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Industry Turns Out for San Diego Life Science Networking's First Event

Author: 
Theral Timpson

We’re in a room with a round bright ’70’s color rug, a futon, and some modern paintings on the wall of three happening guys: Jimi Hendrix, Albert Einstein, and Bob Marley. We’re at the office of the Chempetitive Group, a well-known life science marketing and communications agency with offices in Chicago, London, and San Diego.

“I'm a huge Jimi Hendrix fan!” Erik Clausen, general manager for Chempetitive’s West Coast office, says with a big smile. “I was born too late.” Erik and his colleagues hosted “Unwind” last Thursday after work. It’s the first social event for the new Linked In group San Diego Life Science Network. When I arrived, Michael Yared, the company’s Director of Digital Strategy was completely engrossed in a game of foosball in the lobby. “Don’t bother Michael,” his colleague joked. “He takes his foosball seriously.” Beyond the foosball table, about 100 of San Diego’s life science community mingled with drinks and munchies.

Clausen shared some facts with us about the area’s life sciences.

San Diego is the nation's third largest biocluster, behind the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston. There are approximately 40,000 employees in the life science community in San Diego County at roughly 700 companies, including traditional biotech, medical device, diagnostic and technology companies and institutes. Most of these businesses are clustered around the major academic institutions in the Torrey Pines Area: U.C. San Diego; the Salk Institute; and The Scripps Research Institute. The area boasts some of the biggest names in bio, including Illumina, Life Technologies, Gen-Probe, ViaCyte, Optimer Pharmaceuticals and Amylin Pharmaceuticals.

In addition, San Diego County's bid for supremacy in the fast-growing field of stem cell research will gain an iconic new image November 29, with the official opening of the gleaming center for some of San Diego County's top stem cell researchers. The 132,000 square-foot building in La Jolla will become the headquarters of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, a partnership between the five major academic institutions involved in stem cell research.

Located at the heart of the Torrey Pines biocluster, Chempetitive is ideally situated to reach out to the life science community. The Chempetitive folks are a fun, experienced group which (typical of a marketing agency) values creativity and high energy. Their tagline: Adding “life” to the life sciences.

“A lot of our best creative thought happens on a Friday afternoon, throwing darts, having a beer,” offers Clausen. Which was the case about six weeks ago when he and Yared started the San Diego Life Science Network with the intent of establishing a new and fun way for everyone in the biocluster to connect. “We pulled out our macs and decided to create a group. It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. And we recognized in a span of 45 minutes when we had 40-50 people signed into the group that there was something to this, that we needed to facilitate the group and create some dialogue.”

Well attended, the Unwind event offered Chempetitive a chance to mingle with some of its clients (Illumina, Biotix, BioNano Genomics), but also to bring the community together for networking and a good time. The after-work social came at an important time for some ex-Illumina employees, recently let go in the company’s first ever downsizing.

“It’s a dynamic group from many different kinds of companies,” said Shawn Baker, a guest at mendelspod.com. “The community is geographically so close that it’s easy to get together. They play in softball leagues, they support events like this. This is in contrast to the Bay Area where there are a ton of companies, but they’re really spread out. It could be a two-hour drive from one to the other, whereas here everyone’s probably within 5-10 minutes tops.”

Baker is a former Product Manager of Illumina who quit on his own late last year and has become known online for his up-to-date knowledge of next (and next next) generation sequencing. It wasn't but a month after he left Illumina that Shawn was recruited by BlueSeq, a start-up that helps pair researchers with the right sequencing platform for their needs. About his former colleagues Baker said “it’s really tough to be let go. But it’s a tight community here and this event is great. Hopefully it’ll end up being a good opportunity for them to move on and do something different."

The strong bonds in the crowd were noticeable. Judging by the size and mixture of the gathering and their restless exuberance, the San Diego’s life science community is certainly a thriving one. Events like this are not only a chance for marketing agencies like Chempetitive to bring their own clients together, but they can go a long way toward fostering connections, new and old, in a spirit of what the company calls, “chemunity.” It was a chance to improve one's foosball playing as well.

foosball

Theral and Michael Yared at the foosball table aided by other guests Provided by Chempetitive

You Can't Google Insight: Up Close with Steve Burrill

Author: 
Theral Timpson

Talk to anyone about the history of biotech, and at some point you’ll end up talking about Steven Burrill: venture capitalist, merchant banker, consultant, speaker, mentor, and teacher. On Nov 4, Burrill received the Scrip Lifetime Achievement Award in London's Grosvenor House.

“There’s an incredible number of people and companies who really owe their existence and success to Steve,” says colleague Fred Dorey, special council at the law firm, Cooley Godward Kronish.

Steve’s colleagues from the early days of biotech are quick to acknowledge him as one of the major architects of the industry.

“I’m receiving these lifetime achievement awards now.”

I met Steve at his office for an interview just days before the trip to London.

“I don’t know if it’s because they think I’m going to die. But it is nice to be recognized.”

Steve gives speech after speech around the industry and many insiders are familiar with his optimistic outlook and special insight for life science. My hope in interviewing him was to see Steve Burrill, the person. What was behind his great success?

In the spring of 1966, a day after graduating from college back in Wisconsin, Steve began work at the accounting firm, Arthur Young in San Francisco. His father George was head of the largest CPA firm in Wisconsin and his grandfather was the first licensed CPA in the state.

“My dad was well known, and everywhere I went, I was George’s son. I wanted to move to a place where no one knew my dad--who he was or what he did--and start my own career. Whatever I accomplished in life was going to be because of me.”

Steve leans back in a small side chair backed by the windows of his 27th floor office at One Embarcadero Center, the backdrop of downtown San Francisco below him. He is always in a pink tie. Burrill, whose own name is synonymous with the history of biotech doesn’t wait for questions. He’s comfortable talking about his success and happy to tell his story. Steve notes that his fortune has been largely a matter of timing, that he “was a useful cog in that early machine.” But timing itself is not all that has brought Burrill to his lofty perch overlooking the financial district of San Francisco and an entire industry. Nor was it his father’s name. Success has come from a special ability to develop his own insight and foresight, a passion to solve some major world problems through biotech, and an inner drive that has been with him since he can remember.

