These are Three Storylines We’re Watching at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

by Adam Silverstein

It’s that time of year again. We’re days away from the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. All eyes will be on this gathering of the world’s biotechnology start-ups, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and health insurers. And it means that what company leaders say and the stories they tell media and investors, is incredibly important. A muddled message, no matter how small, can have big consequences.

 This year, we’ll be paying extra attention to which companies tell exceptional stories at the conference. Who will have a message that’s clear and resonates, no matter how far it’s dispersed? Who will communicate authentically, and within a complex, electric atmosphere, who can communicate optimism?

 My colleagues and I will have more on this in the days to come, but for now, here are some of the stories we’ll be following at the conference and beyond. And follow me (@a_silverstein) and my colleague Mike Devine (@michaelsdevine) on Twitter for real-time updates!

 Is the biotech crystal ball hopeful or doubtful?

In 2016, being a biotech investor was not pleasurable. At the 2016 JPM Healthcare Conference, the NBI opened at its lowest level in years in a preview of the full year. According to BioWorld, collective sector equities decreased 20 percent in 2016, representing one of its worst 12-month periods in several years. But December was a bright spot with 97 deals, four of which topped $1bn or more in value (again according to BioWorld). Deal making always drives media coverage at JPM, but we’ll be looking at whether this year’s deals are translated as optimism and momentum for biotech.

 What’s the FDA going to look like?

There’s much concern and debate about what a new FDA commissioner will mean for the speed at which drugs are approved and the types of data drug companies will have to provide in order for those approvals to happen. My colleague Richard Sorian, who leads our Washington, D.C. healthcare practice, will have more on that later. But at JPM, we expect there to be some consternation about what happened (or more accurately, what didn’t happen) in 2016.

The regulatory agency approved just 22 new medicines this past year (the worst since 2010), compared to an all-time high of 45 in 2015 and 44 in 2014, according to Jon Carroll at Endpoints. What does that mean for innovation in the industry in 2017? And was last year just a bump in the road, or is there some inherent weakness in the industry’s approach to getting drugs approved? Who will emerge to tell a story of optimism in a sea of naysayers?

 How will the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries regain public trust?

It’s been a difficult two years for the industry’s reputation, with no shortage of sensational headlines and heavy animosity towards drug pricing. Of course, drug pricing and its relationship to value provided is one of the most complex areas in all of healthcare. But the labor that goes into making a medicine takes time and money, a lot of it. That hasn’t been something that’s easily understood by the public, but perhaps this is the year it changes. It will take a collective effort and brilliant communication to educate the public that we need innovative medicines to make life better for millions.