BIO International in San Diego: Sunny with scattered economic clouds


The biopharma universe gathered in San Diego last week for the first face to face BIO International conference in three years. Turn-out was good but below the get-together in Philadelphia in 2019. That one topped out above 17,000 attendees according to the BIO website; whisper numbers this time around were in the region of 12,000. I spoke to people who sat this one out due to positive Covid tests, non-vaccination (two doses and a booster were required to attend) as well as those who simply didn’t feel the need to travel when zoom meetings have become so de rigueur. For my part, the opportunity to walk the floor, renew old acquaintances and make new ones sounded like more fun than another week in the home office, especially with always pleasant San Diego as the venue.

Key observations from the trip:

Absentees notwithstanding, there were plenty of people looking to do business. Licensing always takes the lead at BIO, and we had a number of meetings with companies looking to partner interesting projects.

Fund raising is another staple at BIO. From start-ups looking to seed a business to more established companies looking to fund a phase three trial, money is always in demand. I’m often asked about supply – now and in the future.  Are markets open? The answer for good projects is yes.

Working at a firm with life science and technology verticals, I take note when the two converge, and these days, I’m taking a lot of notes. BIO was another reminder that technology and digital innovation are running hot in biopharma. From algorithms that predict economic outcomes, AI to accelerate drug development and big data to power it all, technology is increasingly at the center of the industry.

Meanwhile outside the convention center, economic news was poor. US stock indices slid into bear market territory and the Federal Reserve raised interest rates 75 basis points with more on the way to combat inflation over eight percent. This against a back-drop of ongoing supply chains challenges and a land war in Eastern Europe.  Broader economic growth seems likely to slow around the world with fears of recession growing. Nevertheless, the mood at BIO was positive. This is a non-cyclical sector, after all.  Confidence in continued growth for the sector remains high.

A caveat to the above: amongst the biopharma services sector I sensed some quickened pulses.  Outsourcing has been an ever-increasing segment of the biopharma ecosphere for over a decade now.  We all know what they say about rising tides, but could a reversal erase the gains of the last few years and bring an end to the boom for CDMOs, CROs and other service providers? No one is ready to go that far, but at least one executive told me new business would be harder to come by soon. If you like your optimism with a dose of moderation, this might be the place to look.

After four days, 40+ meetings, and some nice dinners with clients and colleagues we packed our bags and went home. For me headed back to Atlanta it was goodbye sunny and 70°F, hello hot and humid (97°F / 97%). 

See you next year in Boston.