Insight x Foresight = Burrill

Early on, Burrill found a niche with Arthur Young (later Ernst & Young), going on to become the youngest partner in the firm. New biotech companies were looking for accounting help that was independent of bankers and finance people. Steve brought that expertise and also what was to become his most valuable asset, his insight. Offering an innovative pricing program where his clients could pay less up front for services and more later as they grew, Steve quickly filled his rolodex with life science and hi tech names, becoming advisor and often friend.

“I got my firm to put the senior partners on companies that had the least ability to pay,” said Steve. “Most firms assigned their top people to the clients with the most zeros.”

And it paid off. Steve helped build the firm to a $2.5 billion business, the largest in the world at the time. Another innovation Steve made was to persuade his clients to get him involved earlier, arguing that accounting and finance decisions should influence the business strategy. Typically a company contacts an accounting firm to do an audit after the transaction has taken place. This is still today one of Steve’s major points when he gives a speech on successful entrepreneurship.

“Small companies are too focused on patents and IP that they don’t consider enough the barriers to operation. The financing should dictate the strategy,” he told an audience of students at Stanford. “Many companies with a good chance at succeeding fail because they have a drip, drip approach to funding.”

Steve talked about the unique culture that was Silicon Valley when he built up the business at Ernst and Young.

“There was little fear of failure. In Wisconsin, or the East Coast, if I’d started a business and it failed, that reputation would carry through with me. Out here, people looked at failure differently and still do. When we find someone who’s stepped out and taken a chance, it’s a good thing. Obviously they are willing to do things others wouldn’t. There’s a naive confidence that is so important. They haven’t yet learned to listen to others say it can’t be done.”

Steve began to feed the innovative culture with his ability to see the bigger picture.

“There’s lots of information out there. Especially now. It’s ubiquitous and free. But there’s little insight. You can’t google insight.”

Being involved with business after business giving financial advice, he was able to pick up the general trends and form an overall view.

“I knew that I knew more about the industry than those in the industry,” he said with his trademark raspy voice.

“Come over here.”

Steve walked me over to a wall above his desk covered in career memorabilia, including a framed cover of GQ featuring a hip-hop Steve Burrill.

“Take a look at this,” he pointed to a framed program of his own TV show called Prime Time Tech TV that aired on FNN or Financial Network News (this was before CNN).

The list sported the names of the gliteratti of the hi-tech world, including John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, and Tom Peters, best selling business author. The TV show wouldn’t last, but was instead replaced by an annual report Steve compiled on the state of the biotech industry, now known widely as the Burrill Report. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the book, 25 Years: Looking Back to See Ahead.

On New Years Day of 1994, Steve founded Burrill and Co. exclusively focused on life science.

“I came to the decision that the best way forward was to own, and not to do. Ernst and Young was a service company. We didn’t own anything.”

This began Steve’s ambition to raise a VC fund.

“With Burrill I wanted to build value. And it wasn’t all about the money. I had a strong pull to the promise of biotech and what it could do to solve many of the world’s major problems.”

Steve charged straight up to Wall Street and made his pitch. Wall Street listened and acknowledged his idea, but the investors wanted to see a track record. Burrill licked his wounds, then went to the CEO of Bayer, the German pharma company.

“I asked him, how do you do innovation?”

Bayer’s leader told Steve that if there was innovation in the world, he was on top of it. Steve countered back.

“If I was involved with a start-up and we had a novel product, you’d be the last I’d tell. You give me $25 million,” Steve proposed, “and I’ll give you a window on innovation.”

He got it. And a lot more. Steve took the same speech to IBM, Proctor & Gamble, Chiron, Novartis and others and built himself a $600 million fund.

Burrill has now initiated what he calls version 5.0 of his company, the global phase, and is on his fourth VC fund.

“We have a wallet. That makes a difference. We can play monopoly with real money.”

Burrill and Co. consists of three divisions which make it such a unique firm. First of all, they are a merchant bank that handles many of the major industry deals. Second they are a VC firm with just under $1 billion in management. The company manages funds for other countries, including Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, and China. The media division is divided between content production--the book and monthly and weekly reports on the business side of the industry--and conferences around the world focusing on various modern trends including Personalized Medicine and Digital Health.

I saw Steve recently at his last Personalized Medicine Conference about which I wrote a month ago. Steve’s conferences are different from others. He introduces the show with his own distillation of available info and combines it with an outlook for the future. Always an outlook. He can talk about a world we don’t yet live in with authority.

“I’ve built a business from looking ahead. It’s like the game of hockey. You don’t go to where the puck is, you go to where it’s going to be.”

Burrill sat at the head of the conference room and stayed involved from beginning to end. He is able to attract the top names in the industry to speak. (Francis Collins called and asked to be included in the last conference.) Then, perhaps most importantly, Steve follows up each talk with his own probing questions before turning the queries over to the audience. He uses the conferences to challenge himself and others to take the next step.

Steve is perhaps in a unique position in that he draws practical insight from each of the three divisions of Burrill and Co.

“We challenge companies to think big, to think globally, to come up with new business models.”

Anyone who has heard Steve talk is familiar with his optimism for biotech. He enumerates the various challenges facing us today including food and fuel shortage, availability of clean water, climate change, bio security, and healthcare. He tells audiences around the world that biotech has answers to all of these. Motivation obviously comes from being able to make a difference. Steve Burrill

Steve Burrill at his office in downtown San Francisco Provided by Burrill and Co.

Building a Company and a Legacy with a Passion for Biotech

“When I was 10-12 years old my dad would drop me off at church on Sunday. Then he’d go to the office. Later I asked him, dad, why didn’t you come to church. I knew he wasn’t anti-religious. He said to me, ‘Steve, I loved my work.’ I’m the same way.”

Before sitting with Steve, I came across a short publication on the coffee table put out by the Life Sciences Foundation. The small booklet included brief excerpts about some of the original figures in biotech and biotech VC. Steve is the chairman of the board for the foundation which also contains some of the who’s who in the industry, including John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly and Phillip Sharp of MIT.

“What we want to do with the Life Sciences Foundation is to tell the real story of what happened. History and information are different. History is putting the information in a context that makes it useful in the future. Young people today don’t know who Cetus Corporation was. When Cetus went public, they had the biggest IPO of any company to date. That’s a big deal.”

