Supriya BW jpg2015 kicked off with a bang earlier this month for the biotech sector at the 33rd Annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference. Here, Supriya Mathur, Senior Consultant at Hume Brophy, provides an account of her first experience at the marathon event, including a round-up of the fringe events, receptions and predictions for the year ahead.

Suits on Union Square

The optimism in healthcare was palpable as San Francisco hosted its 33rd Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference (JPM) from the 12-15 January 2015. The once Hambrecht & Quist (H&Q) conference has now expanded beyond its simple beginnings to what is termed the ‘Super Bowl’ of healthcare.  This event is now deservedly the healthcare Olympics and sets the tone for the year ahead, modifying the geography and tone of Union Square, which converts into a sea of suits.

As a rookie at my first JPM, it was all a lesson in instant learning of the really important things –memorising the downtown map of hotels, juggling meetings and answering emails, ensuring you grab a lobby spot before your party arrives and possessing intel on all the Starbucks in range!

Despite the light hearted side of the event and the surreal aspect of bumping into familiar faces on San Francisco streets, JPM is a serious affair. The multiple meetings result in numerous M&A deals, investments, partnerships and hires. As one client said, it eventually it’s that ‘one’ meeting which makes the whole week of sleep deprivation worth it.

Conference and Fringe events

The Westin St Francis Hotel which hosts the main JP Morgan conference was abuzz with rooms overflowing at most presentations. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s lunchtime keynote address had queues snaking outside the Grand Ballroom. His bout with throat cancer had him admit he was a ‘recent beneficiary of the dynamic health sector’. This dynamism was clear to see, not only at the branded JPM event, but at the parallel Biotech showcase which saw 230 companies present. This included a very strong representation from UK companies and the largest class of public companies to date.

Receptions

Much of the business happens outside closed doors, presentations and breakout sessions. The fringe events and receptions are the chance to network and continue the conversation. Hume Brophy’s US partner Burns McClellan’s reception at the Neiman Marcus Rotunda was a grand affair attended by companies, investors, deal makers, and media from both sides of the Atlantic. Two other events that stood out for us were the excellent BIA / AZ party at The Old Mint – a truly historical venue – and the Thomson Reuters reception at the Martin Lawrence Galleries. Networking and great art, a truly unbeatable combination.

JPM in numbers

  • There was much debate on how many people were in San Francisco for the conference and related events. Numbers pulled out of a hat ranged from 15,000 to 25,000 attendees.
  • Twitter usage was another good measure of the pulse of activity. According to data from Forbes, the week generated:
    • 15,678 tweets using the #JPM15 hashtag
    • Tweets from 4,209 participants
    • 87,323,227 impressions
  • The hottest deal making sector in 2014 was healthcare. The industry is eagerly waiting to see what 2015 will bring.
  • Last year the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index rose 35 percent compared with 11 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.
  • 112 companies in the industry went public in 2014, far more than in a typical year, raising a record $9 billion.
  • The aggregate transaction value for the 89 M&A deals completed in 2014 reached a record $86 billion.
  • The one metric we are still looking for is the number of men / women in attendance at JPM. If anyone has those stats, please get in touch. We would love to know how the mix is changing over time.

Predictions for the year ahead

We heard a lot of things in San Fran. Some of the key takeaways were insightful and interesting.

Digital health is here to stay. It is no longer a sideshow, digital health companies and events had the highest attendance.

Therapeutic areas in the spotlight are likely to be Immune-oncology (PD-1, PD1-L, CAR-T (chimaeric antigen receptor T-cell) technology, RNA technology), inflammation, anti-infectives (hepatitis C, B but also antibiotics; the latter receiving government funding to stimulate drug development to offset resistance).

Other areas of unmet need, orphan diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, all remain ‘hot’. In 2015 the focus could remain on these areas, perhaps with a few additions such as CNS and allergy.

The optimism is high, especially for European healthcare, which is deemed good value, in comparison to its US counterparts. The European contingent kept this interest high with the UK biotech and the industry bodies – BIA and One Nucleus as well as George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, making their mark in a busy week in San Francisco.

JPM is a mini universe in itself and most attendees never go beyond the downtown area to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, Presidio or any of the famous landmarks. Referred to by its many monikers – the healthcare Super Bowl, Olympics or circus – JPM is not just about presentations, meetings and networking. It is conclusively more result oriented than Davos and when it comes to healthcare, packs the bigger punch.