Could J.P. Morgan’s 2021 Healthcare Conference Be Cancelled?

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J.P. Morgan’s Annual Healthcare Conference is widely regarded as an unmissable event for industry executives, bankers, analysts, and private and public investors. However, despite being the largest healthcare investor conference, it is a fixture that many participants have mixed feelings about; it offers unrivaled access to investors and partners, but has been described at various times by attendees as “too crowded,” “too expensive,” “too long,” “overhyped,” and “too busy.”

What effect will the COVID-19 pandemic have on the 2021 conference?

Well, numerous California-based events have already been cancelled as a result of the virus, including the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells Masters), San Diego’s Comic-Con, the 2020 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and (much to the extreme disappointment of this author) Taylor Swift’s Los Angeles Lover Fest concert—one of only two U.S. events the singer was planning this year.

On April 17, 2020, in response to the coronavirus-related cancellation, Taylor tweeted, “I’m so sad I won’t be able to see you guys in concert this year, but I know this is the right decision.”

Might we soon be getting a similar tweet from J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon?

A review of recent events and news helps inform us as to the likelihood of the 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference taking place: On Jan 16, 2020, the last day of J.P. Morgan’s 2020 Healthcare Conference, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a J.P. Morgan spokesperson as confirming that the conference would be returning to San Francisco in 2021.

Then COVID-19 came along and changed everything.

At the time of writing, Cowen & Co.’s 40th Annual Health Care Conference, held in Boston on March 2-4, was the last healthcare investor conference to take place physically. After the Boston Herald reported a number of COVID-19-infected members of Biogen’s management being in attendance, Cowen was forced to alert hundreds of conference attendees of their potential exposure.

Since then, Wall Street’s healthcare investor conferences have become virtual events.

Virtual Conferences Held in 2020

  • March 10-12 – Barclays Global Healthcare Conference
  • April 14-15 – The 19th Annual Needham Virtual Healthcare Conference
  • May 12-14 – Bank of America Merrill Lynch Virtual Global Healthcare Conference

Virtual Conferences Currently Planned for 2020

  • June 2-4 – Jefferies Virtual Global Healthcare Conference
  • June 9-11 – Goldman Sachs Virtual Global Healthcare Conference
  • June 9 -11 – William Blair Virtual 40th Annual Growth Conference
  • August 10-11 – BTIG Virtual Biotechnology Conference

Last week, Stifel sent out save-the-dates for their November 2020 Healthcare Conference, detailing it as a physical, New York City-based event. Privately, however, analysts have conceded that the format is subject to change, subject to the potential loosening on COVID-19 restrictions, and subject to any “second wave” that may accompany the fall/winter seasons.

A quick look at J.P. Morgan’s recent industry conferences is also telling. Two of the company’s most recent events went virtual, specifically:

  • the 13th Annual J.P. Morgan Homebuilding & Building Products Conference on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 (the 2019 event was held in NYC) and
  • the 48th Annual J.P. Morgan Virtual Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference (the 2019 event was held in Boston).

All of this points to J.P. Morgan’s 2021 Healthcare Conference going virtual if COVID-19 is still in play come January 2021, or if decision makers conclude that the planning and modifying of an in-person conference will be too big of a logistical challenge. To that point, we note that the San Francisco Chronicle described the 2020 conference as attracting some 9,000 people.

Outright cancellation seems unlikely, in my view. There is still business to be done, as witnessed by recent healthcare IPOs, secondary offerings, and ongoing M&A.

Nevertheless, there remain stringent restrictions on foreign travelers coming to the U.S., including bans on incoming passengers from numerous countries—this week Trump was in the news considering a travel ban for Brazil, in view of the exploding number of infections there. Such bans seem unlikely to be lifted any time soon. We are also seeing substantially reduced airline capacity and an unwillingness on the part of passengers to fly. Further complications include the prospect of a second wave of coronavirus in late 2020 and the current ban on large scale events in California, mandated by local authorities.

In March 2020, San Francisco placed a moratorium on public events with more than 1,000 people, to be reviewed every two weeks. More recently, the mayor of California’s other major metropolis, Los Angeles, said his ban on large-scale events could last until 2021. Is it reasonable to expect that conditions, and politics, will improve to such an extent that a large-scale event can be held on January 11, 2021? I can’t see it.

So, what should healthcare companies be doing to prepare for a virtual 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference?

Here are some quick thoughts to consider until we get greater clarity:

  • Go about the same strategic review of your messaging and business that you normally would, were the conference taking place in-person. This is still not an opportunity you should miss.
  • Block out January 11-14, 2021, in your calendar, since physical meetings are likely to be replaced by conference calls and Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Google Hangouts meetings.
  • Check the cancellation policy on any room reservation you might make—this is especially important given that rooms can go for as much as $2,000 a night in SF during JPM.
  • Double-check your ability to conduct multiple streams of virtual meetings over reliable wireless/physical/WiFi connections. You may even think about establishing a socially-distant/responsible “war room” in the conference room or meeting rooms of your head office.
  • And lastly, plan on saving some money and spending more time with your family over the holidays. Chances are you won’t be boarding a plane and heading to San Francisco in January 2021.

If you have questions regarding how to smoothly and effectively navigate the COVID waters that we are all dealing with, the team at Gilmartin is here to help. Contact us today.


Laurence Watts, Managing Director

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