Is JPM worth it? As the buzzy conference dies down, debate on its value rumbles on

The exorbitant cost of attending JPMorgan — from hotels and flights to coffee and meeting space — has long been a talking point for biopharma execs gathering in San Francisco every January. But as the industry’s signature networking confab fades out, the age-old question is once again in focus: Is it all worthwhile?

Bruce Booth

In a reflective article bemoaning the conference’s value and a negative stream of “excesses,” Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture gave an emphatic answer: No.

Booth, a 15-year veteran of the conference, said he won’t be returning for #JPM20 after this year’s JPMorgan week “reached a tipping point” for him.

“Who was the marketing genius at J.P. Morgan that picked an expensive looking gold pill with golden DNA as the logo for the year’s conference? The juxtaposition of shiny gold and our industry’s medicines in a world where healthcare costs are considered out of control is the pinnacle of tone deafness. […] Disciplined capital allocation appears a thing of the past; instead, it feels like the collective industry just wants more money, green money, dumb money… and gold pills.”

And this overzealous focus on financials — market sizes, revenues, M&A synergies, and deal values — seems to overshadow the industry’s mission to impact patients’ lives, Booth noted.

“There were no new Emily Whitehead’s, Creed Pettit’s, or Evelyn Villarreal’s to capture the essence of what we are doing as an industry,” he wrote, referring to young patients who became the faces of pioneering treatments like CAR-T and gene therapies for blindness and spinal muscular atrophy.

Yet, Booth argued, for all that JPM promises to bring in networking value, the return seems to be increasingly low given the deluge of superficial and largely unproductive meetings — at least for Atlas, which is focused on company creation and has traditionally devoted its time at JPM to reviewing portfolios of larger biopharma companies.

He conceded that others, such as companies raising money, might still find the dense networking opportunities valuable, a point quickly echoed by others on Twitter:

Meanwhile, others echoed his opinion — in line with the broader #MoveJPM movement — that the meeting should take place in a “more conducive location that can appropriately accommodate 15K+ people.”

That likely won’t happen any time soon, though, as JP Morgan has a long-term contract with the Westin St Francis hotel that will keep the conference in the same location for at least another 17 years, according to a STAT report.

So though Booth may be sounding a farewell to JPM, the annual gathering will be hard to shake off — even for his colleagues at Atlas: “(W)hile we’ve concluded a significant firm-level presence doesn’t make sense, other team members may attend as individual interests/needs/investments may warrant it,” he told me.

Image: Westin St. Francis Hotel. SHEHLA SHAKOOR for ENDPOINTS NEWS

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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