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Biotech Banker Predicts More Meetings But Fewer Attendees

SAN FRANCISCO, May 29 - Steven Burrill, CEO of life sciences merchant bank that bears his name, hears a lot of noise.


The noise, in this case, is the buzz of people trying to figure out how to use emergent biotech tools to develop drugs. And as Burrill sees it, the growing number of scientific meetings is causing the noise to grow louder.


Companies have "upregulated their conference programs," Burrill said in a recent interview with GenomeWeb. "There's a lot more scientific meetings, technical meetings, business meetings, investment bankers meetings, general meetings all surrounding this base. It's kicked up in the last two years."


The flip side to more meetings, though, may be fewer people attending them, he said.


Sept. 11 "gave a lot of the big companies reason to cut back [on meeting attendance], which they did," he said. "It's tougher and tougher for people to figure out what's the right venue for them, for whatever they're trying to accomplish."


Burrill himself was forced to cancel his company's "System Biology: Genomics/Proteomics" meeting slated to kick off here today.


"My mistake in scheduling this was we had it essentially a week before BIO," said Burrill, referring to the Biotechnology Industry Organization-sponsored meeting that runs June 9 to June 12 in Toronto. "And you've got 15,000 people going to Toronto and a lot of people said 'Well, I'll pick up what I need in Toronto.'"


The Systems Biology meeting was rescheduled for the fall, Burrill said.


So will the noise caused by all the new technology and knowledge abate any time soon?


"We have this massive new array of technology [that is] really driven off our understanding or genomics," said Burrill. "As we pull systems biology together I think you'll see the integration and the value. But right now you have a cacophony of technology, and because of the level of that noise I think a lot of people are trying to figure out, both investors and companies big and small, how this is all going to fit together."


That understanding, however, may not necessarily translate into fewer meetings, said Burrill; once they are born, meetings "seem to have their own life."

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