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At Boston BIO convention, skewed geography

Navigating the massive exhibition floor at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is a geographic experience like no other.

Spain borders Massachusetts. Canada is located between France and Maryland.

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The scale is also out of whack: North Carolina dwarfs China. Georgia is larger than Australia and New Zealand combined.

The skewed geography is particularly vivid because this year so many of the large, ambitious “pavilions” at the convention are sponsored by countries, states and regions, not companies.

Large biotechnology firms are still represented: Biogen Idec Inc., Alkermes, and Samsung Biologics are all here. But the biggest splashes are being made by geographic regions that are serving as umbrellas for companies.

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The exhibition floor at this year’s convention, which runs through Thursday, is home to 40 country pavilions, and 26 US states.

Canada, for example, has one of the biggest pavilions, occupying a large, central expanse on the floor that includes close to 100 Canadian firms, organizations, and institutions. Firms are represented by small kiosks or booths within Canada’s space.

“We’re providing a tent for our companies,” said Cate McCready, vice president, external affairs at BIOTECanada, that country’s biotechnology industry group.

“You really can’t afford not to be here if you’re a small biotech company,” McCready said. “But it’s very difficult to go it alone. So we give them a venue.”

Many states and countries at the show are eschewing general, feel-good, pro-business messages in favor of hosting smaller kiosks for local companies and institutions.

“There is no display here from our state economic development department,” said Carol Henderson, of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development. “This is about our companies and our universities.”

Henderson said that since so many Georgia-based biotechnology companies are small, with fewer than 75 employees, the state is creating “critical mass” for 13 Georgia firms, making it easier for them to have a place on the show floor.

Some countries have such a large presence this year that they’ve sub-divided their spaces into geographical regions. In the sprawling German pavilion, attendees can choose to explore clusters of biotechnology companies organized under “Bavaria,” “Berlin-Brandenburg,” and other regions.

“We have 65 individual companies within our pavilion,” said Dr. Richardo M. Gent, of the German Association of Biotechnology Industries. “We’re providing the umbrella.”

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.
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