Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Technology Transfer and "Customer" management

So, again today I get a call from a tech transfer office where they are calling "to find the right person". The funny part about this call is that I am in the middle of a medium sized deal with them. The person calling, it turns out, reports to the person with whom I am speaking to almost every day. She didn't know that anyone from her office was dealing with our company at all and got to me by generically asking for "business development" as it came through the operator.

There are only 7 people in her office....AWESOME coordination!

If I hear anyone at the next AUTM meetings complain about not knowing who to call I will so want to bring up this story. I won't, because I would have to name names and someone might have read this and put 2 and 2 together. This is about the third time this has gone on, so not isolated to this one office. Everytime I am a little blown away as it seems to happen in smaller offices more than it happens in the bigger offices (Stanford, MIT etc...).

From the bigger offices, it appears to me that I get assigned a case manager, as all emails come from one person but when I start to ask questions they sometimes punt me to another person. The one person see's all the contact, but only handles some of the technology. This makes a lot of sense to me, so whether or not this is what they are doing it is the way it looks and it works. Would love to hear how it really happens, but am too lazy to ask. As long as it works I don't care that much!

When this happens to us, where I drop the ball and don't realize what the right hand is doing (assuming I am the left hand) we work pretty hard and quickly to figure out what went wrong. Normally the problem is the seperation of continents and I was out of date by a few days with what someone on a different continent was doing. We knash our teeth a bit and figure out why systems in place to deal with this didn't work and why one or the other of us got caught looking dumb.

That's just business 101.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Indexing Tech Transfer Web sites

Rants from the past continued. You have been warned.

Today went to UIC web site to look for something I thought might be there. NO SEARCH BOX. So, to find it I had to guess where they might have categorized it and then read the whole list. I was annoyed by that so sicked my spider on it, downloaded everything in to a directory I have set up for that, and then let my google desktop deal with it.

So, this points to my latest game. I have written (the bioinformatics coding background comes out here) a little spider that will crawl a whole section of a web site following links and downloading for me. Only goes 1 layer deep, but with something like this it is good. It just downloads everything on to my hard drive where google desktop indexes it.

Possibly over-kill , but they don't have a search box and I am not that dedicated to small ideas where I just have a little curiosity and want to see if something is there. If yes, then I will do some more work...

I think that now I have a better idea, and a more "find-able" idea about what UIC has than they do.

Monday, August 29, 2005

TechEx and Technology Transfer

So I gave in and got a TechEx account. I am unhappy about this, as I am paying to get what is free becuase Universities are too ?Lazy/incompentent/myopic? to make their web sites searchable. I have to pay some thousands of $$$'s in order to be able to run crappy searches on a site with a horrible UI. This makes no sense to me. Universities are already making the technologies appear on their own web pages, but they prefer to do extra work in order to send me to a portal that makes me pay. SO - they seem to be conspiring in order to make it as hard as possible for me to find stuff.

TechEx is better than nothing, but that is far from a ringing endorsement. The response time to things is pathetic. You click "discard" and then it goes out for a coffee. Google, with about a bazillion more things in it, is faster and I don't have to pay for it.

So - you may get leads from TechEx of me, but I won't tell you that is where I found it and will never say anything at all about it.

Oh yeah.... many universities have only partial listings up on TechEx, so that in order to get the full listing I still have to go to the Tech Transfer offices web site....which leads to all of the problems that I have previously ranted on about here.

This isn't rocket science folks... Make your stuff findable and it will be found. Make me pay extra in order to only find a peice of what I want, and I am just annoyed. Still have to do the deals, so I will still find you, but you could make both of our lives so much easier if we left TechEx out of it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Computers vs. Biology...RSS feeds and Tech transfer

...with Regards to RSS feeds....
"Perhaps most importantly, I think it underscores that VCs have to be careful not overestimate near term adoption rates. Just because something is "hot" within the incestuous and self-centered world of Silicon Valley doesn't mean that it is hot elsewhere or even destined to be hot elsewhere."
from O' Rielly Radar, talking about RSS feeds and there lack of adoption outside of tech fields. Really pointing onward to here, but the point remains the same.

I see this so much in Biology it isn't funny. I was talking recently to yet another tech transfer office about yet more Biology. The director has a Ph.D. and has published in the bio field. I suggested to the director that setting up an RSS feed of their technologies would help me know when they had something new without them really having to do anything. We were on the phone, so I couldn't see the blank stare, but the response was "I am not familiar with that". I did a bit of explaining, but I don't think I did too well.

