Pharmas Market with Mike Huckman

Vertex Adds Color To The JPMorgan Healthcare Conference

I'm on my way back from the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Oh, it's still going on for another day-and-a-half or so, but two days is about all I can take.

For four days attendees shuffle through the crowded, narrow hallways of the old Westin St. Francis Hotel from morning 'til evening going from one presentation to the next. It's a lot like herding cattle, except they're all dressed in dark suits.

After doing their formal PowerPoints, CEOs and other execs do a 30-minute q and a breakout session in a smaller room. And depending on the level of investor interest in a company, execs can be locked down in even smaller one-on-one meeting rooms for hours and days on end.

For everyone involved, it can get extremely monotonous and drive a person a little stir crazy.

The execs make these presentations at various conferences all year long. And unless there's  news or a development of some kind, the scripts stay pretty much the same. These guys could do this stuff in their sleep. I suspect some of them probably do.

Many of the presentations can be real yawners. It's not uncommon to see people in the audience nodding off. "Here's our Safe Harbor (you can't sue us) statement, here's our pipeline, here's our portfolio, here's our financials," and on and on and over and over. Just change out the company name, the drug and what it's for.

All that is a lead-up to a shoutout to Vertex Pharmaceuticals for thinking outside the PowerPoint. I couldn't go to their session on Tuesday because I myself was locked down doing back-to-back live interviews with CEOs, including VRTX's Matt Emmens.

Battling the Silent Killer

But I'm told Emmens, who was making his JPMorgan debut with Vertex (which, by the way, got the grand ballroom venue for the first time) wanted to make an impression.

So, they produced a video about a bunch of stuff in history that has changed within 20-year time spans. It was designed to make a point about the advance its late-stage experimental drug for hepatitis C represents.

And then, Emmens told the crowd of around 500 to grab a placard his staff had feverishly stuck under every chair just prior to the session.

He asked those with orange cards to hold them up. There were just 10 to symbolize the 60,000 hep C patients in the U.S. who take a drug for it.

Then he called for the purple paperholders in the house. 175 of those, proportionate to the one million who are diagnosed, but don't take anything to treat it.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

And finally, Emmens asked for the green cardholders to wave 'em in the air.

There were more than 300 greenies to symbolize the two million people in the U.S. who have the disease, but don't know it.

OK, maybe not the most inventive audience participation stunt, but at least Vertex did something a little different at what can otherwise be a boring, predictable event.

The only thing they might want to change: the green cards. Probably not the best color to have chosen, especially in California.

Questions?  Comments? and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman