A main facet of the 2010 Bio-Partnering Conference at the Westin Princeton Hotel (see main story, page 31), is that its structure allows for a level of networking unavailable to biotechs on a normal day. Instead of connecting with one or two companies at a time and from afar, companies attending such conferences are able to meet face-to-face with dozens of companies looking to buy, looking to sell, or looking to cooperate.

Partnering conferences, says Pamela Demain, executive director of corporate licensing for Merck, are like “speed dating” and are very efficient. “If you are going to do a tour in San Diego, you can maybe see three companies a day,” she says. “If you go to one of these meetings and schedule a company every half hour, you can see 10 or 15 in a day.” At the recent Bio Conference in Chicago, Merck had 400 private meetings in three days.

Twenty-five to thirty Merck specialists from each therapeutic area were matched with geographical scientific scouts for each meeting. A biotech from the United Kingdom, for example, might be matched with the U.K. scout and, say, an infectious disease person.

Annari Lyles, senior vice president and head of business development at Genmab, a biotech company based in Denmark with a U.S. office on North Harrison Street, also is glad to see New Jersey play host to a conference centering on bio-partnering. “It’s kind of like a computer dating system,” she says, adding that BioNJ has purchased software developed especially for partnering conferences. “It allows you to look at profiles of other people at the conference, send meeting invitations, and set up a schedule,” she says. Then all that is necessary are some tables or booths where potential partners can meet up.

“It’s a great way to keep up relationships,” says Lyles, who explains that companies typically have about 30 conversations going on around several different projects. “Genmab might be looking for targets at the same time it is looking for partners for clinical programs,” says Lyles. Meetings like this one offer a chance to touch base, even if it is only as part of an ongoing conversation that will not gel for another two years. Lyles adds that Princeton is well located between Boston and Washington, which also have significant concentrations of pharma activity.

“I never come back saying, ‘That was a waste of time,’” she says. A meeting may provide an opportunity to meet representatives of a company that Merck has been in contact with or a partnership that will not come to fruition for a couple years. Or Merck may meet with the CEO of a biotech who wants to get a partner in the next year, and Merck will have to decide whether that makes sense for its own goals. But, adds Demain, “we don’t do deals at a conference.”

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