Now, Biologists aren't stupid, so that isn't the problem. Tech transfer people aren't stupid, so that isn't the problem. The problem is, I think, that are 10 gazillion things going on in the world and you don't have time for all of them. I can argue, and have argued, that this would save them a bunch of time, but I think that for the most part there is no one there who is too bothered by the current status quo so they don't have any real impetus to change. They go to AUTM meetings and say that they are unhappy, but there doesn't seem to be a real impetus.

I still get so many invites to join email lists with offices saying "latest greatest" (U. Florida being the most recent example), and I really sort of pause, think about how it works on the Computer side of things, and just shake my head. Email lists were a good invention in the mid 90's, and I was subsribed to a lot while doing informatics in grad school, but we are in 2005 now...

Sort of depressing really to know what could be, yet getting people to do something new is hard. My uncle claims, and acts this way, that if you want to upgrade his software that whatever you want him to use ( and learn how to use) better be 10 times better. If it isn't, he won't be bothered to learn it.

I suffer from Shiny shiny disease, and want all new all the time, but I have to keep in mind that many don't. For me the number is more like 1.5X better and I will shift.

RSS feeds for Technology transfer offices would help me. Do other Bus Dev people have my disease, and would it help them? I don't know. Half of our marketing department knows what Blogs are and what RSS is. Our VP in charge knows what they are. R+D folks, not a full survey, but under 1/2 know (of the ones I asked). The younger the person, the more likely they know. Unfortunatly, the younger the person the less senior they are, so you will only get to target the non-decision makers.

I guess I should continue to pray for indexable web pages and hold out for RSS feeds later.

Nanogen, Oooops...

From GenomeWeb and the pointer to the Nanogen site.


This highlights the slippery line between the diagnostic world and the research world. One has to be careful to stay on one side or on the other, as slipping gets your hand slapped. I would imagine the outcome from this is they will change some wording and back things off, but they probably wish they hadn't got this letter.

If they are headed toward diagnostics, which I think they are, then they will back off a bit, file some paperwork, and get on down that road. Just a blip, but an annoying blip none the less. Probably also done a bit just to serve as a warning shot across the bows of other companies, as this stuff gets noticed pretty quickly.

Science does not eqall Religion. Religion does not equal Science

This is garbage.

I continue to be baffled by seemingly intellegent people thinking that intelligent design is any more than repackaged creationism. I don't have a problem with the religious beleif in creationism, but you shouldn't dress it up as science.

Religion is religion. Science is science. The twain shall not meet.

They should not attempt reconciliation any more than we should attempt to reconcile buddism with christianity.

The Onion's response to this is the best on the web.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another view of Technology Transfer

In reading this post, Mo talks about the "new economy" and tech transfer supporting that. I very much agree with his view that we (being the biotech industry) have managed to outsource a good whack of base R+D to the universities, but I also think we keep a whole lot to ourselves. He points to a bunch of newspaper articles that talk about tech transfer, and I think they are good articles. To me, though, it doesn't feel right.

My objections, starting with the most trivial.
1. I think he is wrong about the "most succesful" being WARF. I think Columbia University, with the licensing of the Hybridoma patents, has to be the top. As a general bet, I would guess that Stanford, with peices of both YAHOO and GOOGLE, probably did OK. Limiting just to Life Science, I would still place my money on Columbia. 1 patent, and my understanding (but not direct knowledge of information) is that they are trying to extend those licenses. WARF gets good press, and I have talked with them in the past.

2. I don't think that the "R" part of R+D has been totally outsourced to Universities yet. We certainly pick up base level discoveries from them, and that is a hugh chunck of what I do, BUT we also do a lot of base "R" ourselves. We don't have the ability (or the desire) to direct their research as we would like, so we run with a lot of stuff ourselves. In hot areas, I think you have to, as otherwise everything that you touch will have a royalty payment attached to it and that will kill your margins.

I guess I would phrase it more as, the academics may get a push in to a hot area and will get licensed, but the second and on discoveries in that area have a good chance of coming from industry. I would very much agree with the statement that industry is rarely the "leader" in to a new area. The oringinal 'R' work is most likely to be done in academia.

siRNA is an example of an area where the beginning stuff was all academia. Industry was pretty late to the game. The exception being Dharmacon, which was there pretty early, and did a lot of the 'R' part and has the patents to show for it. Others got in by playing the licensing game. Not sure what the "score" is there, but at least 1 company was doing heavy lifting on the 'R' front. All the others were essentially 'D' only.

miRNA is going this way as well, whith industry doing a lot of the heavy lifting once academia made the first discoveries and pointed the way a bit.

