W

hen Kate Strayer-Benton arrived at a Boston nightclub last Wednesday night for a party for attendees of the BIO International Convention, she was expecting to see extravagant costumes. The annual party — called the Party At BIO Not Associated With BIO, or PABNAB for short — after all, has a reputation for bringing over-the-top themes and festivities to an industry networking event.

But Strayer-Benton was shocked and frustrated by what she saw: At least two topless women dancing on mini-stages, their bodies painted with logos of several of the companies that had sponsored the party.

In a photo that Strayer-Benton took at the event and shared with STAT, a dancer wears only a crown of flowers, a pair of boots, and bottoms resembling a bikini; her body is painted with the logo of the investment firm Alpha Blue Ocean on her abdomen and the biotech company Selexis on her right thigh.

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“It felt like a line had so obviously been crossed,” said Strayer-Benton, director of strategy at Momenta Pharmaceuticals. “Objectifying women — in this case, even physically branding them with sponsorship of companies in our industry — it just felt so wrong.”

She wasn’t the only industry insider to take offense. Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore, who is chairman of the trade group that puts on the BIO conference, told STAT he was “horrified” to learn of the party. He said BIO is warning member companies that sponsored this year’s PABNAB that if they sponsor the event again in the future, they’ll be kicked out of the trade group.

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This year’s party comes as the #MeToo movement has raised awareness not only about sexual harassment but also gender issues in the workplace.

It also comes 2.5 years after an infamous party on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan conference in which investor relations firm LifeSci Advisors hired models in short dresses to socialize with guests at their reception, stirring widespread outrage. (LifeSci, to its credit, has been widely praised since for its efforts to try to help women in the industry advance in their careers.)

The website BioCentury first reported on the presence of topless dancers at this year’s PABNAB. Martina Molsbergen, CEO of a consulting group that co-organizes PABNAB, defended the event, telling BioCentury it was “edgy and artsy” and in keeping with the spirit of previous PABNAB parties. Molsbergen did not immediately return STAT’s emailed request for comment.

A spokesperson for Selexis said the company “has been a proud sponsor of the PABNAB party for years” but, this year, “had no prior knowledge that the logo was going to be used in that way.”

Alpha Blue Ocean didn’t know in advance, either, according to the firm’s CEO Pierre Vannineuse. He said he had been told his firm’s branding would be used on items like bracelets, flyers, and beverage glasses. “We just can’t have our name associated with such disgusting objectification of women,” Vannineuse said.

As its name suggests, PABNAB has no affiliation with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the trade group that puts on the official BIO conference every year. The annual party and others like it usually feature hired dancers and acrobats.

In addition to the topless dancers, last week’s PABNAB featured dancers like the one in this video.

This is not the first time PABNAB has spurred controversy. At 2016’s iteration of the event in San Francisco, attendees partied with a live camel.

After the infamous LifeSci party at J.P. Morgan in 2016, two high-profile industry women — Kate Bingham, a managing partner at SV Health Investors, and Karen Bernstein, chair of BioCentury — initiated a widely circulated open letter calling on the industry to refuse to do business with companies that put on such parties.

Strayer-Benton had expected a similar outcry after last week’s PABNAB. When it didn’t materialize, she said, she decided to take action herself. She edited Bingham and Bernstein’s 2016 letter, making redlined changes to update details like the time and the location. She also changed the title, from “Time to Just Say No,” to “It’s Well Past the Time to Just Say No.” On Monday night, she sent that letter to Joanne Duncan, an executive at the trade group BIO, as well as to Bingham and Bernstein.

READ: The letter that Kate Strayer-Benton updated and sent to a BIO executive

“We can talk all we want about diversity on panels and in the boardroom, but when events like this are commonplace, I just think it undermines all the progress” being made by industry groups and drug companies, Strayer-Benton said. “I just think we take giant steps backwards when something like this is considered acceptable.”

Strayer-Benton’s letter set off a swift reaction inside the trade group BIO. At about 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the head of BIO’s committee on workforce development, diversity, and inclusion emailed the other committee members to inform them of what had happened at PABNAB. In the early afternoon on Tuesday, the committee members convened for an emergency phone call, where they made the decision to tell member companies they would no longer be welcome in BIO if they continued to sponsor PABNAB.

“We cannot stand for an event like that that is debasing and is frankly not consistent with our standards around inclusion,” Maraganore said.

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  • Women who are easily offended should grow a thicker skin. Stop trying to find a free ride of fame on the coattails of the truly successful older women in this industry who blazed trails to earn the respect of men. Go earn respect the right way. Fake outrage.

  • Gee BioCentury… funny that you should mention the morality issue. Don’t you throw a Distillery party every year which is essentially a “booze weasel” party during JPM offering all the free single malt you can possibly drink and getting people beyond inebriated?! Then it becomes a total gropefest of women. Are you promoting alcoholism or a lude behavior fest? Yes, you are the TRUE moral compass in our industry! What hypocrisy! People in Glass houses should not throw stones.

  • Thank you Rebecca and Price Gouger Kate Strayer-Benton! Now why don’t we talk about Momenta Pharmaceuticals, where Kate serves as Director of Strategy, and who filed for an approval of basically a generic COPAXONE that nobody needs, and priced it at a useful price of $63,000!