With several staff members located at Burrill and Co’s office, the foundation has recently put up a website with an archive of oral histories and documents significant to the history of biotech. It’s a history which gives Steve pride and which he wants told. As someone who helped Cetus, one of the first biotech companies, get started in 1971 and who helped write the original business plan of Genentech back in 1976, he has ridden the high times and the lows. A highlight? I ask. He replies that there were so many, that when Roche purchased Genentech it was a truly great moment. At the time Genentech was valued with a higher net worth than Pfizer. “Who would have believed that this small biotech start up would grow so fast and overtake one of the largest pharma companies in the world?” Steve’s passion is contagious.

“My biggest surprise is how far we’ve gone. It’s well beyond what we envisioned. Long ago I realized that this wasn’t about being a day trader. We were interested in making a big difference in the world.”

Steve’s boss at E & Y asked him once why he was “messing around with this” (life science companies.) The young accountant shot back, that this is going to be the future. “I thought I’d be fired, but it’s how I felt.” Does Steve feel that he can influence the direction of the industry?

“Yes,” he says without hesitation. “At Burrill and Co. we always challenge the industry to go further, to do more.” The science has moved faster and further than anticipated, he says, but the business hasn’t. “We never anticipated knowing the causal factors of disease. That we would be predicting and preempting disease.”

Recently Burrill was asked to give a speech in L.A.

“I was at the airport and the driver showed up. It turned out to be a conference attendee who’d asked to drive me. He had heard me speak some fifteen years ago and whatever I’d said changed his life. So he wanted a few minutes with me so he could express his gratitude. Moments like that I remember.”

An Energizer Bunny Inside

Burrill goes in to work at 3:30 - 4 a.m. each day, sometimes working until 7 or 8 pm. “I’m a morning person. I come in early when I won’t be disturbed and get six or so hours of work in by the time most people are getting to work. ” (He even got the Starbucks across the street to open at 3:30 so he could stop by for his coffee.) With a staff of 40, Steve manages Burrill and Co. and travels the world. “I thought as I got older, I’d travel less. But it’s not true. I travel more. Except now it’s not to Monterey or Sacramento but to China and South America.” Steve recently returned from a 24 hour trip to Azerbaijan.

What keeps Steve Burrill going, I ask.

He thinks at some level he’s still trying to prove to his dad he can succeed.

“At school,” he says, “I was never good enough. A few years ago I was asked to give a speech back home in Wisconsin. My father--he was pretty old by then-- was present in the audience. I announced that I wanted to take a personal moment and then asked my dad to come up to be recognized by the audience. I said from now on, he’ll be known as Steve’s dad.”

After that did Steve come back, sit down at his desk, and say now I can relax--I’ve done it?

No. The word retirement is not in his vocabulary, he says. What does he do to relax? He doesn’t. He owns a house back in his home state of Wisconsin and has collected nine boats. Steve admits when he spends time in Wisconsin, which he says is as connected through internet and blackberry as anywhere, he does feel his blood pressure go down. But he’s working all the time.

“Here it’s Mercedes and business suits, there I go around in t-shirts driving pick-up trucks.”

The ever enthusiastic Burrill offered up some of his failures as well. For example, when he raised his first fund of $600 million, he put the investors on the board and gave them a say. It turned out to be a mistake which he did not repeat the next go round.

“They were trying to study up and make suggestions, when all I really needed was a yes or no. I was doing all the work.”

Work is life for Steve Burrill. When you email him, you can expect a quick response though you don’t know if he’s in his office, at an airport, or staying in Wisconsin. This last week it was off to London to accept the Scrip prize.

“I like the chase, the action, the thrill of how much I can get done in a day. I have an energizer bunny inside. Some folks like to be on the mountain and look out at the view. I prefer the climbing. I’ve never reached the top.”

Steve says there’s still a lot to do, many problems in the world to solve, that his firm could be more successful, that he’s thinking about book no. 26 and 27.

“He’s one of these characters you see in a cartoon that has all this dust swirling around him. He’s full of motion, full of energy, full of excitement.” says a friend, Ralph Snyderman, Chancellor Emeritus at Duke University and co-founder with Steve of the company Proventys.

What is it you want, I ask when Steve’s secretary knocks to announce his next appointment.

“Whatever it is, I still haven’t got it.”

A video made when Steve received the BayBio Pantheon Lifetime Achievement Award

Access Is a Right: Open Science Summit 2011

Author: 
Theral Timpson

This last weekend “open science” evangelist Joseph Jackson and his colleagues put on the 2nd annual Open Science Summit (we were a media sponsor). The conference was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California. Midway through the first day, a small unmanned robot appeared at the door. The little fellow stopped, looked around, then proceeded directly toward the stage forcing Mr. Jackson to pick up the pesky bugger and take him out of the room. The robot provided a moment of relief from an intensive and full two day conference on all things open science. The robot could be seen as a symbol for the new movement itself. A fun, tenacious and disruptive little guy, he points us to the future.

Avid, Young Supporters

Open Science is a grassroots movement backed by a committed group of fun, irreverent, and innovative folks who aim to shake up the status quo. (Before the end of the second day, the show had generated a whopping 1,700 tweets.) Kicking off the conference was a pizza and beer session at the newly opened bio-hacker space, BioCurious. The opening party was not the typical wine and cheese reception hosted in a chic hotel and sponsored by the local high end law firm. BioCurious is a 2,400 foot lab with half the space dedicated to bench and equipment for the ‘curious” DIY group and the other half an open space for classes. Beer showed up by the case brought by volunteers and served warm. Pizza boxes propagated on folding tables next to lab benches and pcr machines. Fluorescent lights buzzed overhead.

The DIY space in Sunnyvale, CA was co-founded by Jackson and a speaker from the conference, Raymond McCauley among others. “Our policy is no editorial or ethical control,” said McCauley as part of a conference presentation aided by pictures of electric drills-turned-centrifuges and kids’ toys. McCauley, a self proclaimed ‘citizen scientist,’ announced his passion to take bio to all: scientists, entrepreneurs, and the curious.

