JPM sound bites, vol. 1: Couch shopping, cool drones and 'smelling the turkey'

It's never a dull week in San Francisco when the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference rolls around. (Carly Helfand)

SAN FRANCISCO—It’s time to bring one of our favorite ASCO traditions to JPM.

If you couldn’t be on the ground at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, never fear—we’ve lovingly compiled all the zingers you missed in presentations and interviews we attended throughout the week. (Looking for actual coverage of the event? We did plenty of that, too, and you can find it all here.)

  • J.P. Morgan may not have hit record-setting attendance this year, but the event does seem to be expanding geographically—beyond the walls of the Westin St. Francis, that is. “I’m thinking—I’m weirdly going to say, right before the financial crash, ’08 or ’09, you could no longer sit in the chairs in the lobby of the Westin,” Xencor CEO Bassil Dahiyat mused. “Now, you can’t meet by the clock anymore. [It’s changed from] people centered around the J.P. Morgan conference in the hotel to nobody giving a care about the conference and suddenly all the pharmas are here in business development meetings in every hotel. If you could pinpoint it on the removal of the clock—they MOVED the clock tower. There’s no clock anymore. No one passes into there. Nobody cares.”
  • Related: “You know how people have been doing meetings in the food court of the Macy’s and it’s getting really crowded?” Turning Point Therapeutics CEO Athena Countouriotis asked. (Editor’s note: Yes, yes we do.)  Countouriotis heard a new idea for finding some quiet space: Hit up the furniture store and take your meeting on a couch while pretending you’re couch shopping. If anyone comes and asks you to leave, protest that you’re still testing out the couch. For your next meeting? Try out a different couch, obviously. After all, who could make a decision after testing just one?
  • Speaking of furniture, theories are still flying about where hotels stash all those mattresses to make room for meetings during JPM. Cygnal CEO Pearl Huang’s take: “Well, I thought maybe they’d stack them and put a pea in there and the CEOs jump on top and guess where the pea is. I don’t know what the prize would be if they guessed correctly.”
  • What’s the biggest mistake pharma companies have made over the last several years? “They asked managed care what would be a good price … and then ignored them. I promise you, nobody told Sanofi and Regeneron that $14,000 was a good price for a PCSK9,” Esperion Chief Commercial Officer Mark Glickman said.
  • Bluebird bio may be pleased with the progress it’s made on three FDA submissions it's plotting for 2020, but some of its shareholders won’t be impressed until approvals come through. “I talked to an investor who said, 'I don’t want to watch you put the turkey in the oven, I want to smell it,'" CEO Nick Leschly said during bluebird’s Tuesday presentation. “I don’t know what that means”—cue laughter—but bottom line, the fact that bluebird is that close to the U.S. market with those indications "is hugely validating" for the company, Leschly said. “Let’s focus on that and you can go buy yourself a turkey,” he concluded.
  • J.P. Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov called Regeneron’s presentation “one of his favorite presentations every year” while introducing CEO Len Schleifer and Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos. “I wish your favoritism would show up in your ratings,” quipped Schleifer, whose humorous jabs are a hallmark of his JPM presentations.
  • Kasimov’s colleague Chris Schott got some light ribbing, too, from Pfizer chief Albert Bourla. “How do you get confident that you have the assets you need within Pfizer and the resources external to Pfizer to be able to sustain … growth over a longer period of time?” Schott asked Bourla during a Tuesday fireside chat. “First of all, it’s very refreshing to see Wall Street worrying about long-term growth,” Bourla shot back.
  • Teva CEO Kåre Schultz outlined his ambitions in China—a market his company has historically neglected—during the Israeli drugmaker’s Monday presentation. “I once had a colleague that said that Teva has successfully retained an opportunity in China by basically never doing anything,” he said.
  • With its sickle-cell treatment Adakveo recently approved, Novartis is working to deliver the treatment to rural areas in Ghana that are inaccessible by roads. “We’re also using drones, and I’ve learned that drones are really cool,” CEO Vas Narasimhan said during his company’s Monday presentation.