Above: Healthcare conference team.

As the vitriolic debate on healthcare reform dominates the news, healthcare industry leaders continue to focus on several issues: innovation to drive growth and promote cost efficiencies; new offerings to generate higher value for each healthcare dollar invested; and the emergence of attractive new global markets and technologies. They recognize that continued economic weakness and new sets of competitive and regulatory pressures create a more challenging environment to drive business growth. At the same time, they see tremendous opportunities to develop cost-effective products and services that can dramatically improve patient care on a global basis.

At Columbia Business School’s 6th Annual Healthcare Conference held on November 6, nearly 500 students, alumni and other professionals heard more than 35 speakers and experts discuss these issues. The attendees benefited from panels on an array of healthcare topics including biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics, healthcare services and information technology, venture capital/private equity, mergers and acquisitions and emerging markets. The day concluded with a networking reception and career fair where attendees met with the event’s 20 corporate sponsors.

Fred Hassan, chairman and CEO of Schering-Plough, gave the opening address. Despite economic, competitive and regulatory pressures facing the pharmaceutical industry, he was confident that new therapies and vaccines would be developed to address large areas of unmet needs, most notably Alzheimer’s disease, which represents a devastating social and economic threat to society.

Following his remarks, three concurrent panels took place in the morning. They focused on information technology solutions, growth strategies of Big Pharma and small-cap biotechnology companies, venture capital and private equity investment strategies in healthcare, and the impact of proposed healthcare reform initiatives on payors and providers.

Mike Barber, vice president and head of Healthymagination for GE, reviewed GE’s new $6 billion global commitment to develop new technologies and services to reduce costs, improve quality and expand access for millions of people around the world. Among other objectives, this initiative will accelerate healthcare information technology, support consumer-driven healthcare, create new wellness and healthy worksite programs and facilitate access to cost-effective healthcare in rural and underserved areas.

Three concurrent afternoon panels covered healthcare mergers and aquisitions, medical devices and diagnostics, and challenges and opportunities for healthcare companies in the emerging markets. Alex Gorsky, worldwide chairman for medical devices and diagnostics at Johnson & Johnson, discussed emerging opportunities to develop new therapies to extend and improve a patient’s quality of life, as well as new cost-effective and less invasive medical devices and procedures. He also commented on the changes underway in global healthcare companies and how employees need to expand their skills and experiences, such as seeking new functional roles and positions in new geographic regions to broaden their understanding of different healthcare systems and customers.

Photo courtesy of the Healthcare Conference