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There?s No Business Like BIO Business

New Jersey is set to wow all comers at the industry?s biggest show of the yearTrenton

When the decision makers of the U.S. biotech world descend on Philadelphia in less than two weeks to talk deals, science and more deals, they won?t have to wonder what?s going on across the Delaware River.
An eager delegation of representatives from New Jersey?s public and private sectors will be on hand to embrace and entertain the visitors. With BIO 2005?the national gathering of the biotech industry that moves to a different city every year?being held almost in its backyard, New Jersey is determined to put on a good show.
From small biotechs to Big Pharma giants, no one wants to be left out. ?Everybody that?s anybody in the industry seems to show up at this event,? says Ron Pepin, senior vice president for business development at Medarex in Princeton.
The New Jersey Coalition for Biotechnology, a Trenton-based public/private consortium of companies, state agencies and universities, has orchestrated the state?s presence at the massive trade show. Will Steffens, the group?s chairman, promises the New Jersey pavilion will make a strong impression on visitors.
Steffens says a total of 28 biotech companies, state agencies, universities and vendors will have booths in the pavilion where they can chat up browsing visitors. There will be plenty of those: The show is expected to draw 17,000 guests to Philadelphia during its four-day run from June 19-22. The pavilion will feature a lounge, a conference room and the chance to talk with Einstein in person.
Well, almost. An actor will be playing the illustrious physicist and Princeton resident in honor of this year?s 100th anniversary of the publication of three of his groundbreaking scientific papers, including special relativity with its formula E=MC2.
Steffens says New Jersey?s pavilion may not be the largest in the show, but ?it will be in the top 10 as far as size.? He expects California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to have bigger displays and there will be strong competition from countries like Australia and Scotland that are trying to lure U.S. biotechs to their shores.
Steffens estimates the New Jersey coalition is spending about $500,000 on the pavilion and will recover a big portion of that from the rent it will collect on individual booths. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority put up about half the money; other coalition members and corporate sponsors also kicked in. Some of the money will go to subsidizing smaller biotechs that can rent a half-size booth and have their graphics put together for them for about $3,500.
?The whole concept of the pavilion is to give companies who wouldn?t ordinarily go a chance to be there,? says Steffens.
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware each put up $250,000 to be co-sponsors of this year?s event. Steffens says that money helped give the state first crack at some prime space on the floor of the Pennsylvania Convention Center where most of the BIO events are being held. The state?s booth, he says, will be in the center of the floor, right next to Pennsylvania?s.
There will be no shortage of entertainment: Singers Melissa Etheridge and Ronan Tynan will be putting in appearances along with a Cirque de Soleil-like circus troupe. Television news personalities like Ray Suarez of PBS and Morton Kondracke of Fox News will be on hand as moderators of panel discussions and there will be parties and receptions all over town.
But despite all the distractions, the point of the show will be doing business. Companies come to flush out possible investors or partners, or to find promising technologies or drugs that they can add to their portfolios.
Medarex has research ventures or licensing deals going with more than 50 partners and senior vice president Pepin says the company views the annual BIO gatherings as a good place to touch base with its current partners and possibly hook up with new ones. Even though the company and its monoclonal antibody technology are by now well known in the industry, ?it?s good to keep your name out there,? Pepin says.
Medarex is putting up money to sponsor an electronic Business Forum at the show where companies can link up for discussions. It?s sending 20 people to the event and sponsoring an outing to a Phillies baseball game. Medarex CEO Don Drakeman has even snared a marquee role as a panel member at the opening general session.
Celgene of Summit, one of the state?s other big biotechs, also plans to make a splash. ?We will be very active there,? says spokesman Brian Gill. Alan Lewis, the company?s California-based president, will speak at a general session panel and CEO John Jackson will appear at a smaller session the following day.
Many companies have spent months planning how to maximize their time at the show. Last week the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey, the state trade group for biotechs, held a warmup session featuring tips from those who have been to BIO shows before. Ray Thek, a lawyer with Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, warned the group to resist the temptation to talk too much about the scientific basis of their companies and to focus instead on garnering contacts in brief encounters.
Chromacell of North Brunswick is among the smaller biotechs that will be talking up its technology in the New Jersey pavilion. The show, says Chromacell CEO Christian Kopfli, ?is really our main event this year to get out to the market.? The 2-year-old company has a way of automating the creation of stable cell lines for use in high-throughput screening?a widely used tool in drug discovery.
Kopfli says the company will be looking for new clients and partners at the show.
E-mail to wquinn@njbiz.com

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