The bio-hacker crowd has a counter-culture feel to it. One of the more entertaining presentations was the young high tech hacker, Alex Peake, who showed off a game designed to teach kids code. There are an astounding 1,900 Hacker Spaces around the world teaching youngsters to hack. Hacker Spaces is now seen as school itself, an alternative to the traditional approach with classrooms and standardized testing. “Some kids don’t like school and don’t do well with standardized tests. Hacker Spaces provides a place they can learn and enjoy the process,” said Mitch Altman, a teacher involved in the open education movement.

The Future

A rapidly growing number of supporters embrace the idea that “open” is the future of science. Folks from leading research institutes and big pharma are exploring the potential of open access, open notebook, open source. Articles on the subject proliferate online. (Here's one from The Guardian.) Since the open access journal PLoS was launched in 2003, open publishing and sharing is taking off around the world.

“Access is a right,” proclaimed Nick Shockey, a presenter from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, or SPARC.

“Deep intellectual discussions embedded in code are not captured in a typical publication,” asserted Victoria Stodden in the keynote address.

“Less access equals less knowledge and this leads to more deaths from disease,” exclaimed Peter Murray Rust from the UK’s organization for all things open science, Open Knowledge Foundation. “I’m surprised more people are not angry about this.”

Peter was one of the fewer grey hairs in the crowd of committed supporters. And committed to what? To Science with a capital S. When we interviewed Jonathan Eisen here at mendelspod.com some months back, he explained that open is the way science used to be. That information has become walled up in the world of publishing houses. The closed access journals were seriously questioned and even vilified throughout the conference.

“These [closed] journals are nothing more than a vanity press for senior scientists,” Murray Rust told me at a break. “They are used for branding. Nothing more.” So why do folks still use them, I ask. “It’s a political problem,” Murray Rust explained. “And things are changing. Publishing houses are using outdated platforms that have no relevance today. In the future, papers will be posted in a repository and accessed by Google. There’s no reason for so many divided specialties when we have Google.” A chemist from Cambridge, England, Murray Rust says very little that does not provoke. He asserts that the American Chemical Society nearly shut down PubMed (who has aggregated a good deal of public data) through intense lobbying efforts. According to Murray Russ one of the ACS marketing campaigns reads: open science=government censorship.

Disruptive

The Open Science community makes no beans about it. They’re here to disrupt the status quo. One of Jackson’s favorite soap boxes is the area of IP, and he invited two patent attorneys to speak. Stephan Kinsella belongs to the Austrian School of Economics and has some radical views. The term ‘intellectual property’ is an oxymoron to him. “There are two pillars of society, knowledge and property,” he began his lecture. Knowledge is free and should not be restricted, he argued. What we call ‘stealing’ could also be called ‘learning.’ The patent system, according to Kinsella, “imposes scarcity on something which is not scarce, i.e., knowledge. We should not mend this system, but end it.”

A less radical presentation was made by Andrew Torrance, who shared the results of a simulation game he co-created to test the hypothesis of whether patent systems foster innovation. “I asked my research assistant to find me an article on the subject and he couldn’t. So I looked into it, and I couldn’t.” After five years of research with his simulation game, Torrance found that there is more innovation in an open commons than with a patent system. “We had a highly sophisticated game where folks were rewarded for inventions. They could patent, or not, and sue each other, or not.” The results of the simulation showed that open commons always won out. There were more inventions without the patent system.

Challenges and Solutions

A conference dedicated to an ideological movement tends to have hardened supporters and skeptics as well. Missing at this conference were representatives of big name companies. BGI, the world’s largest sequencing facility located in China was an exception. Marketing Director Joyce Peng presented the story of BGI’s involvement in sequencing the recent deadly outbreak of e. coli in Germany. This effort proceeded in record time due to an open collaborative effort. Also present was Bernard Munos, formerly of Eli Lilly. Munos has been a student of pharma management and is promoting what he calls “micropharmas” as a solution to the blockbuster model that has so far served big pharma. Munos suggests that a pharma company could be as small as 2-10 individuals working in collaboration with various other labs and organizations. “Drugs could be developed with this model for less than $200 million. This is still a large number, but much less than the typical $1 billion for drug development.”

The “micropharma” idea sounds promising as an answer to what everyone has been calling broken model. This was just one of many fascinating and stimulating solutions to surface during the conference which included the presentation of new web 2.0 companies for scientists. They are worth checking out: mendeley.com, 1degreebio.com, OpenOnward, Quartzy, and Scienceexchange.com.

Throughout the conference my own skeptic thoughts surfaced. Is it this simple? Torrance claimed there was more innovation in his game, but really he meant there were more inventions. Do more inventions equal more innovation? What about the quality of each invention? One might say Lipitor® is worth a hundred small inventions. I also wonder about the new crowdsourcing model for drug development. Is there the danger of too many cooks in the kitchen? Obviously journals are serving a purpose if we still use them. Most of my skepticism was answered by the end of the day Sunday. “Traditional journals are not up to the task,” said Victoria Stodden. “First of all, they don’t know what to do with the data. An article about a computational science without the data is not scholarship. It is advertising about scholarship.” Skepticism no doubt comes from holding on to the status quo and being leary of what’s to come. But just like the little robot, new ideas for the future have entered the room. Open science has said “hello world.”

Recent article in WSJ on Open Science.

Recent article from Forbes.com on DIY and BioCurious

Blu-rays to Chips: Sony DADC Enters Life Science and Diagnostics Industry as OEM Partner

Author: 
Theral Timpson

It came as a surprise that I was referred to a fellow from Sony some time back. Huh? Makers of my original Walkman? Dr. Ali Tinazli is the Director of Business Development and Sales for a new division called Sony DADC -Biosciences. There’s Sony Corp based in Japan, then there’s Sony DADC International which has been headquartered in Salzburg, Austria for a quarter century. With a yearly revenue of $2.2 billion, 35 plants worldwide, and a workforce of over 7,000, Sony DADC is the world’s leading supplier of Blu-ray discs. But what are they doing in the life sciences? Sony DADC has opened this new BioSciences business unit for the manufacture of what they call “smart consumables.” It’s impressive how they’ve already begun leveraging the strengths they’ve developed over the years--the best equipment, know how and quality production-to create products for life science.

“An increased demand for cost-effective solutions is shifting the industry focus towards prevention and lower cost solutions,” Ali pointed out recently. “And many of the new products and technologies developed are containing micro-structured polymer devices.” Listen to an interview with Ali on our podcast.

In just a couple years, Ali, and the new division, have secured several important partnerships. “We’re using an OEM B2B model, where we work with industry leaders or innovative start-ups who have already developed product prototypes, such as RainDance Technologies. Then we utilize the equipment and expertise we’ve built up in the compact disc industry to produce these very sophisticated new consumables.” Ali, who has a Ph D in biochem, formerly worked in business development at Applied Biosystems. “Sony DADC already has the infrastructure and the ability to rapidly scale up production. It’s a win/win for us and for a company like RainDance who develops the application and technology and partners with us for development and manufacturing,” Ali explained.

raindance

(Image: sonydadc.com)

RainDance Technologies is pioneering what they call “digital biology” with their new droplet-based technologies. Their products, such as the company’s core technology, RainStorm(TM), are enabling researchers to answer complex questions with a new level of precision, sensitivity, and quantitation. RainDance recently announced that Ambry Genetics had purchased their new ThunderStorm™ System,which is used forfor genetic testing and next-generation targeted sequencing services. RainDance and Sony DADC have announced the culmination of a multi-year collaboration for the co-development and manufacture of the micro-droplet based chips.

The products are called “smart consumables” because Sony DADC is using some sophisticated technology to layer microfluidic channels on a polymer rather than metallic or ceramic chip. The scalability and cost advantages of working with plastic is seen as the key to achieving real cost efficiency in manufacturing and thus removing a major barrier to mass adoption of the system.

Another partnership recently announced is with Quanterix Corp. who is enabling new diagnostic tests with their Single Molecule Array or SiMoA(T) technology. "We selected Sony DADC as our consumables partner because they are the clear world leader in the micro structuring and manufacturing of high volume optical products," said Martin Madaus, Ph.D., Quanterix Executive Chairman in a statement. "Sony DADC's proven optical disc technology provides Quanterix with a consumable that meets the requirements of high sensitivity diagnostic testing both today and into the future.”

Ali points out that the global trends in healthcare--cost effectiveness, prevention, personalized medicine--are creating new markets for point-of-care devices that use the “smart consumables.” They estimate the market for microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip solutions to nearly triple by 2020.

That Sony DADC would open a biosciences division appears to make a lot of sense. No doubt the entry of a world manufacturing leader into this space will go a ways towards developing the technology that will power the growth they anticipate.

Are Most Published Research Findings False?

Author: 
Eric Schuur

Many people are aware of the work of John Ioannidis regarding the analysis of research findings and the conclusions drawn from those analyses. In particular, these concepts were described by him in a paper published in PLOS Medicine in 2005 is apparently the most downloaded article from that journal.

I’ve had this article on my mental favorites list for some time now. I am finally putting a few words in print about it mostly to put a stake in the ground on this issue because I believe it is an important one in this era of high volume research reporting. In short, I agree with the article’s main conclusions, although I might phrase it as “most published biomedical research conclusions are not true”. This is not to say I think there is some conspiracy or that statistics are useless. To the contrary: statistics is an enormously useful field of applied mathematics. I also think a great deal of very good research is being done in labs and clinics around the world by very dedicated and smart researchers.

My concern over the veracity of biomedical research and how these results are reported stems from the nature of statistical models and test versus how they are interpreted and reported. Within that discussion is another around the unspoken assumptions underlying both our biological and statistical models.

Perhaps the stickiest issue for me is the use, or misuse, of p values in many published studies. Without getting too long-winded about it, far too often the p value is used all by itself and given the status of a “stamp of approval”. Using a p value in isolation (i.e. p=0.001 therefore I won!) is ignoring a lot of important information. What type of test did you “win”? What distribution of p values for this test did you assume? Are your assumptions correct? Did you keep testing data until you found the p value you were hoping for?

Fortunately, I think the wider scientific community is waking up to the deficiencies in the most commonly used statistical analysis scenarios. This recent article from Genomeweb does a nice job describing the basic appropriate role for statistical analyses in biomedical research. An important distinction pointed out in their article is that statistical significance and biological (or clinical) significance are two different things. When we rely on statistics to identify important relationships within a vast ocean of information, it is all the more important to understand what these mathematical tools are telling us.

As the wise scientist once said, “Never assume anything other than a 4% mortgage.” I mentioned assumptions above in the sense of statistical models; assumptions also come into play in experimental design. My sense of it is that these assumptions are usually underappreciated or perhaps even ignored. The danger, of course, is that incorrect assumptions, statistical or experimental, can invalidate the results and conclusions of any research. Often these assumptions difficult to verify, which we might be able to cope with, if we knew what these assumptions were.
Unfortunately, they are not part of the standard scientific reporting paradigm. This recent article in PLoS Computational Biology sheds some light on the issue of reporting experimental assumptions. Again, by bringing the issue to light there is hope that we can begin to change our science reporting procedures to incorporate some discussion of assumptions.

I find it reassuring that these discussions about accurate analysis and reporting of scientific research are surfacing. Opening up communication about these critical issues will greatly enhance our ability to navigate through the ocean of biomedical studies available to us.

Having Your Wine and Drinking It Too

Author: 
Theral Timpson

Some of us figure out how to have our cake and eat it too, or in this case, our wine and drink it too.

When I came across a new pharma related start-up a month ago, I noticed right away that they were in Healdsburg, California, a hip hamlet in Sonoma County just north of Santa Rosa. The small town (pop. 11,254) is known for fine dining, upscale boutiques, and wine. Lots of wine. The town sits at the conjunction of three important wine growing appellations: Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander. AdverseEvents.com is a new start-up/website that takes all the adverse events or negative side effects from the FDA’s site and cleans this data up into a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate site for patients and pharma companies alike. What was the company doing in wine country? Obviously there was more to the story.

Brian Overstreet is the CEO of AdverseEvents.com and owner of Bruliam wines, a small winery located in the Dry Creek Valley. Brian comes from the financial sector, working as a managing director for Midori Corporation, a privately held investment bank back in the 80’s and 90’s. From there he went to the online space, becoming CEO of DirectPlacement.com, providers of the first online forum for public companies to privately sell their securities to institutional investors. This led the founding of Sagient Research Systems, a publisher of specialized research and data for pharmaceutical companies. When a partner’s wife got terribly sick and hospitalized from a bad reaction to her medication, Brian and his partner went looking for help online and came up pretty empty handed. All they found was the FDA’s site. Adverse Events, Inc. was born.

We met Brian at his small office on the main street through Healdsburg, the back suite of an old craftsman home turned swanky office. Brian works in walking distance to some of the finest dining in Sonoma County, including the Dry Creek Kitchen, Charcuterie, and Scopa. The office was a bit dim and we wanted to do some filming with Brian, so he suggested we head off to the winery. No problem there. On the way to the Dry Creek Valley (ten minute drive) Brian told me about the site.

“The FDA’s database is basically unusable,” Brian said matter-of-factly. “We take the data, and through a 17 step process we call RxFilter(TM), we make it usable for patients and the pharma industry.” According to Brian, over 500,000 adverse events are reported to the FDA each year. Harmful side effects to the over 4,000 drugs out there. Even this number, Brian says, is estimated to be only 10% of all adverse events experienced. Not hard to believe. I’ve never gone on and reported any. Brian feels that his new website will make it easier to report these events as well as clean up what’s already reported.

So what’s an example, I ask as the scenery turns to rows of vineyards, deep green in the Sonoma sun. “Look at Ambien,” he says, “it’s listen in over 400 ways on the FDA’s site due to misspellings and a host of other reasons. We take all of that and put it under one name. So the data is much more usable.” “So if someone misspells the name Ambien on your site,” I ask, “then it won’t come up.” “Ah ha, it will come up. But it will be the same data which shows.

Bruliam Wines is not far down the Dry Creek Valley and housed in a sort of wine co-op. Brian acknowledges that his outfit is small, but he beams with pride as he carts around a bottle of his vintage. He buys his grapes from the famed Rockpile appellation at the end of the valley. The vineyard is elevated and so gets a fog inversion from Lake Sonoma. According to Brian, it’s terrible soil, and dry farmed. So there is low yield, but oh so intense fruit. Brian sounds equally excited talking about terroir as he does about Topirimate. “It wasn’t easy to get grapes from Rockpile. My wife basically stalked the Mauritson family for months. She made cakes and breads and would take them by. Then one year, we were in. And once you’re in, you can count on fruit each year” We entered the wine tasting room. He’d been packing a bottle of the Bruliam Zin along with us. The label read: Wine is elemental.

After a brief tour, we filmed Brian next to the winery. I like Brian’s story. It’s the entrepreneur saying to government, hey we can take this and do better. It’ll be good for the patient, good for big pharma, and there’s some money to be made in the process. During the interview Brian shared his Zin and let me just say there were no adverse events. Unfortunately, it was a heavy work day and there was all kinds of motor activity around so the video didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. We’ve edited a version here to give you some pictures of Brian and the place.

We’ve re-taped an audio podcast with Brian speaking about the website and his wines. Listen here.

As we returned to the office, I asked Brian if he’d had any surprises curating the drug data. “Oh, yeah, for sure. Ever hear of sildenafli citrate? (I waited for him to speak English.) Otherwise known as viagra.” Where was this going to go? “So there’s quite a few reports sent in about viagra. Those stories you hear are true. There are folks who have to go to the hospital because, well, let’s say the drug works too well. They can’t get it down. We’re talking 10 hours, 12 hours. It’s called priapism.”

Too much of a good thing. I wonder about Brian’s life in beautiful Healdsburg running an online company that can be done anywhere. How could one have too much of that lifestyle? Perhaps the answer came last week. Brian officially launched his company at Health 2.0 in San Francisco and because of an oncoming early rainstorm, all of the grapes had to be harvested the same week. “It was a mad rush,” he told me recently during the podcast. “My poor wife was at the winery from five in the morning ‘til 10 at night getting he fruit in.” What was the secret to living one’s dream? I asked. “Hey, you only live once, right?”

The Business of Translating the Genome: Burrill’s Personalized Medicine Conference 2011

Author: 
Theral Timpson

If we’re still in the Wild West of genomics, Steve Burrill could be called one of the major ranchers. In a landscape new and still quite unknown, Burrill has tamed a large plot and established Burrill and Co. as a place newcomers to the area as well as the local population can come for advice, knowledge of the surroundings, and perhaps a deal. Burrill is comfortable in his frontier lifestyle. He pioneered the biotech industry 40 years ago, sits on the board of a list of life science companies, and puts on six conferences a year around the world.

Last week Burrill and Co held their 7th annual Personalized Medicine Ho-Down. This year’s show packed a power line-up into a day and a half, including the major CEO’s of the sequencing industry--Greg Lucier of Life Technologies, Jay Flatley of Illumina, Hugh Martin of Pac Bio, and Cliff Reid from Complete Genomics--as well as George Poste, speaker extraordinaire, and NIH Director, Francis Collins. Burrill kept the conference tightly focused on three main issues facing the industry: complexity, complexity, and complexity. The science is not as simple as one gene, one disease. Regulation and reimbursement continue to allude. And that issue everyone is talking about--what to do with all the data.

Burrill shepherds his conferences from beginning to end. Beginning with a cold reality check, he didn’t want folks going home without some meat. Burrill has all the numbers and vision to inspire, but there’d be no pie in the sky at this meeting. Citing articles from the New York Times and other publications, and a statement even from Craig Venter asserting that the genome was essentially useless information, Burrill was ready to put it all on the table. “The science is more complex than we thought,” he admitted. “And business has moved faster than the science. . . I don’t mean to be negative, I’m just listening to the real world.” He talked about all the different players in the field. “Pharma gets it, the patients get it, but the doctors are way behind.” No doubt Burrill keeps his finger on the pulse by producing these conferences. And he aimed to put this group of pioneers to work. “Are we there yet?” he provoked.

The science ain’t as easy as we thought

“In 2001, we thought diagnostics meant we’d be a SNPs company. It’s more complicated than that.” Steven Little, Qiagen

To address the issue of the complexity of the science and the interpretation of the data, Burrill called on George Poste of Arizona State University. Poste has a way of layering one level of complexity on another. There are multiple pathways, multiple targets when looking at a disease. There’s a vast amount of data yet to be understood. Of that data, an increasing portion is bad science. And what to do with the data--where will it all be stored? Once it is stored, there is no common ontology to make sense of it. And once there is analysis, the doctors aren’t up to speed. Poste’s method is to throw fast ball after fast ball and simply overwhelm. I had a teacher who used this method. It works. When one feels sufficiently screwed, the new ideas begin to emerge. Poste’s solutions included a quote from General McCrystal, the former commander in Afghanistan, “it takes a network to stop a network.” Speaking of how single cells have multiple routes for the same function, Poste urged a more comprehensive approach. “Target the pathways, the modules, the network. . . Let’s take on disease earlier with advanced network deregulation.” Urging new paradigms he asserted, “ahead, there will be a fusion of life science with engineering and communications.”

Getting reimbursed ain’t as easy as we thought

“FDA Clearance did nothing for us in the clinic.” Pierre Cassignuel, XDx

There are two themes to the reimbursement topic: regulation and payment capture. One panel called, “The Business,” was populated by four companies successful at both: XDx, CardioDx, PrimeraDx, and Tethys Bioscience. Pierre Cassignuel, president of XDx has done everything right (including leaving the unfriendly attitude toward Personalized Medicine in France behind and sitting on the current board of the Personalized Medicine Coalition). XDx offers a blood test for heart transplant management. The test replaces the current method of taking biopsies. Not only is there risk associated with the biopsies, Pierre’s test offers a reduction in cost, selling for $3,000 compared to the $5,000-$15,000 for the biopsies which can be taken up to 35 times a year. Test is FDA cleared. Test is better than previous standard of care. Test is cheaper. Win/win/win, right? Pierre says his biggest challenge is that hospitals are still preferring the biopsies because management and doctors look at total revenue. They make more money the old way.

Dietrich Stephan has served time in the trenches. Founder of the personal genetic testing company, Navigenics, Stephan is also founding the Ignite Institute with the goal of changing the paradigm in health care from reactive and generalized to proactive and personalized. Stephan asserts that the FDA’s guidelines for diagnostics are based on those developed for devices in the 1970’s. He says he’s seen both sides, that of business and of FDA regulators. “I’d love to see a grey-haired panel helping the FDA out with the science. We need a new process which is revisable.” Stephan finds it ridiculous “that everyone these days has two tracks--one through the FDA and one around. Whenever investors look at the business plan of a new device company, the investors insist that the company go abroad with the product first, then to the FDA!”

With each speaker and panel, Burrill gave time to the audience for questions and comments. This opened up the real questions, such as one asked by a diagnostics company CEO, “what is the value proposition for my investors when there’s such resistance on the part of the FDA and the payers to a very effective product?” Burrill let the panel do their best to deal with this daunting question, then took the reins. “There’s no doubt about it. Investors are cynical today. Early investors drank the cool-aid, now they’re saying show us the revenue. At first we thought that the regulatory burden was the problem, but no. There are ‘perverse incentives’ built in which are more real than previously thought.” Burrill urged companies to get their technology into the clinical workflow. To get it adopted in protocols and guidelines. “Clinicians are creatures of habit” he reminded.

Translation ain’t as easy as we thought

“For now, digital pathology is the entry into the clinic.” Cliff Reid, Complete Genomics

To lighten things up, Burrill called on Kevin Davies, author of The $1,000 Genome. (It’s a time-honored practice in America--call in the English for a bit of history, drama, and humor.) Davies gave a nice overview of the history of genomics aided by some terrific slide pictures, from a snapshot of Cambridge where things began to a picture of the Faroe Islands whose current population of 50,000 will all have their genome sequenced. It was at the end of his presentation that Davies, who may need to write another book about the $100 Genome, gave examples of recent clinical use of the genome. They are few, so the examples are a bit over-used. For instance Davies told the positive story of Nicholas Volker. The young boy's illness alluded his doctors until his genome was sequenced, and an unexpected mutation convinced them to do a bone marrow transplant. This turned things around for little Nick, who is doing well today.

Mentioning the “thousand-dollar genome with the million dollar interpretation,” Davies was the first of the audience to question the panel of sequencing company CEOs (and CMO in the case of Paul Billings of Life Technologies) about what would move us further toward clinical use of the data. While Hugh Martin of PacBio talked about his company being able to offer the fastest sequencing and Jay Flatley revealed that half Illumina’s revenue comes from sequencing, Cliff Reid of Complete Genomics had the most to say about the clinical use of the data. Perhaps this is because his company is exclusively focused on sequencing human genomes and, in fact, is now beginning to do diploid sequencing (current genome sequencing is really for only half the genome.) “We rely on two services,” Reid said, “sequencing and FedEx.” Complete Genomics recently announced they would be sequencing genomes for 1,000 people who have lived long lives in collaborations with Scripps Health in a project to discover the genomic secrets of healthy elderly people. Reid acknowledged the difficulty of reading the data and spoke of the format the company uses to present the results. Pushing all of the CEOs to share their thoughts on the future, Burrill asked about the need for standards so that the data might be more easily digested. To this Reid pushed back asserting that “standards too early are harmful.” For clinical applications, Reid suggested, pathologists are the most willing and prepared to accept and use sequencing data. “Genomics has to come to the same point in medical schools that radiology has come to. And this will take decades,” Reid concluded.

The future is bright

“We live in the century of biology. Bio is the best investment today.” Francis Collins

Burrill introduced NIH Director Francis Collins, saying that Collins had called and asked him if he could speak at the conference. If Burrill is an established rancher in this new untamed land, Collins is the man sent by government to oversee and make awards for various mining and surveying projects. The NIH as a $30 billion annual budget and Collins assured the crowd that he was focused on “reengineering the therapeutic development pipeline.” He pointed to fields such as drug repositioning and better prediction of drug safety as great opportunities for business. “So far finding new uses for drugs or retired compounds has been serendipitous.” Now, Collins urged, we can predict new connections and purposes. (See our upcoming interview with NuMedii, a spinoff from Stanford focused on drug repositioning.) Collins wants to see the NIH “serve as an honest broker” between those who have the compounds and those who could create new opportunities. Collins affirmed that despite tightening budgets in Washington, he was “determined not to slip into a conservative approach.” He urged the crowd to tell the story of personalized medicine to others. “Contact your local congressmen and invite them over to your businesses. We have a great story to tell.”

