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January 17, 2023

Trust, Transparency and Trend Predictions: A Look at JPM 23 from a Communicators Lens

By Sara Jane Baker, Executive Director, Earned Media Group, MMC & RXM

This week I was on the ground at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (#JPM23) – marking my fifth time at the conference. While this was the first year in-person after a three-year hiatus, I am pleased to share communications implications from the time on the ground. Read on for insights, musings and key takeaways for communications pros.

Trust and Transparency The FDA is causing trust issues, given decisions on recent approvals (namely in the Alzheimer's space). FDA Commissioner Robert Califf had to address the controversial approval of Aduhelm again (and again!) this week. In fact, STAT’s Matt Herper sat down with Califf on Monday evening to dissect the FDA’s lapses in protocol, when accelerated approval is appropriate and how the advisory committee needs improvement. Matt didn’t go lightly on Califf. On the topic of mistrust, misinformation in the media was addressed by many executives, citing the importance of transparency as it pertains to communications around drug development.

What does this mean for communicators?

“Approval” is becoming a steadily more skeptical moment for media and the industry, whereas it was typically cause for many embargoed interviews and celebration. Press is taking a magnifier to approval data (was there an Advisory Committee?) and questioning how much rigor the FDA put into the FDA decision process. Advice for comms? Make sure your messaging is air tight and can answer these critical q’s at time of approval.

Diversity Inside and Outside JPM’s Walls

It was clear that we still aren’t doing enough about diversity…at JPM and beyond. Many attendees commented in real time on social media and in the hallways about the lack of diversity on the ground. Which begs the question, is this representative of our industry as a whole? Jennie Nwokoye, Founder and CEO of Healthcare startup Clafiya bravely shared her real-time experience at JPM as a female, BIPOC founder. “I’m currently in San Francisco for the #JPM2023 #JPM23 Healthcare Conference and I can’t lie, it’s been very intimidating to not see people who look like me. Not a single person.” Axios Health-Tech Reporter, Erin Brodwin, shared a photo of an “All white manel,” which has 135.9K views and climbing. FierceBiotech Senior Editor, Annalee Armstrong, expressed her wish to hear from more female voices during next year’s JPM.

Though, this trend (and discussion) goes far beyond the walls of JPM and as noted above, signals broader issues in the industry. During Endpoints’ “This is how we cure cancer” panel – four C-suite execs (from BMS, Novartis, Foundation Medicine, and Merck) talked at length about the decentralization of clinical trials in cancer. Why are we still limiting people by geography? Why can’t we better use remote patient monitoring? Only 4% (!!!) of oncology patients are enrolled in clinical trials, and access and mistrust may be to blame.

What does this mean for communicators?

Let’s face it, it is apparent we are still not doing enough re: diversity as an industry. There were two issues discussed at the conference –first, diversity in leadership in healthcare and second, diversity among patients and how we improve access to care. Disclosures around clinical trial recruitment is a major step, but what about access to care to ensure diverse populations are represented in trials across geographies? Communications should heavily scrutinize any efforts to make sure diverse groups are represented.

SCIENCE (STILL) REIGNS SUPREME! Among the hottest topics were the strides made by innovative, emerging therapies like CRISPR, mRNA and gene editing in areas like targeted solid tumor cancer care, and even fetal/maternal care,with presenters predicting that this is a major trend to keep an eye on over the next year.

mRNA was the talk of the town. Wharton UPenn hosted a panel with the co-inventor of mRNA, Dr. Katalin Kariko, who spoke about the future of the technology she discovered over 15 years ago, and how we will hopefully see it applied in more therapeutic areas.

Merck’s George Addona, SVP, Head, Discovery Preclinical and Translational Medicine made predictions that protein degradation, next-gen cell engineering, engagers of immune cells, and antibody drug conjugates will all see significant progress this year.

Janssen’s Chief Data Science Officer and Global Head, Strategy & Operations, R&D Najat Khan discussed how AI can help us improve diversity in clinical trials

What does this mean for communicators?

While JPM does focus on deals and investments (see below), scientific discovery still remains at the forefront. JPM can act as a great opportunity to seed a science story and kick off pipeline news for the year. While journalists are SO inundated at the meeting, we found that quite a few were interested in making new connections and getting deep-dive information on the science behind products (more so even than in past years). Long live science!


The biggest deal was AstraZeneca’s $1.8 billion purchase of CinCor, the maker of a promising hypertension drug.

Bloomberg broke news that CVS is considering buying Oak Street Health for $10B.

Acquisitions led to this week's top performers (CinCor Pharma, Albireo Pharma and Amryt Pharma) seeing their stock prices more than double

Moderna CEO, Stephane Bancel noted a R&D investment of $4.5B in 2023.

Instead of M&A, many large pharma companies focused on the Inflation Reduction Act, and how Companies will respond.  

What does this mean for communicators?

Announcing a major merger or big financial/Company news at JPM can still be a smart communications strategy, but you may not get as much hoopla as doing so once did. The coverage around major deals was lesser than in years past. Think critically about making announcements at this time and the true rationale behind it.

It was a rejuvenating week for the industry, as people embraced the first in-person JPM in 3 years. Panels, presentations, executive interviews, and behind the scenes conversations pointed out the successes and pain points companies have seen, while previewing advancements and changes in the industry (that are hopefully coming soon!). See you next time (perhaps in Miami for JPM ’24…).

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