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Partiers at BIO convention get down to business

A BIO International Convention party at Faneuil Hall Marketplace kicked off festivities last night. Art museums and Fenway Park are also popular venues. (bill brett for the boston globe)

Tonight, when the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center has cleared out and the first full day of the BIO International Convention is in the books, Cate McCready won't head to her hotel. Like most of the other 25,000 people attending BIO 2007 in Boston this week, she will race to one of the parties that have become an integral part of the world's largest biotechnology conference.

"This isn't a 9-to-5 game," said McCready, a vice president with Biotech Canada, cosponsor of a lavish affair tonight at the Citi Performing Arts Center's Wang Theatre. "This conference isn't just about the formal speakers and luncheons. People go 24/7 here."

As instructive as all the panels and presentations are during the day, the after-hours parties may be even more helpful, giving participants an opportunity to schmooze with potential business partners from around the world. The importance of the evening events is evident in their creative planning and cost, which can tally tens of thousands of dollars.

"There's competition for mind share in the after-conference hours, so everyone tries to do something a little different with their party," said Carin Canale, a biotechnology publicist with the global public relations firm Porter Novelli, whose party last night at 33 Restaurant & Lounge was one of the week's hottest tickets. "We have some fun planning our party every year."

Co sponsored by BioCentury and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the Porter Novelli party featured Brazilian dancers in full headdress, a seven-piece band, and complimentary maracas passed out to the 400 or so guests. Billed as Bio de Janeiro, the Brazilian-themed party started at 9 p.m. -- later than many of the parties -- and was scheduled to go until the last mojito was served.

There are parties all over the city, from Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where last night's kickoff event was expected to attract 4,000 people, to the Museum of Fine Arts, where the venture capital firm Burrill & Co. is hosting 400 heavy hitters tonight in a gallery brimming with Baroque and Renaissance paintings. By far, the most popular party locale is Fenway Park. Tonight alone, there are three fiestas at Fenway: The law firms Ernst & Young and Ropes & Gray co-host a shindig at the EMC Club; the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche will revel on the right-field roof deck; and the law firm Heller Ehrman will be elsewhere in the park.

"We picked Fenway because it has considerable appeal to people outside Boston," said Jim Weinrebe, a vice president at Schwartz Communications, which held a reception at Fenway last night. Asked how much his company paid to occupy the EMC Club for a few hours, Weinrebe opted to be discreet. "Nothing comes for free from the Red Sox," he said.

Unlike the 2004 Democratic National Convention, to which BIO 2007 is being compared because of its sheer size and economic impact on the city, the parties have little celebrity sizzle. While actor John Cusack and rapper Andre 3000 were out and about during the DNC, the stars of this show are chief executives who are largely unknown outside biotech circles. The parties with the most CEOs on the guest list are the parties people want to attend.

"We have a very selective list," said David McLaughlin, spokesman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, organizer of tonight's invitation-only party hosted by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Governor Deval Patrick at the Institute of Contemporary Art. "We have about 150 of the most significant CEOs in the life-science universe."

The idea is to pitch these bio-pharma companies -- Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlycoMimetics Inc., and Targeted Genetics Corp., among others -- on the benefits of doing business in Massachusetts, and to do that they've asked Bay State biotech stars such as Genzyme CEO Henri A. Termeer and Nobel Prize recipient Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School to attend the party.

"We're not looking to wow people with 6-pound shrimp," McLaughlin said. "It's about putting the right people in the room."

That said, the city and state are hardly entertaining on the cheap, laying out more than $83,000 for the venue and a sumptuous buffet prepared by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's catering company.

Despite the fancy trappings, McCready, who helped organize Biotech Canada's party -- called "Soirée Canada" -- at the Citi Wang, said it's typically business before pleasure at biotech parties.

"Our party is a great invite to get," she said, citing the senior executive-heavy guest list and a "robust menu" of mushroom risotto and salmon. "But, frankly, it's all about networking and building relationships."

Asked whether BIO participants ever cut loose and enjoy themselves like their notoriously hard-partying brothers and sisters in the tech sector, McCready laughed.

"We're an energetic industry that does a lot of creative thinking," she said. "I think it's fair to say that carries over to our socializing."

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