MassBio Annual Meeting 2012 Recap
Just back from the MassBio Annual Meeting in Cambridge, MA. This was a great networking event highlighted by riveting keynote talks from Francis Collins, NIH director, and Eric Perakslis, CIO and Chief Scientist at the FDA. The latter made a last minute trip to Boston due to a last minute cancellation by Deputy Commissioner, Stephen Spielberg. Both keynote speakers gave their perspectives on the state of the biotech industry with an eye toward the theme of the Business of Science.
While all panelists and moderators did a great job at the sessions that Iattended, the most intriguing panel from an HLS standpoint was one entitled “Vitrtual Companies vs. Brick and Mortar in MA”. The panel was comprised of five players in the biotech field. John Butler (Inspiration Biopharmaceuticals) and Doris Peterkin (OncoPep) gave input from a virtual company background. Eric Gordon (Atentiv) brought years of start-up experience to the table. Ed Kania (Flagship Ventures) added a venture capitalist’s perspective, while John Reddington (Cambridge Biomedical) rounded out the panel with a CRO eye. Moderator, Martha Farmer is the CEO at North Shore InnoVentures, a biotech and cleantech incubator solution in located in Beverly and Lynn, MA.
The diverse backgrounds of the panel members made for a very interesting discussion. The upshot of this discussion was that virtual companies are viable solutions in the biotech world as long as they have the right managerial team in place. This is, of course, true for the brick and mortar companies as well, although communication plays a much larger role in the development and perseverance of a virtual company, which is heavily reliant on CROs and CMOs. While some panel members suggested that face to face interaction was important, the general consensus was that as long as transparent communication was present in all facets of the virtual company’s existence (both internal and external interactions), it should have an equal chance at success as its brick and mortar counterpart.
Another factor that was touched upon was financial efficiency, as high level, specialized consultants and CROs are expensive. However, the virtual company representatives maintained that setup and upkeep of facilities and salary commitments of employees with a similar level of talent would more than outweigh the hourly consulting rates and per study costs. Personally, I think that the growing trend of virtual companies will continue, although basic research and discovery will always require physical lab space. Whether the majority of this research will be done at CROs or at traditional biotech companies is yet to be determined.