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Philly Firsts

October 2015 Vol 8, No 7 - Editorial
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Maybe it’s because I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary as a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University. Or maybe it’s because our Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) fellowship program now boasts more than 45 graduates (who are executives at global pharmaceutical and life sciences companies). Finally, maybe it’s just because I’m headed for my 60th birthday! Whatever the reason, I’m more reflective these days than ever.

Late spring and early summer in Philadelphia was a time for more reflection as our city hosted both the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) and The Bio International Convention (BIO) 2015 meeting. Our College of Population Health was deeply involved in both of these important national meetings, and I’d like to highlight certain aspects of our role.

I can honestly say that I was present at the birth of ISPOR, having attended the first 3 meetings—all of which were held in Philadelphia—in the early 1990s. Total attendance back then was just under 300; this past May, that number jumped to more than 3000, including hundreds from overseas. In fact, our college and its previous incarnation, the Department of Health Policy at Jefferson Medical College, have had a nearly perfect attendance record at ISPOR since its inception.

This year, with our college booth positioned just outside the entrance to the massive exhibit hall, I had an opportunity to people-watch from a nearly perfect perch. Our booth had tremendous traffic, and I had conversations with doctoral-level trainees from more than a dozen countries. It was fascinating to roam the exhibit hall and marvel at the growth of pharmacoeconomics worldwide. The industry is now characterized by a focus on big data, patient engagement in clinical trials, and the use of pharmacoeconomics in everyday clinical decision-making. I was very proud of our current HEOR fellows and faculty who presented multiple abstracts and posters.

In what has become something of a tradition, we held a reunion of graduates from our HEOR fellowship program who were in attendance at ISPOR. After a hard day of listening to literally scores of presentations and walking several miles, criss-crossing the exhibit floor, we all enjoyed a happy hour reunion co-sponsored by our colleagues at Comprehensive Health Insights, a wholly owned subsidiary of Humana.

Just a few weeks later, for the first time in over a decade, Philadelphia hosted 16,000 attendees at BIO 2015—an annual meeting focused on biotechnology and the life sciences. This year nearly 70 countries and practically every state in the United States were represented on the exhibit floor. BIO 2015 dwarfed ISPOR with 1800 exhibitors in 150,000 square feet in our beautiful state-of-the-art convention center, and nearly 750 speakers addressed attendees in 125 sessions.1

Although the numbers are staggering, they don’t tell the whole story. As I spent nearly 2 days walking the floors of BIO 2015, I continued in my reflective mode. One of the highlights, from my perspective, was the popular Start-Up Stadium.2 Here seed-stage companies were given the opportunity to pitch their ideas directly to potential investors, venture philanthropy groups, and other attendees from across the country and, by video, from around the world. They got instant feedback from judges who interacted with the nearly 30 start-up businesses that made presentations. Picture the popular TV show Shark Tank on steroids and one gets an idea of what Start-up Stadium was really like.

I also spent time at the booth from the People’s Republic of China and engaged in multiple conversations with experts in genomic mapping from that rapidly developing nation. I strolled over to the booth from India and was amazed at the jaw-dropping size and scope of their booth, and the large number of companies that were represented. The scientists and investors from Brazil rounded out my quick tour of the rapidly developing middle-class infrastructure in these critical countries, sometimes referred to as “BRIC”—Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Maybe one day the College of Population Health will recruit its new HEOR fellows directly from these countries.

After my quick world tour of Brazil, India, and China, I then focused on our own state of Pennsylvania.

Biotechnology is an important part of the Philadelphia economic engine. Our state was also a prominent part of the exhibit hall, as Philadelphia was the host city for the meeting, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf attended the meeting and I had an opportunity to quickly shake his hand as well. Once inside the Pennsylvania booth, I had a fascinating conversation with representatives from a Pittsburgh-based company called Helomics. An outgrowth of the University of Pittsburgh, Helomics describes itself as the “next generation in personalized healthcare.” The company’s handout material was fascinating, detailing an array of readily available, off-the-shelf genetic tests. We’ve come a long way since BIO 2005.

The energy on the exhibit floor at both ISPOR and BIO was palpable. It was also sobering to realize that many of the scientists were about the age of my adult children! I consider myself lucky to live in Philadelphia for many reasons, but having both ISPOR and BIO just several weeks apart and within walking distance of our College was a tremendous perk. Our HEOR fellowship reunion that brought nearly 30 of our graduates together for one evening felt like time travel to me, and I left feeling extremely proud of the accomplishments of our graduates. After all, this is what my own legacy is all about.

As always, I am interested in your views. You can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

1. Anonymous. Nearly 16,000 attend BIO 2015. Phila Bus J. June 26, 2015;8.
2. Kathol R. Start-ups get chance to shine at BIO convention. Phila Inquirer, July 10, 2015:A17. Accessed September 22, 2015.

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Last modified: August 30, 2021