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BIO Int'l Convention returns to SD, bringing Clinton, Branson and $56.3M with it

After a six-year hiatus, the BIO International Convention is returning to San Diego in June and bringing with it 15,000 people, $56.3 million in economic benefits and some very big names.

Scott Whitaker

“San Diego is the home of innovation and the perfect place for us to do this event,” Scott Whitaker, chief operating officer and president of the BIO International Convention, said Wednesday at Janssen Labs. “We have great affiliate organizations here and partners that we’ve been working with throughout this process.”

San Diego hosted the conference in 2001 and 2008, but much has changed in the biotech and life sciences landscape since then.

This year’s conference at the San Diego Convention Center will feature two new zones on the exhibit floor in response to these new growth areas: a digital health zone focused on wireless health technology companies, in collaboration with the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance; and an innovation zone in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, focused on small startup companies.

Whitaker also said that Hillary Clinton is scheduled to be the second keynote speaker.

“We have two keynote sessions, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday of the event,” he said. “A few weeks ago we announced that Richard Branson would be speaking at our Tuesday event, and we’re very excited about that. … He will share his insights, sort of across all areas of business but also the health care space that he’s working in. And today we’re excited to announce that Hillary Clinton is going to be our second keynote speaker.”

Joe Panetta, CEO and president of San Diego’s Biocom, also elaborated on the changes the industry has seen since 2008, many of which have roots in San Diego.

“The whole concept, first of all, of personalized genetic medicine was something that we rarely -- if ever -- talked about in 2008,” Panetta said. “It was really more of a dream because the cost of genetic sequencing back then, we were looking at a $1 million price tag to sequence a genome, and today we’ve gotten it to $1,000 because of the work of companies like Illumina and Life Technologies.”

The ability to store and use all that data is also possible now, with hospitals and health care systems in San Diego starting to use genomics for more personalized care.

The previously mentioned role of wireless and telecommunications technology in the life sciences was also relatively unheard of six years ago. San Diego was a leading player there as well, with the WLSA headquartered here, not to mention the close proximity of so many biotech companies with major telecom players including Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Peregrine (Nasdaq: PPHM).

Most importantly though, to Panetta, is the collaboration among all these companies, universities and research institutions -- a trait he hopes to incubate at the convention.

“Our success, as I said, can largely be attributed to the collaborative spirit that lives and thrives here and that’s one of the reasons that we’re so excited to host BIO back here again in San Diego, so that we can share that collaborative spirit with people around the globe who will be here in attendance,” Panetta said. “We’re really hopeful that bringing together great minds from all over the world at BIO will be a catalyst for new collaboration moving forward, and, hopefully, new partnerships here in San Diego.”

More concretely, the conference is expected to bring $56.3 million in economic benefits to the city: an estimated $24.8 million in direct spending, $8.3 million in lodging, $3.4 million in food and beverage and $1.6 million in retail spending.

“In terms of the economic impact, this is going to be one of the top conventions held in San Diego this year,” said Francis Barraza, director of appointments for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was scheduled to speak Wednesday but was detained by the local wildfire emergency.

“It may not be as big as Comic-Con with its 130,000 attendees, or be quite as colorfully dressed with costumes, but those going to the BIO convention spend twice as much as Comic-Con visitors,” Barraza said.

The BIO International Convention is expected to draw attendees from 47 states and 65 countries, and will be held at the Convention Center from June 23 to 26.

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