Monday, May 18, 2009

CHI Arrives in Atlanta for the 2009 BIO Convention!

Greetings! I am Ritchard Engelhardt, Associate Director of Government Affairs for the California Healthcare Institute. I am in Atlanta, Georgia this week for the 2009 International Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Convention at the Georgia World Congress Center. I will be blogging updates from the convention for CHI members to keep you up to date on CHI's activities in Atlanta this week.

Last night was the first night of official activities for the BIO Convention, starting with the Council of State Bioscience Associations (CSBA) Meeting at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. This is my first year with CHI, my first BIO Convention, and my first time attending the CSBA meeting on behalf of CHI. I have to say I am continually impressed with the organization of the life sciences industry across the country. There were representatives from over 30 state level associations at the CSBA meeting discussing the current landscape for policy, how today's difficult economic climate is affecting biomedical research, and sharing ideas on how to better represent life sciences companies in the Legislatures around the country and in the public sphere.

We discussed funding opportunities that arose out of the February American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly known as the stimulus plan. Andrew Kurtz from the National Cancer Institute briefed members on the differences between stimulus funding in general and the increased funding available through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research under ARRA. The main takeaway from the discussion is that ARRA funding outside of the NIH is very fast turnaround and needs to be allocated quickly, while NIH grants are better solutions for ongoing research within the industry.

The BIO State Government Relations staff presented a thorough discussion on the state of "Biotechnology Caucuses" in the states. The various state level organizations are working to establish a "Biotechnology Caucus" among members of their respective state legislatures. While California does not have an official Biotech Caucus, per se, we can be proud that we have two solid Select Committees on Biotechnology in each house of the California Legislature, with Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) chairing the Senate Select Committee on Biotechnology and Assembly Member Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) filling that role on the Assembly side. Both of these committees engage CHI and the industry on important policy decisions in California that affect the climate for biomedical research in the state.

We also had an engaging discussion on strategy for Follow-On Biologics (or "biosimilars") in the United States. As many of you know, CHI supports a pathway for biosimilars. Currently, there are two bills working their way through the 111th Congress -- one by Rep. Henry Waxman (D- Calif.) and the other by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D - Calif.) CHI supports the Eshoo bill, which provides a longer period of data exclusivity and protects investment in the biotechnology sector. The Eshoo bill has over 70 co-authors and BIO hopes to gain up to 100 before the bill makes it way through Congress. Looking to the European experience, where biosimilars have been a reality in the European Union for a few years now, BIO invited Ludovic Lacaine from EuropaBIO, a trade association for the biotech industry in the E.U. He discussed the coalition building experience that facilitated the passage of biosimilars legislation in the E.U., and was happy to report that 13 biosimilar products have made it to the market for patients in Europe. This news was two-fold for those of us in the room -- there is much hope that this will be the year for biosimilars legislation, but also a renewed sense of urgency that our lack of a biosimilars pathway in the United States is making us less competitive than our counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

Finally, we discussed business models for state level associations in a difficult economy. CHI has always been a leader in the trade association world and our finances are sound. We shared that we are able to remain successful in this difficult economy by funding our events throughout the year with sponsorship. This allows CHI's day to day operations and advocacy activities to be funded from our member dues, and gives us the leverage to reign in costs on other activities throughout the year depending on sponsorship levels. In doing so, it has allowed our base operations to remain strong during this economic downturn, and we have been fortunate to have member companies that realize the value of our events throughout the year and are willing to sponsor them -- various forums on specific life sciences issues, our Industry Report and launch (the premiere document on the state of the life sciences industry in California), our Life Sciences Day in March, and myriad other outreach activities.

After the meeting, we had a reception at the Omni and discussed CHI's success in utilizing new media with Jeremy Freking of the South Dakota Biotech Foundation. Jeremy was interested in how the SD Biotech Foundation could increase its presence on a limited budget. We discussed CHI's Web site, our activities and Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as our utilization of podcasting for our Patient Perspective Series and the upcoming use of webinars to conduct virtual meetings with our membership to discuss the advocacy and PAC processes. All of these solutions are low-cost, high visibility networking opportunities, and I invited Jeremy to take a look at what CHI is doing in all of these areas on, as well as reaching out to our fantastic Director of Communications, Nicole Beckstrand, for her ideas. Jeremy is also on Facebook, and I told him that CHI established a Facebook page and a Blog that Legislators can follow to see what's going on in the life sciences industry, as well as to get a quick read on where CHI stands on important legislation moving through the California Legislature and the Congress.

All in all, it was a productive and fun first day -- and I even made a new Facebook friend from South Dakota, for good measure!

For more information about CHI's activities in Atlanta this week, contact Ritchard Engelhardt, associate director of government affairs at 916-273-2773 or

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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