japan at this conference.
For example, there were 92 companies from South Korea present. Many of the top South Korean companies were represented, such as Dong-A, Hanmi, Yuhan, and Green Cross.
But we also met folks from small and mid-size companies from South Korea…all looking for licensing opportunities from the US and Europe.
One small company we met had only 6 products on the market.
Yet, they were there, wisely working the partnering system looking for innovative assets to bring to South Korea.
This is because the South Korean pharma market is sophisticated and growing. And, it can provide an excellent initial presence in the region.
Importantly, both physicians and patients respect and prefer branded products, making it an key market for companies with later-stage 505(b)(2)-like candidates, or products already approved in the US and Europe.
For those of us looking to out-license assets, having increased presence from companies in Asia makes a conference like this all the more valuable.
This article provides a good overview of the South Korean pharmaceutical industry.
R&D Externalization – Big Pharma’s dual strategy of spending big to acquire late stage assets coupled with very early-stage licensing in selected indications means more and more licensing transactions will take place in the future.
This, in turn, means more meetings and growing attendance at partnering conferences in general.
This “barbell” model of preferring early stage or very late stage assets is a bit of a sweeping generalization. Exceptions will always be found.
However, for companies in the middle, careful license-ability analyses are necessary before C-level executives make promises of transactions which may never materialize, simply because their drug candidate is not a fit relative to what the market is looking for.
Remember, once a large company has established their in-licensing strategy, it is extraordinarily difficult to convince them to change once exposed to a new idea that falls outside that strategy. It’s not impossible, but it is more difficult.
Managing expectations has never become more important for executives in small companies looking to partner during development. And part of this includes setting realistic expectations about what is and what is not licensable.
Ich liebe Berlin – Berlin has always had a strong research and industrial core. However, reunification of the city resulted in one city with duplicates of many things, such as hospitals, universities, and manufacturing facilities.
Biotech is one of the industries which has a large presence in the region. Berlin has 20 universities conducting biotech research, a huge hospital system, a good venture environment…it goes on and on.
Plus, the standard of living is truly excellent. Where else are you going to find so many great restaurants, shops, street art, history, music, and absinthe bars in one city?
We would not be surprised if a disproportionately large number of local companies attended BIO-Europe in their hometown, hence driving attendance upward.
Will this same effect be observed at BIO-Europe 2018 in Copenhagen? Will the Medicon Valley-based companies attend the conference in Copenhagen, thereby swelling the attendee figures? We’ll find out next November. Just don’t forget to bring your passport along for any cross-border receptions that may take place.
As a side note, the decision to hold BIO-Europe Fall outside of Germany is an interesting one. To our knowledge, aside from Vienna, this conference is always held in Germany.
Perhaps this reflects the influence by Informa on EBD Group? We don’t know. But we think this is an excellent idea.
We always enjoy visiting Germany in November (especially for the fine November weather), but moving this conference around provides us with a greater opportunity to meet people and companies from other regions of Europe who would not ordinarily travel to Germany.
Cities which have hosted past BIO-Europe Spring conferences are good candidates for the Fall edition, such as Barcelona, Milan, and Paris.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If preparing and attending a conference is the investment, then the weeks following are the time to realize a return on that investment. While companies won’t sign deals in November from a meeting at BIO-Europe, now is the time to keep the momentum moving forward.
Plus, as good as BIO-Europe can be, it’s not cheap. So, what should you be doing?
Customize – We are big believers in customizing outbound meeting invitations. For example, what if during the meeting, your counterpart asked to see information which is not in the Follow Up deck?
Now is the time to prepare one more slide (or add something to an existing slide) and send that document. Include in the outbound email the fact that the question was asked, and that the answer is provided…without disclosing confidential information, of course.
Digital Networking – Connect on both LinkedIn and partnering360. Full stop.
Start Preparing – After the near-term follow up is completed, it is time to step back and think through the week. Which conversations went well? Which ones did not? Where there some slides which could be improved? These learnings can be used to start planning for the next conference?
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