Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

The invisible conference

Posted by stevepog on 26 October, 2009

It’s not easy for any large gathering of people to almost completely bypass the interweb these days but the conference I attended last Thursday seemed to have achieved the anonymity MI6 spies could only dream of.

Sure, there are thousands of conferences (in the real world and online) that go on daily in this city and others round the world but even the smallest and most insignificant seem to have a hashtag dedicated to them on Twitter, a Facebook page and at least 20 hits on an average Google search.

Unless the details being discussed are a matter of national security, in an age when even the BNP’s secret agendas are being retweeted, it did seem odd that an international biotech meeting (intelligently titled Biotech 09), attended by government and industry leaders, was virtually nonexistent on the web.

And yes, while it was very dry with only a few speakers who deigned to tell a joke (thank you, Sir Mark Walport, Wellcome Trust director) and way too many sales pitches disguised as serious industry updates, there were still some very interesting, newsworthy or at the least bloggable points being made.

Conference sponsor PepTcell’s CEO Gregory Stoloff tackled the UK government policy on pandemic flu, warning the audience of impending doom if New Labour didn’t approve his company’s flu drug for general consumption. While a bit theatrical (in the ‘Merchant of Venice’ rather than ‘Avenue Q’ sense), the stats quoted from the southern hemisphere’s winter experience of pandemic flu were thought-provoking and slightly scary: 1 in 3  down under caught the flu and 1 in 25 were hospitalised. If the numbers were converted for the UK population, at least 16,000 would need intensive care – a slight problem given there will only be 4000 intensive care beds in the UK by Christmas.

Sir Mark nicely alluded to the NHS’s current inability to contribute to the ‘future knowledge economy’, in his opinion owing to the masses of patient data the NHS collates but does not use to assist biotech development.

A Socttish accent and attitude can help to liven the atmosphere and Fergus McKenzie from ITI Life Sciences did an admirable job of making their £9.6 million stem cell technology program interesting enough to actually attract some rare audience questions.

At this point I’d try to post a link to another blog/news site with more informative discussion on the conference but, as you might have guessed,  there isn’t any I could find. Note to the organisers: invisibility doesn’t mean exclusivity and if no one is talking about you, it generally means they don’t find you interesting.

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