Biotech Showcase and JPM 2017: Wind, Rain, and Meetings 
Posted by Carlos on Jan 18, 2017

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:

JP Morgan

TPP Healthcare China Partnering

Biotech Showcase


StartUp Health Festival 

OneMed Forum 

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.  

As far as what happened inside the Westin, we defer to those in a better position to comment. Following the #JPM17 hashtag on Twitter helps.

For summaries of the activities and presentations in the Westin, check out articles by Ben AdamsArda UralTracy Staton, and Matthew Herper

LifeSciVC has a rather focused review which is quite interesting. 

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. 

As we have said in prior posts, China definitely needs to become a major portion of an overall licensing or fundraising strategy, but local support is required. 

Russell Conjugation 

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. 

The classic example is:

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. 


Another 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 FallNow we have someone who is arguably even more populist about to enter the White House.

As Matthew Herper correctly points out, it is exceedingly easy to attack “Big Pharma” on prices, inversions, and the like. A $50 copay for a patient on fixed income is an easy target for populist politicians and mainstream media. 

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. 


Need Talent? 

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, gumption, and technology can provide. 


Quick Hits


  • 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. 


  • Our next scheduled conference is BIO in San Diego. San Diego is a terrific location for a large convention, and we look forward to seeing many of you in the party Partnering area. 

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