Every January, the week of the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM week) is a whirlwind — oftentimes in the literal sense, with players from across the life science industry dodging the downpour in Union Square as we splash our way to back-to-back meetings.
Who would have thought that a year ago, when we were having the usual conversations about the expense of attending and whether it is worth it, that these issues would be solved for us: JPM week went virtual, following suit with the other conferences since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic.
Folks, #JPM21 is officially virtual. Jan. 11-14, 2021.
— Adam Feuerstein (@adamfeuerstein) September 10, 2020
Those in the biotech community know that JPM is more than a banking conference. It’s not something that can be recreated virtually because its power rests in far more than hourlong PowerPoint presentations. It is an expensive, chaotic, and exhausting week after which I, like many other biotech execs, increasingly ask, “Should I attend next year?”
The redeeming quality of JPM week is the connections it makes possible, both new and rekindled. This year, I won’t miss the hectic post-holiday craze, and part of me is relieved that the physical meeting is canceled. But a bigger part of me will miss the near-constant greetings and running into friends at the stoplight on Post Street, at one of the countless networking parties, or late night at the diner. This is what has made JPM week invaluable to me in the past, and that’s impossible to reinvent in a virtual environment.
That said, we must keep the spirit of JPM alive in 2021. It’s critical for the biotech industry.
Why? This industry is nourished by relationships, especially ones that go decades back. The field is close-knit and the community small, so those of us in it rely on JPM-types of interactions to help keep our passion alive and new, game-changing ideas flowing. These relationships are the glue that helps hold the industry together.
What makes this industry click is the common mission of those in it — to do better for patients — and the interconnected web they’ve built as a result. The people and companies in this ecosystem share a DNA that’s entirely unique. Compare it to the tech world: a next-generation iPhone is cool, no doubt about that, but it doesn’t represent the same passion point as a next-generation cancer treatment that will save thousands of lives.
The community is woven together with a shared passion for excellent science and doing better for human health. And these threads — these relationships — are strengthened during JPM week. The industry’s annual family reunion serves as a reminder to nurture the connection points the industry depends on.
For many people, the pandemic has made many relationships, work or otherwise, stagnate. Let’s use even a virtual JPM week to maintain the relationships that help hold the industry together.
There’s no doubt many JPM-related events — Biotech Showcase, investor presentations, and even happy hours — will be curated in a virtual environment. But I’m going beyond that this year. I’ve identified the 10 to 15 people I would have, in a pre-pandemic world, reached out to before or at JPM, offering to grab coffee or lunch or a drink, but this time via Zoom. These aren’t people I don’t know but would like to. They are existing touchpoints and true industry partners. They are the people I genuinely want to check in with, not from a business perspective but to help keep my biotech relationships alive. If we all do something along these lines, we can maintain the essential relationships that keep this industry strong.
These conversations can be about anything, whether it’s a fun and casual catch-up or predictions for 2021 or even the latest business idea. The outcome of these calls isn’t necessarily something concrete. The outcome is the connection itself.
I realize that yet another Zoom meeting won’t be the same as having coffee in person or come anywhere near those happenstance Post Street run-ins during JPM week. But it’s a way to nurture the touchpoints that may have fallen off the radar this year. And the work we do is far too important for that to continue happening.
Carin Canale-Theakston is CEO of CanaleComm, a California-based communications company that works with life science and digital health companies.