Mens et manus. It’s Latin for “mind and hands” and just happens to be the school motto of MIT. I suspect these words are etched somewhere above a concrete arch that serves as an entrance into one of the halls of learning of this renowned technical university; much the way some of the world’s most famous scientific thinkers’ names are also emblazoned on many of MIT’s buildings. Scientists like Darwin, Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, and Pasteur who made use of those words and were responsible for some of the greatest scientific achievements known to us. Discoveries and ideas that serve as the platform from which modern-day scientists—many of whom are MIT students and graduates—engage in similar work.
MIT served as a springboard for many of the established biotechnology companies that dot the Cambridge landscape and hundreds of its grads occupy key scientific and leadership positions within those organizations. Cambridge has become synonymous with scientific discovery, growth, and leadership; and yet, when companies like Genzyme, Alnylam, Acceleron, or Biogen Idec think of combining their science with another industry partner, one of the ways that they do this is to hop on a plane each January and fly across three time zones to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. This seminal business event attracts the industry’s best and brightest business minds, and serves as the launching pad for the industry each year. The news of JP Morgan acts as a clarion call that biotech and pharma companies are in the hunt for business and scientific collaborators, and during the three days that make up JP Morgan, the hallways, conference rooms, hotel suites, bars, and restaurants are abuzz with talk of milestones, royalties, and term sheets.
I love this yearly injection of excitement and hope, and no matter the state of the economy come away from the conference thinking that this will be the year of life science. And yet, each year as I fly back east to my home in Boston, I ponder the same thought: “Why not hold JP Morgan in Boston?”
As life science sectors go that are representative of the entire industry; Boston and San Francisco are 1 and 1-A; with perspective on preeminence based upon the coast where you live. Both cities are innovation-driven and embrace science as part of the internal fabric. Boston and San Francisco can each point to success in our industry and I suspect are fairly evenly matched when it comes to the number of successful companies developed. Despite this equanimity within the marketplace there appears to be an established and, in my mind, unfortunate bias towards holding this meeting in only one location. It’s time that the meeting planners recognized this fact and created an equal playing field for this meeting and established an alternating, east coast-west coast scenario.
As a biotech sector and a meeting backdrop, the Boston-Cambridge nexus has little competition. The very successful BIO meeting which was held this past June in Boston is testimony to our ability to welcome a global biopharm audience—an audience much larger than JP Morgan, I might add. We are every inch the commercial and social sector that is San Francisco, and despite the mercurial weather that befalls this area in January, it should be an obvious choice for JP Morgan that in order to best portray the biopharm sector, a bi-coastal perspective is warranted.
Mens et manus. How fitting that a school that has historically produced some of the most exceptional scientific minds the world has known was, and continues to be, fueled by such simple and elegant words. Science is a sublime blending of the mind’s intellect as told through the hands which capture ideas and turn them into words, formulas, algorithms, and scientific theory. Theory and thought are then used to create machines, technology, and medicines for our betterment. And much of the science that propels and grows the global biopharmaceutical industry had its genesis at MIT, where in cramped classrooms and offices, many of the ideas that have allowed renown scientists like Robert Langer and Philip Sharp to form countless biopharmaceutical companies continue to echo throughout the area and call our industry eastward.
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