I disagree a lot with the statements that Tech transfer offices are just getting established. I would say at this point that everywhere has them and is aware that they are a good idea. I see things from everywhere. I would, it it had been said, also agree that the tech transfer offices have a whole lot of work to do before they are all "good", but many of them are there already.

Monday, August 15, 2005

How much is a Ph.D. worth?

As I was approaching the end of my Ph.D. I went through a phase that I think many(all?) doing that go through. I wanted to quit and never finish this. Massive annoyance and the feeling that the PI I was working for was probably the dumbest person on the planet. Essentially, I hated everything and knew that I did not want to grow up and be a PI in any sort of biologic science. I wanted to get out and DO something. I wanted to go work at a software company, become a gazillionaire and retire at 30. As I was wrapping up in 1999, this seemed very possible....Unfortunatly I didn't finish quite fast enough and I got out just in time for the dot.boom to take place and I did not become a gazzillionaire by 30. Sad really.

However, I did get my Ph.D. This is my wifes fault. My mother too, but mostely my wife. I don't know what she said, but essentially it was "you will hate your self if you quit", and so I didn't quit, and in fact finished.

This leads to my current job. We awhile ago parted ways with another Bus Dev guy here, and I got more insight in to the budget. Translation: I now know how much he was making. I can see that he had an MBA but had joined straight after getting that MBA. I joined with less than 5 years experience post Ph.D. I was making $40K more per year than he was.

That is what a Ph.D. gets you in real dollars. Yes, I was better at selling myself than him and did some other things, but the core point I think holds true that 3 letters = $40K/yr with no glass ceiling to bump in to as I go up in companies.

Now, others will have another opinion. For example this blog talks about how a Ph.D. isn't that important to you to complete and the world won't end etc.... I totally agree with her as well. There are an awful lot of bright people without Ph.D.'s. Many of them smarter than me. BUT - I will get paid more than them. Also, others will pick up the phone, answer the email, or in some other way acknowledge me, whereas the folks without have an extra hoop to jump through. It isn't right, but it is totally true. The woman above was NOT in a hard science, so I can't speak to her life at all. In the hard sciences, at a Biotech company, the Ph.D. is a glass ceiling more than any other thing. Without it, you better not want to be in charge or have too much responsibility. You won't get it. There are some exceptions, but those folks have problems when they want to leave the company they 'grew up' at, as other companies will push them back down the totem pole.

I freely admit that I judge people based on their reaction to learning I have a Ph.D. If it impresses them, I think less of them. I also freely admit to including it in my email sig, as for those to whom it matters are all over the place. I don't want to be judged to not have it and then miss out on the deal/conversation. But it shouldn't impress you.

oh yeah, the $40K/yr is nice too.....

...more about Alacra

This guy sums up my feelings pretty well. Essentially saying there is so much out there, so much is bogus, much is good, how to tell the differnce. He goes on to propose some ways to do it, and on those he may be right. I can say for certain that something needs to be done, just not totally sure this is the way to do it.

It is hard to judge a lot of the data. For the companies I know REALLY well (i.e. looking through their books, or our own company) - I can see that the data in these DB's is flawed. The question really is "Is it good enough for what you are looking for?". Does the CFO's name really matter? If you are trying to sell him something, then it is the most critical peice of information. Does the sales number for last year matter? When we are public, there is no excuse for getting this wrong, but still it may not matter for what you are looking for. The uncertainty is what knaws at me.

I guess I haven't done any large screens for information, only targetted searches on small lists of companies. This may color my perception of the data, as I get to know these companies really well.

Business Analytic tools

I am in the process of evaluation tools from Thompson to look at company sizes, financials etc...

The first is for public companies, and just really aggregates a lot of information in one place. Called "Thompson Financial Banker".

It is useless. The information in it is wrong. I can speak, in depth, about our own company. We got a new CFO a while ago, and they still have the old name. Even Yahoo has it right. Yahoo is free, and this is expensive.

Second. "Thompson VentureX". This is worse than useless. It has a little bit of information in it, and I guess it is good for folks in some other line of business, but for me it is not. It doesn't list ANY of the companies I am looking at these days. Not one... So I guess it is no good for companies under $10M in size.

