Ebb & Flow

Investors look to the JPMorgan conference to kick off the year for life sciences, and last week's event in San Francisco did not disappoint. The nearly 5,500 "official" attendees made for packed halls and stuffed rooms, not counting the unregistered hordes flooding the lobby and offsite venues. And the enthusiasm at this year's event - officially the 22nd Annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference - was apparent to anyone who set foot in the lobby. The rebound in the market certainly helped the zeitgeist: buysiders are sitting on profits for the first time in several years, and VCs are no longer being constantly asked to catch the proverbial falling knife.

"Private valuations are creeping up," said one VC who asked to go unnamed and went on to suggest that this was putting some pep in the step of VCs and private company management at the conference. Along those lines, a spate of VCs announced new life science funds last week, and there was marked venture activity in the space (see below).

On the presentation front, there were 271 presenting companies from the biotech, pharma, medtech and healthcare services sectors, 214 of which were public and 57 of which were private.

Most of the private biotechs had a late-stage bent, with some of the names on many of the short lists of likely IPO filers for 2004. These included derm play Barrier, ion-channel drug developer Icagen, and metabolic play Biovitrum.

Apart from Sweden's Biovitrum, there was only a handful of European biotech companies, including German antibody play Micromet and Switzerland's Basilea, which specializes in infectious diseases and dermatology.

Off Broadway status

JPMorgan continued to put its stamp on the conference, with an increasing number of healthcare service plays presenting. That trend

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