Monday was the official first day of BIO here in Atlanta. Even though I had lived in Atlanta for 4 years before coming out to California, I had never been inside the Georgia World Congress Center. For those of you who have also not been inside the Congress Center, it is truly an amazing facility, encompassing more than 3.9 million square feet of meeting and exhibition space. And this week, that space is filled with everything biotech. After registering for the convention and receiving my credentials, I walked around for a bit surveying the land. Most of the BIO activities are in the "B" Exhibit Hall, with the exhibits on the first floor, breakout sessions on the second floor, super sessions on the third floor, and the BIO store and career fair at the top level. The breakout sessions are shorter discussions on topical issues in the industry, while the super sessions are longer conversations on in depth issues. The folks at BIO are expecting between 16,000 and 18,000 attendees this week.
The exhibit halls were not open Monday -- most of the exhibitors are putting the finishing touches on their displays and getting ready for the crush of attendees to flood the halls on Tuesday. After lunch, I attended a super session sponsored by Eli Lilly called "Intellectual Property at the Crossroads." The panel assembled by Eli Lilly was fantastic, lead by Bob Armitage, their Chief Counsel who has worked for nearly two decades in the area of patent law. As you may have discerned from my last blog, the economy is coloring a lot of the discussions at BIO this week, and rightly so as the industry tries to find solid footing in today's market. Eli Lilly's discussion on intellectual property was mindful of today's unique circumstances and the elevated importance of strong patent protections for the life sciences industry.
Two issues came to the forefront of the intellectual property discussion. First, the efforts in Congress this year to pass meaningful patent reform. CHI supports S. 515, the patent reform bill by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont.) But strong patent protection in the biotech industry is only half of the story. The data exclusivity protections in the competing follow-on biologics measures working their way through Congress are key to truly protecting the investments made by life sciences companies in research and development on their products. As follow-on biologics, or "biosimilars" are similar in composition to their pioneer products but not necessarily exact duplicates, protecting the data on the pioneer product is the only way to ensure that a follow-on product does not enter the market before the pioneer product's company has had a period of market exclusivity to recuperate their research and development costs. As such, the data exclusivity protections in the biosimilars legislation will determine the effective patent life of a product -- not the patent itself.
It appears that the legislation in the 111th Congress on patent reform and biosimilars will determine the continued ability of the life sciences community to attract venture capital for research and development. Now more than ever, the entire life sciences community needs to engage their elected representatives to educate them on the nature of product pipeline, how our industry improves the quality of life for millions of patients around the world, and economic contributions that we provide to state and local governments. If you would like more information on how you can help CHI raise awareness on patent reform and biosimilars issues, please contact any of our staff that work directly in government relations: Todd Gillenwater, Vice President of Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org); Sandra Pizarro, Vice President of State Government Affairs (email@example.com); or myself, Ritchard Engelhardt, Associate Director of Government Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org.)
After the informative session on intellectual property, I headed to dinner with Andrea Jackson who is the Associate Director of State Government Affairs with Genentech in Sacramento. We went off the beaten path and headed over to Decatur, about 15 minutes from the Congress Center, and home to the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University (the two jewels of the life sciences industry in Atlanta.) Andrea is one of the first people I had the privilege of meeting after joining CHI, and her experiences working for now President Pro Tempore of the Senate Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and with Genentech for several years make her a fascinating dinner date. We discussed many of the challenges the industry faces back in Sacramento with the ongoing budget crisis and the future of the single-sales factor in California. Andrea was one of the key players in securing passage of the single-sales factor in February's budget negotiations, and it really has made California a more competitive place for life sciences firms to locate and do business.
After dinner, we headed to the World of Coke Museum for the Midwest Jazz Reception, sponsored by a handful of state-level biotech and economic development associations from the Midwestern United States, including the Kansas Bioscience Authority, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Missouri Partnership. Aside from a lovely evening of music and festivities, we were able to have conversations with business leaders in the Midwest who are suffering, in my estimation, a great deal more from the economic downturn than many other parts of the country. While California may be facing a monumental budget deficit, places like Michigan have witnessed the collapse of its primary industry and are struggling to attract new industries to backfill the economic losses from the decline of the American auto industry. In California, CHI discusses the importance of enacting state level policies that keep the Golden State competitive for thriving industries like the life sciences, and at events like the one sponsored at the World of Coke Museum, you can truly see the hunger in other parts of the country to attract our industries to other states. I hope I can relate their stories to the lawmakers back in Sacramento when I get home to relay the importance of making our state a place where companies want to invest and grow.
Tuesday is the opening day of the exhibits at BIO. I have a full roster of exhibits to hit and the week is going by much faster than I imagined. Hopefully I will see you on the floors of the Georgia World Congress Center.
And, if you're back in California, please remember to go vote! Polls are open in the Golden State from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation