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

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rules for Industry

These are great rules. I didn't write them (obviously) but wow - they nail it. Hadn't really thought about writing these, but am really glad someone did.


I live under a log. I just don't think like this search committee did ( and follow up). About 50% of the folks at my level are female (depends how you score a couple of people, both men and women). There is only 1 level above me (and it is small and 2/3 male). I just can't comprehend this and would kind of be dumbstruck if it was said in a meeting about hiring someone. I sit through a lot (way way way way too many) hiring meetings, and this just doesn't come up. I don't think we are particularly enlightened. I don't even look at myself as particularly PC, but wow.

FemaleScienceProfessor is a great blog that continues to remind me that this still goes on. I, being male, am not affected by it directly. That said, I don't even see this stuff going on around me (which would be indirectly...). The best scientist at our company, and this is something the CEO (male) has said publicly many times (and he is not just blowing smoke, she is) is female. For what she works on I would say she is the best in the world but no one knows it outside of some industry folks (this relates to where our patent apps are years ahead of academic science....).

Good to have a blog that continues to show this happening.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Will they all hate me?

From my comments back here....A question about leaving the academic world behind...

However, I would like to ask you: how did you deal with the contemptuous attitude of your advisor and peers when you mention that perhaps a different job (in my case a sales rep position) might better your understanding of business in the biotech and/or pharma industry. You comments on this would be highly appreciated.

By the way: You blog came up when I did a google search on info on what to do with my PhD. Thank you. Your are making my life much happier, together with www.phdcomics.com

Also, I have a very similar story about finishing up. My significant other is also telling me that I would hate myself if I don't finish.
Couple of things. Bill, who commented on your questions, used to work with me. He in fact picked up my project when I graduated. So, at least one person still talks to me... I would say that amongst my direct peers I did not get any "attitude". A lot of questions (and that continues to this day) but no attitude. From my adviosor...whether I had stayed in academia or not he and I didn't part on the best of terms. His opinion, at the end of the day, was irrelevant to me. My departmental chairmans opinion, on the other hand, was a bit harder to stomach. He was, essentially, done with me. There were several other faculty that felt/acted this way. It's too bad really, but I have to say that I sort of expected it and didn't care.

I will say, though, that I DIDNT talk about what I was going to do next. I didn't bounce the idea off of them or anything like that. As I got real close to graduation and people directly asked, I answered that "I didn't have anything lined up but was looking to industry". That set people back, but I was essentially already out the door so the uncomfortable overlap was pretty short. I keep in touch with a couple of people from Grad school. None of the faculty, just some of my peers.

It will happen. I knew it and didn't care. Think you have to have that attitude.

With regard to finishing. I wasn't happy to hear it from her at the time becuase she was totally right and I was totally miserable. Hang in there.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

String at EMBL

This site, which I read about here, is cool. In my looking at gene expression panels as prognostic markers in cancer (something I do for a living these days) this will prove most useful. I had written, and had others write, many tools to help me. Several are like this, but worse. I like finding new cool things to use!

New blog that I found

Found Jonathan Eisen's blog where he is complaining about (he removed the company name but I saw it before then...). Read the rest of his blog. Interesting stuff. Worth reading.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Circle of life....

One of the many things I heard at AUTM was the need for Universities to find alternative funding sources now that the NIH budget was drying up. Many of those people took time to find me and pass me their card in the thought that I might be that source.

Given my last post on the matter, which is actually your problem to begin with, you have to realize that the sales of research reagents will fall. Since they will fall, I will have less money to spend. A nasty little link where your problem becomes my problem, which means I can't solve your problem.

Given the diagnostic side of things, where I am also active, there is money there. BUT there are many many many fewer things that I license for diagnostics vs. our research business. There are just more research tools and they are easier to launch in to the market. Diagnostics have long lead times and large amounts of cash needed per launch. Research tools are easy.

SO - the diagnostic business has money in it, but for very few projects. Research tools has no money, but needs lots of projects.

next couple of years should be interesting.

Buzz Kill....

Stories like this are not what a person who is in the research tools market likes to read. You can assume that our income matches that NIH funding levels. This isn't a news flash to me, as I worry about this a lot, but that was a nice summary of all of my worries written in a better manner than I can write it.

To any AUTM people left over coming here from the last post....you should figure that it will affect my ability to license....more about that in my next post.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

some other AUTM observations...

Another comment I didn't make, but wanted to, while in the audience.

  • Question asked by some University guy - "Why are so many companies looking overseas? Is is just cheaper?"
My answer, but I had already asked 1 question in that session, would have been NO - cheaper hasn't been the driver for me. I will, and do, go where the technology is. The overseas countries (and I am US based in case that wasn't blindingly obvious) have been investing a whole lot in their research. In terms of things I can license, this is paying off. We have done several deals with German universities this year already. Last year we were over 50% ex US in our licenses. Mostly Europe, in it's broadest definition, but also a couple from India. 1 from South Africa (and yes, that totally surprised me too when we found it...).

I don't think, but am too lazy to pull all the financials, that the licences from oversease were cheaper than good ole USA ones. I don't think they were easier to do. They certainly made me get up earlier in the morning as to do conference calls with them requires an early start to the day from California. If they were cheaper, it is a matter of a small degree as It didn't lodge in my head.

The panel IBM and Intel folks did answer the question and didn't bring up cost in their answers either.

