The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference kicks off on Monday. It’s the one that everyone in biotech has circled on their calendar a year in advance. It’s not because there is a frenzy of news; journalists operate under the assumption–usually correct– the week ahead of the conference is for news, while the conference is for speculation, drinking and networking.
But amidst the smog of gossip, there are a few absolute truths:
1. Whatever is Hottest is Almost Certainly Overhyped. Each year, there is a technology or therapeutic area that ends up being on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Last year it was nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Past years have seen hyperventilating over RNA interference or Obamacare. Some of these stories pan out. Some don’t. But the level of volume at J.P. Morgan is a lousy crystal ball.
2. Those With the Most Interesting Perspectives Don’t Make Drugs. J.P. Morgan is about looking into the future (“the outlook for 2015” will appear about a hundred thousand times in stories and analyst notes around the conference), but the folks who has the most invested in accurately describing the future of medicine tend to be the ones delivering the care, not the ones delivering the drugs. The not-for-profit track, filled with hospitals and health systems, often paints a far more fascinating picture of the future than biopharma does.
3. Breakouts > Presentations. There is something special about seeing questions asked face-to-face, with no script. That’s what happens in the cramped breakout rooms. So the folks who really want to go deep slide out of presentations 10 minutes early and grab prime seating in the breakout room.
4. Parties Are Irrelevant. People Are Not. J.P. Morgan novices tend to get worried about getting into the “right” parties; an informal look puts the shindig count somewhere in the 70s. But there are no “right” parties (unless you have an independent interest in, say, circus performers or Scotch being served by gentlemen in kilts), only “right” people to see. If you know who those people are, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, no amount of party-hopping will help.
5. You “Win” J.P. Morgan in June, Not January. Most people judge their J.P. Morgan performance by the number of meetings they hold, and most attendees would be happy to share the precise number of one-on-ones they’ve booked. But swapping business cards for four days means nothing if there’s no followup until everyone arrives in San Francisco in early 2016. The players who use meetings as a springboard to a phone call in February, a lunch in March and deal in June are the ones who maximize their time. Quality, not quantity, people.
Look forward to seeing you all there.