Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday Night Around Atlanta

BIO hosted a Public Officials Reception last night at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Located across from Centennial Olympic Park, the Chamber's offices are fantastic, and our reception was on the rooftop with panoramic views of the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, The Georgia Dome, The Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coke Museum and the Atlanta skyline in the background.

CHI members Genentech and Allergan were present, and the governor's Secretary for the Life Sciences and Health Systems, Kathryn Lowell, mingled with the California attendees on behalf of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Several state representatives from across the United States were on hand for the reception, but the keynote address was delivered by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R-Georgia.) Atlanta is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University, as well as a handful of life sciences research firms working on HIV/AIDS therapeutics and vaccines. He thanked the industry for selecting Atlanta for the event and expressed awe at the depth of the industry and the sheer size of the BIO convention.

After the Public Officials Reception, I worked my way back over to the Omni Hotel and stopped in to visit the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman reception. Pillsbury is a CHI member, and their law firm specializes in biotechnology issues including patent law. After a brief discussion on Pillsbury's presence in San Diego with Richard Blaylock, partner, and Donna Perdue, patent attorney, we segued into an extensive conversation on the state of California's budget crisis in Sacramento. Mark Mlynarkczyk from MedImmune's Washington, D.C. office joined in our discussion, and soon we were dissecting the impact of yesterday's special election and pondering if California needs a more drastic fix to address the structural hurdles to financing the state. Other states such as Connecticut have a ballot question periodically that asks the electorate if they need to convene a constitutional convention. In California, that idea has been put forward by various reform groups as a means to wipe the slate clean and formulate a new budgeting system from the ground up.

Whether that is a viable option (or a wise one, even) remains to be seen. However, now that we know that five of the six propositions on yesterday's ballot have failed by wide margins, California now has a $23 billion dollar budget gap to cover -- and no ideas are off the table just yet (at least among the attendees at BIO!)

After the reception with the gracious folks from Pillsbury, I headed over to JCT Kitchen for the Council of State Bioscience Association's annual dinner. What an amazingly pleasant evening we had (and I have quite a few pictures that I promise I will get uploaded soon!) Several CHI members converged at this event, including Allergan, Astellas, Celgene, Genentech, and MedImmune (and if I have forgotten to mention anyone, I apologize!) The government relations folks from D.C. and Sacramento mingled to discuss patent reform, follow-on biologics, the California budget, the 32nd Congressional race -- among other topics.

At dinner, I sat with CHI members Ed Reno of Allergan and Barbara Morrow of Astellas. Also at our table were Terese Ghio of Arena; Elizabeth Bartz of State & Federal Communications; Shannon Sheehan of New Mexico BIO; Jayne Berkaw of Michigan BIO; and Leah Kientz and April Giles, both of the Colorado BioScience Association. In the small world that is our life sciences family, Elizabeth grew up in Warren, Ohio -- less than 15 minutes from where I grew up and graduated high school. She counts several CHI members among her clients, including Astellas Pharma, and completes lobbying reports at the federal and state level.

The other life sciences associations at the table discussed their activities in their respective states with me, and I am starting to notice that across the industry, people are spellbound by the depth of California's biomedical community and the organization of the trade associations in the state. No other trade association that I have had discussions with has a full-time presence in their state capitol and Washington, D.C., in addition to a home office operating in one of the largest biotech clusters in the world. CHI, more than anyone, is uniquely positioned in that respect, and I think our successes in advocating for the industry in Sacramento and D.C. result from that.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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