What to Watch at the 2019 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

January 7, 2019

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The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco starts today. More casually known as “JPM,” it is the year’s must-attend event of the healthcare world.

Billions of dollars are at stake. At JPM, leaders of healthcare companies and organizations stand in front of investors to persuade and demonstrate why they should risk capital. Say the right thing at the right time to the right people, and your company’s fortunes could change.

The competition is high and the noise is loud. It’s not easy to get in front of the “right people” when your competitors do, too. In addition, journalists are a crucial conduit to reach far beyond conference halls and meeting rooms. With so much information – hundreds of companies will flood communication channels with information – it’s hard to know what really matters.

Lastly, while it’s sometimes forgotten, what happens at JPM has a real impact on anyone who depends on a medicine to stay healthy, a hospital to perform a surgery, or a chemist or biologist who wants to invent a therapy that will save someone’s life.

Here’s what we’ll be watching, and stay tuned for more.

The news cycle for JPM already started. How long will it last, and will early announcements drown out other companies’ news?

On Thursday, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced it would acquire Celgene in a cash and stock transaction with an equity value of approximately $74 billion. According to the trade publication BioWorld, if the acquisition is completed, it would be the largest M&A deal in biopharma history.

For JPM attendees, it’s almost a yearly tradition to hope for a large M&A announcement but leave disappointed. Perhaps this deal, judging by the amount of media attention it’s already received, bucks the trend. But what will “Part 2” of the story beat JPM, and can other companies breakthrough? Celgene is historically the first company to present at JPM, and this year is no different. You can bet their presentation on Monday at 7:30 a.m. PT will be standing-room only.

The FDA can’t continue its record-setting pace if it isn’t open for business.

The FDA was extremely productive last year, approving 59 new molecular entities, an all-time high for the agency. New drug approvals make or break a company’s business. But with the government experiencing a partial shutdown, the FDA, and the companies who depend on it, is at a distinct disadvantage.

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has (as well-documented by my colleague Mark Senak) been an excellent, even prolific, communicator, hasn’t let the shutdown stop him. He’s used Twitter extensively over the last week to issue “guidance by tweet.” But even he cannot prevent some activities from grinding to a halt. Most importantly, a government shutdown means the FDA cannot accept any regulatory submissions for new drugs, biologics or medical devices that require a fee payment – unless the required fee was paid before Dec. 22 when the last continuing resolution expired.

Who can grab our attention?

As professional communicators, we’re always looking for who can execute what we feel is a vitally important skill. We’ve seen plenty of smart, capable executives get in front of a packed room that may as well have been empty. Minutes in, attendees are scrolling through their phones or checking their laptops. For many CEOs, their JPM presentation is the most important one they’ll make in 2019. Who will take full advantage? Who will grab our attention and not be afraid to take a risk by using video, interactive images or other engaging tools? And who will also be deft enough to use social media to make sure the company is visible beyond the walls of the conference room?

FleishmanHillard will be on the ground in San Francisco this week. As communicators, we’ll be paying close attention to how companies communicate and what captures widespread attention. Our healthcare team will be sharing a daily report highlighting announcements and conversations at the conference. If you’d like to receive the updates, send an email to FH.JPM.Healthcare@fleishman.com.