Now along comes Alacra with its decision to put an a la carte front end on a lot of different databases. At $150 a shot for much of it, I don't think I will be a big buyer. I like the idea, but the problem is that once you get in to it you see that the data is complete crap. I guess if you have no idea about a company it is a good starting place, but your really are better searching full text on company filings and looking at what they REALLY said to the SEC. The aggregators are running so far behind as to be absolutly useless.

Saw this new one on A VC , a blog that is pretty interesting. It is one of his porfolio companies, and I like the idea. For getting this kind of data, I will probably do it this way. I will probably do the full text searching of the EDGAR data first though....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tools I use in Technology evaluation

In the posts below I talk about my knowledge of what is going on. I just want to point out that I don't use any "pay" sites.

USPTO search site
Espace search site (for the european patents)
Biocompare (to look at reaseach reagents on the market)

...More about Market Research and Tech Transfer Offices

...Another example of what I talk about below, and this one annoyed me a bit as well. Not as much as the other example, as this one would have taken more work.

we are interested in field Y. We have been blocked from moving in to it by some fundamental patents and about 12 patent applications. All held or submitted by one group. This group has set some very high terms to license and the market just isn't worth it. SO - I keep my eyes open for other stuff and a way around. It would be worth doing if there is a hole around the edges or another approach to the same problem...

I get an email from a technology transfer office promising to solve the problem. I set up a CDA, round up the group of us that cares about this problem (Marketing Director, product manager, and 2 R+D people) as we are all very interested in this. They have kept their cards so close to their chest that we know, essentially, nothing. They say "we are worried about being scooped".

They give the talk and we ask about a billion questions. We are asking about stuff that they haven't thought about yet. They ask why we are worried about that. We point to the issued patents and the published applications. These are all news flashes to them, even though they pop out at the top of the list with a simple keyword search of the USPTO site.

We are bummed, as we had hoped with their secrecy that this meant that they had read the issued stuff and knew a way around it. NOPE, thanks for playing. They were just playing secret agent man and wasting our time.

We passed over the patent numbers, the application numbers, and a request to call back if they thought their stuff would get around that.

2 months later....still haven't heard from them.

Technology Transfer and Patent Portfolios

Tech transfer offices will sell you anything you want. I understand they need to do this, but I haven't quite sorted out if they are being ignorant or sneaky.

We are looking for technolgy that does X. There are several established players in the field that are findable, essentially, with 5 minutes work. I was speaking with a University the other day about some other stuff, and he asked "are you interested in tech X?", I said YES! He then laid out the bare bones of the new tech. While he was talking, I PubMed'd my way to some papers describing the technology. It falls directly in competition with the established player. It is a barely incremental jump above what they are doing. I pointed this out to him and asked why he thought we would be free to operate given the other company and their IP. He didn't know.

Now, either he is being cagey and really didn't know. OR he was being sneaky and hoping that I would just sign up and send him a check real fast (like I can do that....). Either way, it just makes him look a little dumb. It makes me more nervous dealing with him that he really doesn't know what he is talking about.

My hope for tech transfer offices. Spend the 5 minutes to do a quick survey of leaders in that field. Please don't use the excuse "we have too broad a portfolio" as I have heard this. I can cover and understand your entire life sciences portfolio from my side, so you should be able to do the same. Google will help you find the leaders. Use it and don't waste my time.

Cingular vs Me.... They win

So today I finally had enough. I went to Cingular to get a new phone. The MPx220 that I had fixed twice wasn't doing it. My simple demand of "remain on while I call people" and "Don't turn off for no good reason" was not being met.

Cingular was of no use. This surprises no one. Some money off, but not all money off. Come on, you sold me a broken phone to begin with. You have 'fixed' it before...At some point you should just cut your losses and get them out of the line up.

I now have a Razor V3, and I am a bit unhappy with the Outlook sync feature. Further, it only holds 1000 contacts. I think I know more than 1000 tech transfer people, never mind the rest of my friends. (When I say "know" that does not imply that I have talked to them, just that I have contact details including phone number). So the phone barfs on my outlook sync saying, in effect, pick your real friends please. I have screened and weeded and made a 'group' that I don't sync in to which I put all the unknon tech transfer people. It is unfortunate, as my cell phone number is pretty widely out there and several of them have called out of the blue. The caller ID warning that I get is very useful in the "don't surprise me" kind of way. Also, it throws up their affiliation which gets my head in the right place a lot more quickly.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Air France

I travel a lot, and am just thankfull eveyone got off the Air France flight. I go to Toronto later this month, and will be thinking of them then.

