After two years of pandemic delays, the Association of Bioscience Financial Officers (ABFO) will finally hold its national conference in San Diego next week (June 5-8).
The ABFO event, held at the Omni Hotel, will bring together CFOs and accounting officers for the largest educational and networking event focused exclusively on topics critical to finance executives in the life science, pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
“Until the pandemic, it was an annual event,” said conference organizer and co-chair Vickie Reed, chief accounting officer at Mirati Therapeutics. “We’re excited to connect with people we haven’t seen in a very long time.”
Reed said the purpose of ABFO is to provide a networking foundation for people who are in CFO or top finance accounting positions in bioscience companies both large and small.
“When you’re in that role at these companies, only a fraction of the headcount is dedicated to G&A; and support – everything else is research and development and science focus. So there’s not a lot of us and it’s hard to get advice from people,” she said.
The ABFO was founded in 1988 in northern California as a “sort of a grass roots thing” that spread as finance professionals heard more about what their peers in other regions were doing,” Reed said.
Ultimately, different chapters formed around the country and the national conference was held the first time 32 years ago.
“For myself, I’ve found it to be a great network of people I can reach out to and say, ‘What are you doing for this vendor? How do you handle this? Have you ever created a subsidiary in Australia to take advantage of some of the research credits you can get?’” Reed said. “There’s a lot of different things that it takes a village to be able to understand what’s available, so having that network has been helpful.”
A Different Climate
The ABFO conference comes back at a precarious time for bioscience finance professionals, as the easy capital and investor interest in the industry contracts from its mid-pandemic peaks.
Two keynote speakers will be addressing the different economic climate for the industry. Ryan Lahti, founder and managing principal of OrgLeader and author of “The Finesse Factor” will present “Succeeding Amid Uncertainty and Risk as a Financial Officer.” Jonathan Kozy, managing director and senior macro strategy analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, will deliver a presentation highlighting key drivers of growth, critical secular trends and the potential risks to growth and earnings in the current economy.
Key global trends affecting the U.S. economy and capital markets will also be examined. “I think that could be of great interest, particularly right now the way our markets are. Two years prior we had an incredible run, but now things aren’t so good,” Reed said. “In the last couple years, over 200 companies went public, many of them early stage. Without more funding they may not make it.”
ABFO Conference Co-Chair and VP of Finance at Mirati Betsy Gelfand added that a lot of companies over the last two years went public through SPACS or reverse mergers with only pre-clinical data.
“People liked their concept, or sexy idea and they were able to get funding and go. I think now a lot of these private companies are starting to hold back and say, ‘Wait a minute, we actually need this Series A or this crossover to last to real data,” she said. “That’s a shift you’re seeing in the market, where people can’t go public on pre-clinical data anymore. Now they’re going back to the more traditional, ‘Hey, I can’t get access to public capital until we actually have clinical data.’”
Other signs-of-the-times discussions on the conference agenda include roundtables on creative financing through royalty deals for late-stage biotechs; panel presentations on compensation in a tight labor market; and a panel of brokers and different real estate market analysts discussing trends in lab and office space in a hybrid work environment.
Fun and Education
In addition to discussions on the new uncertainty in the bioscience industry, the conference will also offer participants some fun, inspiration and educational opportunities.
Entertainment opportunities for ABFO attendees include a cocktail reception on Sunday evening, a Padres game at Petco Park on Monday evening and a catered party at an event space in the Gaslamp District.
For motivation and inspiration, the final keynote speaker on Tuesday will be Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-level skier who after an injury ended up building and operating the largest and most notorious private poker game in the world, ultimately becoming the subject of the 2017 film “Molly’s Game.”
Association of Bioscience Financial Officers
Regional Headquarters: Baltimore/Washington D.C., Boston, Florida, Northwest, Austin, Northern California, Southern California
Chair: Brandi Roberts (Southern California chapter)
Business: Networking association
Members: 130 companies
Notable: ABFO is the largest association of financial professionals in the bioscience industries.