Hit with a storm of protest, LifeSci Advisors apologizes for its J.P. Morgan party

Next year at the big J.P. Morgan conference in San Francisco, don't be surprised by the absence of attractive models at the LifeSci Advisors after party--or any party in the area around Union Square.

The founders of the firm are apologizing for the move to recruit svelte escorts after two high-profile women in the industry--Kate Bingham at SV Life Sciences and Karen Bernstein, chairman of BioCentury Publications--blasted the party in an open letter to biopharma earlier in the week, calling for an end to any event that presents women as "chattel."

As BioCentury notes, FierceBiotech posted the story Feb. 2, triggering a tempest on Twitter and helping spur some 230 leaders in the industry to sign the letter, along with many more who were just as appalled as Bernstein and Bingham. Among the signers was George Scangos, the CEO of Biogen ($BIIB), Moncef Slaoui, vaccines chief at GSK ($GSK), John Maraganore, the CEO of Alnylam ($ALNY), Forum's Deborah Dunsire and Acorda CEO Ron Cohen.

"We want to apologize to our female and male colleagues throughout the biotech and bioscience industries," write LifeSci Advisors' Michael Rice and Andrew McDonald in the letter, which was published in BioCentury.

"As a firm, we now have an opportunity to make a difference and help tackle some of the core issues facing women in our field. Some of those issues include the lack of women in management and leadership positions, the lack of mentors and professional development networks for women that are necessary to cultivate future leaders in our industry and the underrepresentation of girls in STEM programs. 

"In the coming days, LifeSci Advisors will be launching a series of concrete initiatives to address these systemic issues. We plan to invest our time, energy, resources and money to help resolve these problems and hopefully play a meaningful role in improving our industry's track record on diversity."

"If we have truly put an end to these kinds of activities in our industry, it will be one small step for humanity and I will consider it well worth the efforts of all the people who supported this--including all the people whose signatures we didn't have the time to add," noted Bernstein.

Bloomberg was the first to report on the party, which FierceBiotech followed up on, adding an anecdote and additional commentary of our own.

But not everyone cited in the letter for bad behavior is planning changes. The statement also notes that "the official video of the 27th Annual Roth Conference proudly flaunts its use of scantily clad female dancers."

"It's unfortunate to have our name referenced in this context by people who have not attended our event," stated John Chambers, vice chairman and head of healthcare investment banking at Roth Capital Partners, BioCentury reports. "We have more families and spouses attend than any other investor conference I've been involved in. I haven't had a single complaint from anyone who's attended. I'm proud of the event for the visibility it provides to emerging growth companies to gain access to investors in a professional setting."

Not everyone is likely to agree.

A biotech executive took this picture at a West Coast Roth Capital conference after party for investors in March 2014 and forwarded it to us as an example of the kind of activity so many women in the industry find offensive, asking to remain anonymous.

Roth's Chambers did not immediately respond to a query from FierceBiotech.

- here's the report in BioCentury