Monday, August 01, 2005


I feel like a walking advertisement for Google. For the amount I have written recently about using it, they should pay me. They won't, and instead will just continue to make tools I use and that I will talk about. Cunning.....

How do I find technology?

JB asks how I find stuff, and doesn't say (buy I will put words in mouth) , especially with all of your ranting about how bad tech transfer web sites are?

To answer I will just walk through the process of going through things here.

There are a couple of classes of things we are looking for:

1. Improvements on what we have. We have launched products and we want the next generation of those products. R+D works on those to improve them. I am looking out for IP that could help with these or that R+D will trip over given the way they are working on it now.

2. Stuff from left field. These are ideas that we didn't know we are interested in, but on hearing them it is so obviously something we need to be doing.

3. Strategic direction. This is stuff that we know we need to do. Directions that we know we have to go in, but haven't yet started in to. These are things I won't talk to anyone about, but want the material for.

How do I find stuff that satisfy those needs.

A> Google
B> Email from tech transfer offices
C> PubMed
D> Meetings (Poster sessions)

Dealing with those in semi-random order:

I will deal with B first. I get a lot of email from tech transfer offices hawking their latest and greatest. They all get skim read, as currently I only get about 50/day. A lot of those are poorly directed and don't apply to us. Those may get deleted. The rest get saved in a folder as I have the google desktop search running on my computer, so in the future when I look for something I want my hard drive in the search as well to see if anyone has ever told me about something. I find stuff here that is still not on tech transfer sites, even though they have emailed it to me some months before. I would think these emails would primarily help with line extensions (#1 from above) but they are, to the best of my ability to tell, totally random. I don't even know how 1/2 these folks got my email address (although I make no attempt to hide it on the professional non-blog side of things). I am further confused for a lot of these emails why they think we would be interested in whatever it is, but I save them as disk space is cheap and I bet I can find it better on my computer than the internet if the time comes that we ever want that. This method of getting stuff is really good for point #2 above. We get left field stuff, but some of it resonates and we follow up on it. We have done deals off of these. Not a lot, but enough that I would say it works. I can say this with low enough readership now....but if everyone does it, the effectivness might fall off. Even then, I would still have them indexed on my hard drive so it should still be OK.

A and C are really a combination, and are primarily used for new areas we are going in to. We will decide, for a variety of reasons, we are going in direction X to make widgets. We have never been that way before. We need IP or ideas. Google gets fired up to look at who is estabilished in that area already. If a bunch of companies pop up, they will all be looked at. Who is small enough to buy? Are they all OEM'ing from somewhere? Where is that? Do they all site 1 university? etc... I need to understand more completely what is out there. After that, and because I can guarentee no University Tech transfer popped up in that search, I will go to PubMed. I will find people working in the area and start to contact the inventors that way. I will pull papers and read them and get as up to speed in the area as I can quickly (Ph. D. helps here, not sure what folks who can't pick up the science quickly do) so that I don't sound like a complete moron on the phone with them. Some of them will punt me to the tech transfer office. Others will try to be cute and do the whole thing themselves (evil bad. this rarely works). I am sure this is why most Tech transfer offices say "all our leads come through our inventors". We, on the other side, have no choice@!

Poster sessions at meetings are great. One of the reasons I am on the road a lot is to go to poster sessions at meetings. I skip most talks as they are canned nonsense. The big ones are big wigs saying as little as possible. The small talks are by a graduate studen/post doc who is normally scared out of their mind. The poster sessions are where you can see A LOT quickly, and have the ability to stop and talk to the people that did the work. They will talk, in general, freely about what they did and how they did it. You can get a sense if the work was well done, if they cut corners, etc.... and get an idea of the caliber of person you are deal. We get a lot from poster sessions that either I go to or others in the company go to.

SO - for the tech transfer office to get to me.

1. Put it on your web site, and make it indexed by a search engine.
2. Send an email. Every company has a way to get this information and to greater or lessor amounts read the email.
3. Have the inventor do what they are likely doing anyway, and go to shows. NOT to trade shows (the CHI series comes to mind here), but to shows like Experimental Biology or Keystone meetings or other normal scientific shows.