Back from Boston and BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) 2007. Organizers claim they've got record attendance of more than 20,000 people. That'd be nearly three times the number of people who went when it was last held in Boston at the height of the human genome/biotech bubble in 2000.
BIO is also boasting the appearance of the queen, although not the one who was at the White House last night. Queen Noor of Jordan delivers the keynote address today. BIO lost one of its other keynoters yesterday. Massachusetts' own Senator Kennedy was supposed to speak ahead of Michael J. Fox at lunch on Monday, but instead he sent a videotaped message.
The Senator is a key sponsor of one of the biogenerics bills working its way through the legislative process, so the timing of his speech in front of all the biotech movers and shakers wasn't so hot and he canceled his appearance.
Michael J., of course, did show up to an SRO crowd (even the overflow area was overflowing) and received a prolonged standing ovation after his remarks. In his speech and in our exclusive interview, Fox makes no mention of embryonic stem cell research. That's what threw him into the middle of that hot debate during last year's election. Instead, he told the industry to hurry it up, quit developing so many me-too, copycat drugs and come out with new, novel drugs for Parkinson's disease and other afflictions.
Fox told me (Part 1 of Interview, Part 2 of Interview) he might raise the stem cell issue, as he put it, "every two years." But at this point in the presidential campaign, he is not willing to make any kind of endorsement publicly. "The Democrats, I think, uniformly are in favor of stem cell research. And I think there are a couple of Republicans that... are in favor of stem cell research. And there are some that may or may not get involved in the race that I think are in favor of it." He wouldn't name names.
Rush Limbaugh didn't come, but there were scattered press and blog reports ahead of the convention that there would be big animal rights and "Frankenfood" (biotech-enhanced agricultural products) protests. As of yesterday, though, they really didn't have significant numbers. Nonetheless, the police were ready. The convention center was crawling with law enforcement -- uniformed and otherwise, SWAT-style squads, etc. Some corporate executives were also walking around with extra protection. Security even closed off pedestrian bridges to the hall from places like the hotel across the street to keep unregistered, unbadged attendees from sneaking in.
But the biggest nuisance, for us at least, turned out to be an engineer-controlled wall in the main lobby of the convention center. The silver-tiled installment actually looked pretty cool. The small panels moved as if "something" was crawling underneath them.
The problem was that the designers had a loud, annoying soundtrack of monster-like howls and screams to accompany all the electronic movement -- and our live camera location was within earshot. (Actually, it was hard to be out of earshot of it.) So, several times throughout the day we had to ask -- plead -- with the computer guys controlling the thing to turn off the sound effects in order not to have any strange-sounding distractions during our live interviews with CEOs and live reports. I pity the people who are positioned to work in that lobby for the full four days of BIO.
Next year's BIO is in San Diego -- another big biotech hub. I'm guessing "The Governator" -- another stem cell research advocate -- is already on the group's shortlist for keynoters.
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