HBS Alumni Host Health Conference of the Year

What do you get when you bring 5 of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare” to one conference? “One of the very best conferences I’ve attended,” said Professor Regina Herzlinger, who herself is number 78 on the list. The HBS Health Industry Alumni Association (HBHSIAA) held its fourth annual Healthcare conference at HBS on November 7th and 8th.

The event brought together a multinational audience of over 250 alumni currently working in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, health services and payers, venture capital, consulting, and other healthcare-related functions.

HBSHIAA, founded in 1999 by Beatrice Ellerin (MBA ’95), known as Bunny, is the first industry-specific alumni association of HBS graduates. The organization facilitates information and knowledge sharing among alumni, provides members with access to industry leaders, and serves as a resource for HBS faculty and alumni to advance their leadership in healthcare. The annual conference is only one of many events the group produces throughout the year in pursuit of this mission.

This year, the HBS Healthcare Club kicked off the weekend with a welcome reception and dinner for visiting alumni. The event provided students with an opportunity to meet many of the conference attendees in a casual setting. Amy Millslagle (NB) said “The event fostered a great atmosphere for connecting with the alums. It was fun to hear about their experiences both at HBS and in their careers.” The alumni seemed to enjoy this special event as well. One alumnus commented that this was his first chance to come back to meet with current students and that he would be eager to return for this opportunity again in the future.

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Costs and Politics of Healthcare,” with top-level speakers from across the industry. Among them was FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan who addressed the topic of the political and regulatory influences on innovation. He spoke about the on-going efforts at the FDA to close the gap between the promise of new science and the recent decline in new drug applications and approvals. He also addressed the hot topic of illegally imported pharmaceuticals, stressing that Americans should not have to choose between safety and affordability. The commissioner emphasized the numerous activities underway at the FDA to help reduce drug costs including efforts to accelerate the process for bringing generics to the market.

Attendees experienced the excitement and tension of healthcare politics first hand during a lunchtime address by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly. Mr. Reilly supports US citizens who choose to buy lower cost drugs from Canadian pharmacies. He defended this position as the only immediate solution for the many senior citizens who do not have prescription benefits through Medicare. Mr. Reilly then riled the crowd when he attacked pharmaceutical industry executives, many of whom were in the audience, as the root of the problem. He cited high drug prices, attempts to extend patent protection, and recent decisions to boycott Canadian pharmacies as evidence of the industry’s abuses.

Alumnus Paul Stewart (MBA ’87), Global Manager of Business Development for Eli Lilly, openly challenged the Attorney General to proactively suggest new solutions that would allow state and federal governments to work together to improve access to drugs rather than attack an industry who aims to provide innovative treatments for the ill.

Mr. Stewart’s heartfelt response to Mr. Reilly’s attack was met with applause from the audience, although the majority of attendees recognize that high drug costs to U.S. Citizens is a problem that will not go away and must be addressed.

Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity for alumni to take part in case discussions led by current HBS professors Robert Huckman and Nancy Beaulieu. It was interesting to attend these cases and see the alumni so easily adjust back into the HBS classroom.

The conference wound down on Saturday afternoon with an interactive thought leadership session. Each attendee was provided with a transponder that instantly recorded answers to multiple-choice opinion questions. The audience weighed in with its collective opinion on a variety of questions about the healthcare system and its future. The transponders provided immediate poll results projected onto the conference screen. It was fascinating to learn about the audience’s opinions after a weekend of education on the issues in today’s healthcare system.

As an EC student, it was wonderful to see the vibrant network that exists among HBS alums in healthcare. I look forward to attending this conference each year to keep my industry knowledge current and to develop the invaluable friendships and partnerships important in business.

Most importantly, this group seems poised to help promote HBS as a school that cares deeply about an industry that has the potential to change both the business world and the quality of life for millions of people worldwide.