1:47 PM
 | 
Jun 12, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Politics & Policy

BIO chair outraged by nude dancer party

An industry party held during the BIO annual meeting in Boston has been excoriated by the trade organization for featuring nude or partially clothed female dancers.

The trade organization’s chairman called on the party’s sponsors to account for their participation at the June 6 event, which was not affiliated with BIO 2018.

The Party at Bio Not Associated with Bio (PABNAB) included topless female dancers, according to attendee Kate Strayer-Benton, who is director of strategy at Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.).

Strayer-Benton, who provided BioCentury with a photo of the dancers she said was taken at the party, said the presence of body-painted, topless dancers was among “the first things we noticed when we went in,” and called the event’s entertainment “beyond tone-deaf.”

Martina Molsbergen, CEO of C14 Consulting Group LLC (Malvern, Pa.), one of three organizers of the event listed on its website, told BioCentury the event was “edgy and artsy” but said she was not offended by the dancers’ attire. She said entertainment at this year’s party, the 14th annual event of its kind, was in line with prior years’ entertainment, and with what its sponsors have come to expect.

“Everybody knows the party,” she said. “People have been sponsoring it for years.”

She said C14 has received “very positive feedback from sponsors” who “were very happy with the party and the way it went, and did not feel uncomfortable.” She declined to name any specific sponsors who had been in touch.

“This is something that we cannot accept as an organization,” BIO Chairman John Maraganore told BioCentury. “It’s my view as BIO chair that any sponsor or organizer of this event should not be welcome as a member of BIO.”

Maraganore is CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:ALNY).

BioCentury has not been able to contact all of the sponsors, but at least 10 said they were unaware of the planned entertainment, including Xencor Inc. (NASDAQ:XNCR); Nanobiotix S.A. (Euronext:NANO); EpiVax Inc. (Providence, R.I.); Jeffrey Bacha, co-founder of DelMar Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:DMPI); MaxCyte Inc. (LSE:MXCT); EBD Group; Demy-Colton Life Science Advisors; Adjuvant Partners; Borden Ladner Gervais; and Pact & Partners.

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood told BioCentury he is speaking directly with PABNAB organizers and sponsors, conveying the message that, “At a time when we’re trying to get past workplace discrimination and bias and unconscious bias, and trying to be inclusive, overly objectifying women in this way is not helpful.”

He said that if the same occurs next year after the annual BIO meeting, “that would be an issue the Board members would take up.”

Selexis S.A. (Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland), who was listed as the sole platinum sponsor on PABNAB's website before it was taken down Tuesday afternoon, said that previous parties have had male dancers and female dancers in bikinis.

Selexis’ logo, as well as that of Alpha Blue Ocean, was painted on the body of the dancer in the photo provided to BioCentury. Selexis spokesperson Robert Meister said Selexis was not informed its name would be used in this way. Alpha Blue Ocean could not be reached for comment.

Patrick Tricoli, CEO of Nanobiotix USA, told BioCentury, "We were not aware of the entertainment and we are not happy about it at all. We didn't have a check on how our brand was used here. This is not acceptable."

Xencor said, "We are disappointed by the inappropriate choice of entertainment."

EBD Managing Director Anna Chrisman said, "EBD has supported PABNAB for a number of years. We don’t see it as a corporate reception, but a place that celebrates friendships in the biotech community. Unfortunately, this year we were unaware of the dancers until we arrived on site. We do not condone this element of the party, and we voiced our concern onsite and afterwards and know that this will not happen again."

The use of scantily clad dancers and models at an industry event raised an outcry following the 2016 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. The event, organized by LifeSci Advisors, led to outrage among biotech industry figures and, eventually, gender diversity initiatives (see BioCentury Extra, Feb. 4, 2016).

In 2016, hundreds of biopharma industry leaders signed an open letter calling for changes and LifeSci’s co-founders later expressed regret. The firm launched a gender diversity initiative later that year (see BioCentury Extra, April 15, 2016).

Kate Bingham, a managing partner at SV Health Investors, and Karen Bernstein, the co-founder and chairman of BioCentury Inc., circulated the letter.

Bingham told BioCentury on Tuesday that LifeSci has “made major steps to learn from this,” and said its initiative has helped place female board members at biotechs.

Michael Rice, founding partner of LifeSci, told BioCentury that since that event, the organization has convened some “real thought leaders in our industry to work with us and affect change.” He added, “We’ve had a tremendous impact of putting women on boards and implementing programs that are going to be lasting and have an impact.”

Bernstein said Tuesday of the PABNAB party, “I’m disgusted, I’m appalled, and quite frankly at a loss to figure out what it will take to get people to behave with the common sense that God gave them.”

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