AUTM meeting

I was just at the AUTM meeting in San Francisco. For those not "in the know" AUTM is the association of university technology managers. Basically the tech transfer office, although I learned there is quite a bit more to it than that.

I served on a panel at the meeting on the first day, which was interesting, and then through out the meeting popped up at a variety of sessions and failed to keep my mouth shut.

The main things I took from the meeting.

  • A question was asked by our industry panel on the first day of "What is the University tech transfer offices mission?". I can now say, having sat through many sessions, that every one of the offices has a seperate mission. Many are partly over lapping, and they all have some core in common but there are some pretty big differences. Some places are just tech transfer. Nothing more or less. Others have a mandate to do local area development. i.e. serve as an economic stimulator for the local economy. Others are deeply involved in building translation facilties to really make the technology come out of the university in a way that is much closer to early stage industry work. Much spread. This really does drive me to start asking a series of questions now when I deal with them - starting with "what is your goal". I had been operating on the assumption that it was to license out technology. Now understand that they may, and likely do, have other goals.
  • The tech transfer people really have no clue about industry trends. This was highlighted on the second day when the harvard guy was talking about the fact that Harvard is building a facility to do hit screening on compounds and pointed out that Pharma is moving away from that early stage discovery and has been looking to biotech to do that work. Biotech, under pressure from VC's, has been moving away from that slowly. I would say the Harvard guy was right, and as he and I talked about afterwards (he knew this) it has been going on in Pharma this way for several years. The surprising bit was the number of other people in the room who came from large research institutes who did NOT know this fact and had been wondering why Pharma wanted to pay much less for early stage targets.
  • The decision process within many tech transfer offices on how to pursue patents is NOT driven by what could, today, be licensable. Specifically, many folks were talking about licencing gene panels for diagnostics. This is something I am very interested in doing. They all said "Can't be done" and no one will pay for it. They based this on "the head of the office saying so". My response of "it can be done, and we have done it, and I will pay for it" surprised them. My follow up of once you put it in the public domain you likely kill the market also surprised them.
  • There are a lot of old white guys in charge....and a lot of woman not in charge. This was probably most clearly show cased by the fact that they gave everyone a free neck tie. Leaving aside the lack of color coordination that my tie had, it is not a very useful gift for a woman. You can make as assumption that she can give it to a significant other if you want to move to a new, and higher, level of sexism. I leave that as an exercise to the reader but I do think it wasn't well done.
  • You can't carry bottle openers on a plane. For serving on a panel I was given a wine bottle carrier and a bottle opener. I didn't even look in the bag and just put it in my luggage to carry home. The security guy at the airport was not that understanding...
BUT - the biggest take home message that I got from it was that industry and tech transfer offices really need to do more to understand each other. The things I go through were alien to them. The time pressures, the reason for IP etc.... they sort of got but not so much. On the other side, there was quite a bit that they go through that I don't get. The local development impetus - the number of people who have to sign off, the control from the state/local government were all things that I didn't fully apreciate.

Overall, a really good meeting. Hoping I didn't burn bridges, but I do have a big mouth....

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fish nor Fowl....

Over at "In the pipeline" he is talking about "hybrid" folks. By this he means those who do both chemistry and biology, and there is a bit of worry about whether or not they will be able to get jobs afterwards. He thinks academia will be more open to these folks than industry. I don't really know enough about this to comment on his example, but I would suggest a seperate example.


Recently, I was asked and answered about a woman who got a degree in bioinformatics and what should she do. I don't think I was overwhelmingly helpful to her, but I do think it points to the exact oppisate problem that Derek is talking about. I think the Bioinformatics degree is TOO specialized and not broadly useful. I think bioinformatics in the context of doing biology is good, but the bioinformatician has to (in my opinion) understand biology. They need to understand it at the bench level. In my view of the world, and I have worked with and managed several bioinformaticians, I have to say that I think the best ones were at one point bench biologists. They just seem to have a better grasp of the real biology behind the scenes. One can do a lot of math on things, but if you don't know what you are really modelling and whether or not that is real then I think you have problems.

Pure Bioinformaticians lack this.

Pure Bench biologists don't, as a general rule, have the programming skills necessary to code this. Most of us also don't have the math to get it done and make do by building a team of biologist/project manager/developer (with the project manager getting the boot a lot of the time). The project manager's job is to "translate" biology to computer and back again.

SO - This is sort of the flip of what Derek is talking about. Here, the bioinformaticians started as the hybrid folks, evolved to a "pure" version, and I think they have more problems now than they did before.

Scientists and boxes

Over here at Defective Yeti is a post you should read. Let me restate that... you should read all of his posts becuase they are really funny. Even his very serious ones are well written so while not funny are worth reading.

In any case, on this post further down is a comment that I will reprint here becuase I like the conclusion (I bolded it for those who just want to skip ahead.)

Did you listen to last weekend's This American Life? It was a repeat, but there was a story about an experiment a psychologist did on children around the age where they're chummy with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The psychologist put a box in the center of the room and told the children that there was NOT a monster in the box. Then he left the room, and the children scooted away from the box. In a second experiment the psychologist told the children that a puppy was not in the box. When the psychologist left the room, the children went to look in the box.

Sounds like 1) People don't grow up 2)Scientists get their kicks by putting boxes in the middle of rooms and telling lies.