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Conference to Focus on Biotech Industry

It’s been two years since San Diego’s “Who’s Who” in biotechnology celebrated its local version of the mother of all biotechnology gatherings, BIO.

This year’s 12th annual Biocom life science conference will truly speak to the issues concerning the San Diego region, said Joseph Panetta, the president of Biocom, the local life science trade group that’s hosting the one-day conference on March 22.

“In the last few years, Calbio (Biocom’s annual conference) became a smaller version of the BIO meeting (the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s largest annual convention) with broad topics,” Panetta said.

“Two years ago we (developed) a plan to focus more on the areas that helped our local industry grow.”

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Panetta expects 700 people, mostly mid- to senior-management level industry members, to come to the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.

The last meeting, in 2003, drew 800 people, including 200 exhibitors.

Biocom skipped its meeting last year because BIO held its event in California’s other major biotech hub, San Francisco.

There will be no exhibit hall this year, Panetta said.

Biocom opted instead for a program focusing on burning local issues. They are: venture capital funding, bioterrorism, stem cell research, partnerships, future technologies and Medicare reimbursement.

Raising VC funding remains the big challenge for small biotech firms.

In the last few years, investors have largely favored biotechs with later-stage products in human testing with a clear path to U.S. Food and Drug Administration final review, leaving the early-stage biotechs to fend for themselves.

A panel of financiers from corporate and traditional VC funds will discuss their investment strategies and offer advice.

This year’s speakers are John Dunn, the executive vice president of New Ventures at Biogen Idec in San Diego; Stan Fleming, a partner at Forward Ventures in San Diego; Jonathan MacQuitty, the president of Abingworth Management Inc. of Palo Alto; Nicholas Simon, general partner at MPM Capital in San Francisco; and Mark Strobeck, partner at SR One in West Conshohocken, Pa.

Bioterrorism and strategies to access government funding are also part of the debate.

Dr. Edward Eitzen Jr., a retired Marine Corps colonel, the senior medical adviser at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, will offer the government’s perspective.

Local biotech leaders Gerald Yakatan, the president and chief executive officer of Avanir Pharmaceuticals, and Richard Hollis, the chairman and CEO of Hollis Eden Pharmaceuticals, will talk about their successful strategies in landing government grants.

Avanir and Hollis Eden develop antidotes against bioterror attacks.

Embryonic stem cell research following California voters’ approval of $3 billion in state spending, via Proposition 71, also will be part of the discussion.

“There needs to be a better understanding within the industry what potential stem cell research efforts offer in terms of dollars and product development down the road,” Panetta said.

Dr. Edward Holmes, UC San Diego’s vice chancellor of health sciences and the dean of the School of Medicine, and Larry Goldstein, a UCSD professor, will join a panel of experts in the field to talk about opportunities for industry members.

Deals between big pharmaceutical firms scouting promising technologies at startups are critical for local biotechs.

A panel of industry heavyweights , Dr. Steve Paul, the president of Lilly Research Laboratory of Indianapolis; Mervyn Turner, the senior vice president of worldwide licensing and external research at Merck Research Laboratories of Rahway, N.J.; and Catherine Mackey, the senior VP of research and development at Pfizer La Jolla , will tell delegates what they’re looking for in San Diego companies.

Mike Scarano, a partner with the law offices of Foley & Lardner LLP in San Diego, will lead closing arguments on emerging technologies and Medicare reimbursement changes.

Don Jones, the VP of health care business development at wireless giant Qualcomm Inc., will talk about the San Diego firm’s efforts to integrate wireless technologies into diagnostics and therapeutics.

Panetta promises a multifaceted debate.

“In the past, the panels didn’t do a whole lot to provide conflicting views. Now we’ll provide as much food for thought as possible,” he said.

San Diego’s biotech CEOs will be served thoughts with dinner the day before.

BIO’s new president, James Greenwood, will come to San Diego to share his vision for the industry at Biocom’s annual CEO dinner March 21.

“We don’t have any lobbying power today,” said Panetta. “Jim wants to create a ‘Capital Hill Dream Team’ at BIO to lift biotech out of the shadow of its much larger pharma brethrens.”

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Pfizer Looks Ahead:

The Pfizer Foundation announced on March 7 that it gave a second consecutive annual grant worth $150,000 to San Diego middle schools.

The hope is to get eighth-graders interested in science and technology.

Of the 41 states that participated in a nationwide study of eighth-grade public school student performance in science, California ranked 39th, according to Pfizer.

The Pfizer Foundation was created by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. of New York, N.Y. to improve K-12 science education by training teachers at Pfizer sites, developing curriculum, and constructing science labs.

The San Diego Foundation has created the Middle School Science Education Leadership Initiative to turn the daunting statistic around.

Under the initiative, 30 leading county teachers will be armed with science materials and train with scientists from the area’s scientific and technological institutions.

They’ll share their knowledge with other teachers, who will pass it on to students.

Pfizer’s offices in La Jolla employs some 1,500 scientists and support staff. The site is Pfizer’s fourth-largest research site worldwide.

The San Diego Foundation is San Diego’s leading philanthropic organization.

In 2004, it funneled nearly $47 million to nonprofit groups in the county.


Contact Marion Webb at marionw@sdbj.com or call her at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3108.

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