By Steve Usdin
Contributing Editor

WASHINGTON - Some of biotechnology's top executives quietly gathered in Washington last Thursday, during Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Donna Shalala's confirmation hearings, to present the industry's case to Judith Feder, chief of health care reform for President-elect Bill Clinton's transition team.

Synergen President and CEO Jon Saxe; Genentech President CEO Kirk Raab; Roche Pharmaceutical Division President Herbert Conrad; and Harry H.H. Penner Jr., executive vice president of Novo Nordisk's North American unit, flew to the capital on less than 48 hours' notice in response to an invitation to the Industrial Biotechnology Association to explain its positions to the Clinton team. James Grant, chairman T Cell Sciences, attended the group's preparatory sessions, but did not attend the conference itself.

The transition team imposed a cloak of secrecy on the meeting, barring participants from discussing the rendezvous, according to IBA Director Richard Godown.

The gathering was the latest in a string of biotechnology industry efforts, extending to the early days of the Democratic presidential primaries, to educate Clinton and shape his policies. The industry, which was born and nurtured under Republican administrations, has been scrambling to adapt itself to the new era that begins this week with Clinton's inaguration.

Biotechnology is at the intersection of two of Clinton's highest priorities: health care reform and economic revitalization through high-tech entrepreneurialism. Its leaders are simultaneously afraid of being crushed in the rush to slash health care costs and exhilarated by the prospect of the incentives to high-technology investment that Clinton has championed.

The industry itself seems poised for a new, more mature role in the political arena, according to executives and participants from inside the Beltway, resulting from generally low-key efforts to establish a political base and organize its voice.

Reaching out to Clinton

Mark Simon, biotechnology analyst at Robertson Stephens & Co., was an early Clinton backer. Simon converted Chairman Sanford Robertson to the