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BIO Blast: Meeting to Attract Thousands, Fuel Regional Economy

Almost seven years have passed since the last time the Biotechnology Industry Organization held its annual gathering in San Diego. At the time, Dick Murphy was mayor and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 had yet to bring the nation to a standstill.

Fast forward to today and San Diego is again gearing up to host one of the biggest events of the year. Just days after the U.S. Open ends its tour at Torrey Pines Golf Course, more than 22,000 people representing 70 countries are expected to flood the San Diego Convention Center June 17-20 to learn about the latest advances in science, connect with other industry enthusiasts and browse the widespread exhibits.

The event, touted as biotechnology’s biggest gathering, will include 175 breakout sessions, six so-called “super sessions” and two keynote lunches. About 2,200 exhibiting companies will span 220,000 square feet inside the convention center. In comparison, the 2001 convention drew 860 exhibiting companies with less than 82,000 square feet of exhibit floor space.

“This is the life sciences community’s opportunity to shine,” said Ian Wisenberg, senior vice president of business development and chief financial officer of Biocom, the local trade group for the life sciences.

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Wisenberg and other industry organizers gathered for a press conference Feb. 28 , 108 days before the start of the event , to educate the media about the many happenings of this year’s event.


Schwarzenegger Keynote

There they announced that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to keynote this year’s luncheon, which has in the past included former Presidents George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, Michael J. Fox and Queen Noor of Jordan. Schwarzenegger has campaigned for health care reform, green energy initiatives and stem cell research.

“He’s a champion and a friend and we’re happy to have him here,” said Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of Washington, D.C.-based BIO.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell will also deliver a keynote speech titled “Leadership: Taking Charge” June 19.

Event organizers said they did not shy away from controversial topics in planning the event. Up for discussion are methods of stem cell research, the impact of follow-on biologics, or knockoff biotech drugs, and bioethics.

The event’s theme , “Heal, Fuel, Feed the World” , will involve presentations about biotech’s efforts in the areas of human health, global energy and agriculture.

“Biotechnology represents perhaps the great solutions to these problems,” said Greg Lucier, chairman and chief executive of Carlsbad-based Invitrogen Corp. and a member of BIO’s steering committee along with Catherine “Kitty” Mackey, head of Pfizer Inc.’s La Jolla campus.

San Diego’s hospitality industry is expected to reap the rewards. The majority of downtown hotel and motel rooms have already been booked during the week of the convention and nearby restaurants, nightclubs and other tourist attractions could see big crowds. BIO has estimated that the event could pump more than $32 million into area businesses.

Biocom is also expected to benefit from the convention by collecting an unspecified amount of money for agreeing to cancel its annual event held at the same time.

The convention comes to an area rich with some of the nation’s leading life sciences and medical device companies, nonprofit research institutes and academic institutes. San Diego claims the third-largest cluster of biotechnology companies in the nation and employs more than 40,000 in the industry.


A $100B Industry

BIO estimates that the $73 billion biotechnology industry will grow to become a $100 billion industry by the end of the decade.

“We believe that this is the biotechnology century and that biotechnology is the human endeavor that will most dramatically change our lives for the better,” Greenwood said.

The event dates back to 1987, when the Association of Biotechnology Companies hosted an international conference in Washington, D.C. Its popularity surprised event organizers by attracting 155 attendees , the goal had been 100. Since then, BIO has reported steady growth with attendance reaching 1,400 in 1993, the year BIO formed. Last year’s event in Boston attracted more than 22,000 people from 48 states.

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