    Oh but wait, it’s the dancers (who are talented as hell!) who are the problem.

    Oh, and how about when Momenta launched (and lost) an evil lawsuit PREVENTING a generic enoxaparin? Oh but wait, it’s the dancers, or the audience. Have you no shame? Kate, you and your company could not innovate your way out of a paper bag, and then you tried to PREVENT THE PUBLIC from getting a more affordable anticoagulant by almost bankrupting Amphastar.

    Why don’t you write about this true outrage, Rebecca? Why don’t you edit another letter Kate? Make it an apology this time, to the MS patients who you continue to rip off?

    Oh wait, it’s the dancers and the hosts who are the bad bad ones! Thanks for ruining the nicest party of the conference, and siding with evil price gougers! STAT, I’m shaking my head..

    PABNAB, Selexis, you guys rock on, you artistic and magnificent bastards. Not all of us lack humor and humility in this world. I hope I’m invited next year, this time without price-gougers and their apologists in attendance.

    • Thanks you for saying what should be noted.
      Momenta is basically structured like an investment bank.
      Regardless, the topless dancers with company logos is just symbolic of the real peversion which is the notion Momenta cares about patients.

    • This should be an “open letter” to Kate.
      I would love to hear BIO’s politically correct opinion about these Momenta facts.

  • Today’s “news”: find someone among the crowd offended by voluntary conduct of women, and publish her ‘frustration’ as if she is the arbiter of free expression. The diversity of the actual views of women on objectification is ignored and suppressed, by feeding the ‘offended crowd their daily opiate of outrage. Better burn all your bras and trash makeup, jewelry and anything else that might raise the ire of the modern-day puritans. But God is not their guide, just their own personal comfort barometer.

    • “God is not their guide”

      True of all rational people.

      So many trolls here … someone paid for them.

  • Maybe next year the perpetually offended crowd can host their own party, trigger-free. To set the mode – drab but brightly lit hotel ball room and a bar offering a choice of still or sparkling water. No booze. No food. No music. No conversation. No eye contact. No bare skin. No chance of being offended. No fun!

    • Interesting that Tim and others never advocate for scantily dressed men dancers. In fact, no one ever thought about it while organizing the event. Not artistic and edgy I guess. Only the opportunity to objectify women qualifies. Anyone stupid enough to not have anticipated a problem and decided this was a great idea should get a job at a strip club and immerse themself in artistic and edginess on a daily basis and see all the seediness that goes along with that industry.

    • If all attendees had been lesbians would there be grounds for complaint? What are we to do about the vast sums of money that women spend on products and services, including drugs and medical procedures, to make themselves more sexually desirable? If sexual objectification is harmful, surely the attempt to be objectified is part of the harm. Can someone identify a culture in which most women, given a choice, do not seek to be objectified? If objectification is normative, does it make sense to try to eradicate it? If it does, should the effort begin with preventing women from making themselves sexually desirable?

      Whether objectification exists and, if it does, whether it is harmful, are matters of opinion, not indisputable facts, such as that the Earth is not flat. How is it to be determined whose opinions should prevail? Not all women believe that objectification exists, and among those who think it does, not all think it harmful or undesirable.

  • That’s disgusting. “Artsy and edgy” ….what a load! Either grow up or be honest and hold your repugnant event at the Foxxy Lady. I hope the companies whose logos you used can sue the responsible entity.

  • Thank you to all sponsors and organization for supporting another amazing PABNAB!
    Every year, thousands of people appreciate the event and meet industry friends for a fun party at a NIGHTCLUB.
    It is saddening that an over-sensitive-attention-seeker woman decides to make such a public big deal (political?) about a couple of professional dancers who had their bodies artistically covered in paint.
    I am mostly saddened by the CENSORSHIP this provoked in the past days, with threats to the organization and sponsors.
    For all of you btt-hurt about this, take the opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and sponsor Female Biotech Organizations such as Women in Bio and the Life Science Women’s Conference (https://lifesciconf.com/). Perhaps Strayer-Benton can spare a tiny bit of Levanox’ big bucks. 😉

  • Oh, my. A mistake? I think not. Rather a really clever way to promote added “fakenews” by an industry that fails to attract realnews because of their current lack of innovation beneficial to the real world? Perhaps, those in the industry are so immersed in their limited tech world that they are ignorant of the real world. Or both……

    • I was reminded of the series on Netflix Streaming, Madman. The three significant theses were, illicit sexual liaisons ( including prostitution in some situations ); alcoholism; and serial relationships- including several marriages of one or more of the lead-men, and the objectification of women by all the men.

      I have heard often a “joke,” about sending men to an island with themselves, and if they were willing to behave the women would visit; all being conditional especially for the men to be held accountable for their behavior.

      I like the men who I know, and I would rather be with men than without any of them who are very different from the individuals who are described in this newsletter, and of course not like the ones who are the lead characters in Madmen.

      The stories are ancient, boring and not the least desirable for anyone who has a perspective that includes the spirit of the essential human being.

      I am not hopeful that this trend is ever going to end. Rather, I have realized that this type of behavior is what is referred to as regressive evolution. There seems to be more regression with respect to evolution than I am able to recall. With the current zeitgeist I am especially aware of the decline of our civilization, along with democracy and integrity and compassion and behavior.

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