J.P. Morgan Healthcare 2021: How to Make the Most of This Year’s Virtual Conference

J.P. Morgan Healthcare 2021: How to Make the Most of This Year’s Virtual Conference

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The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is going virtual in 2021. The conference, which attracts upward of 20,000 people, is one of the biggest biotech deal-making events. It’s considered an essential event for industry executives, bankers, analysts, and private and public investors.

It’s been criticized as being too crowded, too expensive, and too busy. Some San Francisco hotels charge attendees $100 an hour to use their lobby for meetings. The event has been referred to as the healthcare Hunger Games.

Here’s what can you expect from the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this year.

The Benefits of Going Virtual

The virtual J.P. Morgan conference could have some advantages:

  • Cost: No need to worry about booking flights or hotel rooms or reserving meeting space.
  • Convenience: Instead of racing through conference rooms, you can listen to multiple company presentations or be at multiple BYOD cocktail events, at the same time on multiple screens.
  • Coverage: New digital tools could facilitate increased activity around investor partnering meetings, due to attendees’ greater flexibility and willingness to host a full day of meetings from home.

The mechanics of the 2021 conference will remain relatively unchanged from prior years. Companies can still partake in corporate presentations, including live Q&A sessions. They’ll have access to one-on-one partnering meetings with investors and other companies in attendance.

BIO One-on-One Partnering is facilitating business development opportunities during JPM Week with its integrated videoconferencing system. It’s available to any qualified company that signs up, regardless of whether they are registered for a specific event during JPM Week. A curated, topic-driven networking series  allows attendees to interact face-to-face via videoconferencing in small groups.

Attendees will be able to use Inova Software’s Private Scheduler to schedule virtual meetings at JPM 2021 to discuss partnership and collaboration opportunities.

Startup Health will host a virtual Health Transformer Week (January 11-15), with daily virtual programs to connect investors, customers, experts, and peers.

The Pandemic Will Drive New Innovation

Biotech: R&D and biotech innovation will take center stage given the major focus on vaccine and therapeutic development related to COVID. We’ll see many companies present new data on their COVID treatments and vaccines.

Digital health: The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated several trends in digital health. Investors poured $4 billion in Q3 2020 into 97 digital health companies (per Rock Health).

Telemedicine remains a major trend. It’s an avenue to deliver healthcare safely, and it’s also a potential mechanism to deliver it at a much lower cost, which is a big focus right now.

As a response to the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services loosened its regulations on telehealth visits, which caused usage of remote-care platforms to spike significantly. Telehealth funding reached a record $2.8 billion in the third quarter of 2020 — a 73% increase from the previous quarter — across 162 deals.

While I expect more innovation in telemedicine, there are signs that its growth is slowing. Already we’re seeing the number of telehealth visits decline as a percent of all visits (now at about 6% overall), even with COVID-19 cases surging. Doctors I’ve spoken with caution me on the limits of telemedicine. Not all patient care will go virtual. In-person clinical exams aren’t going away.

Virtual care: Investors continue to pour money into home-based virtual care services like Medically Home, which just raised $40 million.

Other hot areas of digital health: prescription management and on-demand pharmacies, remote monitoring, patient triage, and advanced data analytics.

We’ll see new technologies to enable virtual collaboration for surgery. Avail just raised money for its platform that enables experts to collaborate virtually in real time, minimizing the number of people who have to be physically present in hospitals’ operating rooms.

Artificial intelligence (AI): More healthcare companies today incorporate AI into their products. Eko Health recently raised $65 million for its AI-powered tools to aid detection of heart conditions. The company uses sensors, telehealth, and machine-learning algorithms to help doctors spot conditions such as heart murmurs and heart-rhythm abnormalities.

AI will play an increased role in personalized medicine and genomics, transforming how we treat cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other disease.

More biopharma companies are relying on AI and machine learning to transform drug discovery (see Recursion Pharma). Healthcare AI companies received more than $2 billion in equity funding in Q3 2020 across 121 deals.

Women’s health is another hot area of investment. Funding in this category more than doubled in Q3 ’20, marking its second-strongest quarter since Q1 ’19. Investors are pouring money into femtech, software-powered solutions for period care, menstruation, infertility, and sexual and reproductive health.

A New Wave of Healthcare M&A

Healthcare M&A activity rebounded in Q3 2020 to historical levels after a drop in Q2. Some expect J.P. Morgan 2021 to be the beginning of a new wave of M&A.

The ongoing financial pressures of the pandemic and the global urgency to develop a COVID-19 vaccine could drive up pharmaceutical deal activity. Pharma companies under pressure to deliver high levels of growth will be looking to expand their pipeline of new drugs and technologies through M&A.

Several key themes will likely drive further consolidation: improved risk and compliance solutions, enhanced payer technologies, greater attention on post-acute models, and improved risk-bearing primary care services.

I expect to see pharma companies make more partnerships and acquisitions to bolster their data analysis and artificial intelligence capabilities. Consider last year’s partnerships between Novartis and Microsoft and Gilead and Glympse Bio.

Drug pricing and reimbursement will likely remain a big issue. There’s wide speculation about what the government under Joe Biden might do about drug pricing.

Digital health players will continue to attract strong M&A interest. August saw the year’s biggest health tech M&A deal, the Teladoc and Livongo merger ($18.3 billion).

I think we’ll see more deal activity from nontraditional healthcare players. Amazon just announced Amazon Pharmacy, a service that lets customers/patients purchase their prescriptions online, paying either in cash or with insurance. Apple and Google are making big investments in wearable health monitoring technology.

Hospitals and health systems: COVID has dealt severe financial challenges to hospitals and clinics, in particular specialty practices. There’s been a general aversion to accessing the healthcare system for elective procedures or even routine appointments.

Within healthcare services — hospitals, healthcare centers, physician groups, and outpatient surgical centers — companies are using M&A to increase size and scale to lower costs and to diversify so they aren’t crippled when reimbursement is cut for a particular service line.

More hospitals and health systems are partnering with market specialists to enhance value-based care and virtual health offerings.

Special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs): Finally, expect continued interest in SPACs. These financial vehicles have surged in popularity as alternative means to an IPO. SPACs could heighten private equity investor interest in the healthcare space by providing more attractive exit opportunities.


About Daniel Zahler

Daniel Zahler is an entrepreneur and executive with senior operating and board-level experience in enterprise software, fintech, biotech, and digital health. He began his career as a Wall Street analyst (Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Citi) focused on technology and media investments. As an entrepreneur, he helped launch industry-leading companies including AppNet (e-commerce analytics, acquired by Commerce One), RA Capital (healthcare investment firm, $2B+ in AUM), and NestEgg Wealth (fintech, acquired by Franklin Templeton). As founder of Picasso Health, he advises global healthcare companies on trends and opportunities in digital health, mental health, oncology, dermatology, and wearables/smart medical devices. He has provided strategic advice to Google (cloud computing and consumer finance), Facebook (AR/VR), Johnson & Johnson (digital health and medtech), and General Motors (electric cars/autonomous vehicles).

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