Arizona sends largest delegation yet to top bioindustry convention

June 30, 2008

By hammersmith

Back in the old days–say, five years ago–when Arizona showed up for the premiere annual event for the bioscience industry, it was a very small fish in a very big pond. That minnow is getting bigger.

Earlier this month, Arizona sent its largest delegation yet to the BIO 2008 International Convention and enjoyed a position of greater prominence than ever before. In all, BIO 2008, which ran from June 17-20 in San Diego, drew over 20,000 people from 70 countries and 48 states. Speakers and forum participants included maverick genomics expert J. Craig Venter, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and ten of the nation’s governors. The event is organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the nation’s largest biotechnology advocacy group.

“I have been at several BIO conventions, and Arizona’s presence has been growing more substantial each year” said Natascha Hebell Fernando, chief operating officer of the Arizona Bioindustry Association (AZBio). “I’m already looking forward to seeing even more companies presenting and exhibiting at BIO 2009.”

Representing Arizona in San Diego were more than 60 scientists, industry leaders, and economic-development professionals from 35 companies and organizations. Their base camp for the week was the Arizona Pavilion in the convention’s exhibition hall, a 1,000-square-foot space showcasing many of the state’s leading research institutions and bioscience companies. The pavilion’s location on one of hall’s primary corridors, along with its distinctive “Biozona” branding, helped the delegation stand out among more than 60 nations, states, and regions all vying for convention attendees’ attention in the massive exhibition hall.

The convention itself has steadily grown in significance, becoming an important means for companies to assess options for new partnerships as well as growth or relocation. States and regions seeking to attract new players in the biosciences have begun paying commensurate attention to the opportunities the convention provides.

“If you aren’t there, you sort of get lost in the dust in terms of branding and imaging,” said Walt Plosila, a senior advisor to Battelle and expert in state and regional initiatives to develop bioscience sectors, in the Arizona Republic.

At this year’s convention, some exhibitors sought to draw the interest of attendees with lavish parties, while others offered chances to win prizes for visiting their pavilions. The state of Georgia hosted a party on the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, while Pennsylvania raffled off a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick made a splash on the convention’s first day, announcing a $1 billion commitment to the biosciences. Maryland governor Martin O’Malley followed a day later with a pledge of $1.1 billion.

Such eye-popping numbers require some perspective, Plosila said. A billion-dollar commitment is often an assortment of smaller initiatives and may well span more than a decade. Arizona’s commitments to the biosciences just since 2000 total more than $600 million, he explained in BioRegion News.

Bio Convention 2008 Arizona PavilionRather than spend big on outsize festivities, the Arizona delegation focused on making sure that strong advocates for the state’s bioscience institutions were always on hand to meet curious convention attendees and effectively introduce Arizona’ research and industry specialties and its emphasis on endeavors rooted in partnership.

For smaller Arizona companies, association with more-established institutions at the pavilion provided a stamp of approval.

“This allows us to align ourselves with a state that is very collaborative,” said Loretta Mayer in the Arizona Republic. Mayer is president of Flagstaff-based SenesTech, which is commercializing a chemical for sterilizing rats and other invasive pests. “People will come to our company and see us as part of something that is much larger.”

Caroline Hardy, marketing director for Provista Life Sciences, which develops blood tests for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, agreed. “This is the biggest, most prestigious conference in biotech,” she said in the Arizona Republic. “This will give us more exposure to pharmaceutical companies and others wanting to license technology.”

Next year, Atlanta will host the convention, which will run from May 18-21 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

For more information:

Ariz. firms compete at bio-tech trade show,” Arizona Republic, 06/19/2008

States push biotech research funding,” Arizona Republic, 06/18/2008

Small tech companies highlighted,” Arizona Republic, 06/13/2008

2020 Vision: O’Malley $1.1B Plan Creates Maryland Bio Center, More Life-Sci Funds,” BioRegion News, 06/23/08

Biotechnology Industry Organization news release, 06/20/2008