It’s Time for a New Kind of Pharma Conference

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By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

I think it’s a fair claim to say that Pixels & Pills has been to practically every Pharma-healthcare-digital-social-media event since 2009. Our goal, after all, is to deliver thought leadership from the frontlines of technology and new media. What better breeding grounds for this information than conferences that gather together different voices and different perspectives from the top of their respective fields? As a media property, we feel that it’s our obligation to bring you the freshest ideas in the industry, whenever and wherever they are. But after 1 1/2 years of non-stop event coverage, we have to admit: we’ve seen the absolute very best, and we’ve seen the less-than-par.

But we’re proud to say, we give our full support to those that really do get it right. For instance, our good friend Fard Johnmar is re-launching UnNiched this year, with a series of intimate breakfasts designed for attendees to collaborate and converse about the latest news in digital Pharma. In fact, the first one is in a few weeks (so register now before your seat gets snatched up!) We know that a lot of you out there are psyched to participate, because…well, we know a lot of you. We know that you love getting things done rather than just listening and absorbing information. But there are a few of you that probably were turned off by the idea of an intimate breakfast, and that’s a real shame. You’re probably thinking that you don’t want to stand out, that you won’t have anything to say. Or, you want to protect the thoughts and ideas you have. You go to conferences to blend in, feed off of other people’s enthusiasm, and some of you go to sell your brand. To those points, we ask: well, what are you doing in this industry, anyway? Really. Think about that.

One of our absolute favorite conferences last year was Digital Pharma East. In addition to an impressive roster of keynote speakers, like the influential Bob Garfield, the event was so full of groundbreaking ways to share and learn, our crew could hardly conduct interviews without being distracted by the wealth of informational activities. For instance, our good friend Shwen Gwee hosted an UnConference (we couldn’t make it, but we’re sure he did an amazing job). There was also a live #socpharm Tweetchat – imagine that! – moderated by our friend Eileen O’Brien that Kim took part in and shared her thoughts on Bayer’s effort to market to teens and young adults. The clever folks at Exl Pharma even turned the upstairs balcony of the main ballroom into a showcase of some of the most cutting-edge innovations in digital Pharma and healthcare, transforming the conference into a highly engaging, interactive experience.

As we go into another year of covering all the must-attend events in pharma, my question is: who’s going to set the precedent in 2011 for a new kind of pharma conference?

A great source of inspiration would be TEDMED. A subgroup of the amazing TED conferences, TEDMED brings together people to give short, fascinating talks on medical topics. Their focus on brilliant individuals, engaging conversation, broadly varied subjects and startlingly innovative thought makes it both fascinating and useful. Another great example is The Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Innovation Summit, where you can literally see the future of medicine: cutting-edge technologies that really do save lives and make the patient experience exponentially better.

This year, we’d love to see a conference that brought together just as many leading clinicians and scientists as the traditional gatherings – but was less an exercise in presenting results and more an exercise in brainstorming new questions and hypotheses. Why do all the conferences focus on the end of the scientific method, not the beginning?

The answer for that is largely because the scientific world is fiercely, ragingly competitive. Institutions fight for their reputations and their research dollars. But what if the pharma industry were to harness that drive and make it work for them?

Imagine a conference sponsored by PhRMA that offered totally unrestricted grant money, to the attending researchers and clinicians who came up with the best ideas, research projects that could affect the most patients, theories that could make the biggest difference.

Imagine the conversations if those learned minds were given an UnConference structure, or a great facilitator, or a set of questions whose answers could really change the world.

Isnt it possible that a meeting like that really could change the world? Isnt it worth a try?

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