Grabbing a coffee between sessions I met David Ewing Duncan, life science journalist and author of The Experimental Man. Duncan had been comparing notes with a very talkative and animated Martin Reese, founder of Omicia, a company established to make clinical interpretations of the Genome. (Stay tuned for our interview with Omicia who launches officially next week.) Duncan was cutting out early to head to another engagement and told me he’d heard some of the talks before. “We’re just in the beginning,” he said. “It’s happening, but it takes time.” This is not lost on Burrill who has spent his career taming new territory. “The industry has not perceived the complexity of capturing payment” he repeated wrapping up the show-down. In a final challenge to the audience to find new models he used Twitter as an example. “Increasingly the value capture lies outside of the product.”

Just another day at the ranch for Burrill and Co.

Life Sciences in Japan: Coping with Disaster

Author: 
Theral Timpson

On March 11th, 2011, Hiroyuki Odaka, a former customer of mine hopped on the morning train for the hour commute into work from his home in a Tokyo suburb. Odaka-san, as I learned to call him on our first introduction some twelve years ago, is the marketing director for BM Equipment, one of the largest and oldest life science distributors in Japan. Perhaps he grabbed his morning coffee before stepping into BM’s office in the Bunkyo-ku district just next to the University of Tokyo. He would have a morning meeting with his sales staff, and talk to several of his over 700 distributors by noon. After lunch he may be signing off on a new internet marketing campaign. A typical day.

Until 2:45 pm.

Then the largest earthquake in Japanese history, and one of the five greatest on record, a 9.0 seismic event, began shaking the east coast of Japan. The earthquake lasted over two minutes and caused upwards of $34 billion in damage. It was followed by a massive tsunami more than 500 km in length with waves of over 130 feet high.

“It went forever,” Odaka said of the tremor. “I remembered our training when we were kids in school, and I got down under my desk. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that.” With utmost regularity and punctuality he has paid me visits over the years never going more than a year in between. He dresses in a dark suit and conservative tie. He always hands me a gift when we meet. I have been to Japan many times, and Odaka plays the perfect host, arranging hotel, transportation, schedule, meals, and entertainment. He’s a gentleman and a solid businessman. He has a wife and 10 year old son. He golfs on Saturdays.

The earthquake on March 11 was the worst disaster since World War II for Odaka and the Japanese. The earthquake and tsunami caused over 15,000 deaths with around 5,000 still missing. It damaged or destroyed 125,000 buildings and created havoc with major infrastructures such as roads, railways and dams. Around 4 million households in northeastern Japan were without electicity and 1.5 million with water. And perhaps most reported, three reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant suffered explosions due to hydrogen gas that built up after cooling system failure. Residents within 20 km of the power plant were evacuated due to radiation contamination.

Odaka and I have emailed several times since the earthquake. Now he sat across from me at an Afghani restaurant in Fremont and related his personal story. After the earthquake he headed home. His first thoughts were on his wife and son who take an hour train ride to the boy’s private school where he studies English. The boy’s mother rides with her son to school then comes home. She then rides the train again in the afternoon to pick him up for a total of 4 hours of commute in her day.

“The train was out of service. The earthquake was at near three in the afternoon and I was afraid he might be on the train,” he said reliving his fear for his family. “The mobile didn’t work. Email didn’t work.” Odaka-san left work immediately and joined the shocked millions in the street as he panicked over his family. Somehow, text messaging began working and Odaka got in touch with his wife. The boy was safe. He had not been on the train. “Guess how long it took me to get home?” he asked. I made a stab at it. An hour commute by train now to be done on foot. 5 or 6 hours I guessed. “Ten hours. My wife picked me up eventually. There was so much traffic.”

What was it like in the streets, I asked.

“It was very busy. Many trying to get cabs. A lot of people.” Odaka is not a dramatic person. I remember shortly after the earthquake reading a blog written by someone who had been in Tokyo that day. He was astounded at the orderliness of the Japanese people. He saw cues for taxis that were a hundred people long. There was no shouting or shoving. Some buildings had structural damage and they were assessed by security immediately. The police and traffic police were available and friendly. Starbucks stayed open and provided friendly service to crowds. Auto drivers didn’t honk their horns despite the massive jams. From my experience in Japan this account sounds credible. I asked Odaka if I could take notes and blog about his experience. He agreed then immediately added, please say how appreciative we are of America for their help and Europe and other Asian countries.

How has the disaster affected business, I wanted to know, particularly for life science companies. Though it’s in the Japanese nature to give sunny reports on business and life (not telling the reality of the Fukushima situation has brought down the government.) Now, Odaka seemed determined to give an honest account. One of his distributors in the north saw his office and business completely destroyed. Odaka has been north to see several of his customers. On his first trip after the quake, he couldn’t book a hotel. Nor was there any hot water. The distributor who lost his business has not begun rebuilding. Odaka said he was not concerned over radiation exposure in his travels. But he was overwhelmed with the damage. “The tsunami was much worse than the earthquake.” He continued, his eyes alive with the recollection. He was agitated over the treatment of young people who had been evacuated to Tokyo for school. “It’s the most sad thing. A lot of the primary kids from the north are called ‘contaminated.‘ They are shunned.” Odaka found this disturbing and out of character for Japanese people. “After World War II,” he said, “people were more open.”

Business for BM, which had been flat, is down. This is due largely to a 30% cut in government funding to universities. The government has been left with the massive bill of paying for the recovery and relief efforts. However, the industrial market is ok, he said. This was confirmed in an early report by GenomeWeb about American companies doing business in Japan. See also this article from Genetic Engineering News published on August 26th for another look at the impact of the disaster for life science. MassDevice has reported that several life science companies made substantial donations for relief efforts, including Abbot Laboratories and Amgen who kicked in a combined $4 million for relief.

Odaka says he’s been to the US three times since the March quake because American businessmen are not coming over there for fear of radiation exposure. Tokyo, a city of 30 million, lies only 140 miles southwest of the Fukushima Power Plant. He understands the trepidation, yet he personally feels safe. “It could have been much worse,” he assures me. He seemed to find relief in relating his story. Thinking recently about America’s own tragedy 10 years ago on Sept 11, I was quite ready to listen.

Innovate or Else: Healthtech: Next Generation 2011

Author: 
Theral Timpson

If you ever have a chance to hear Guy Kawasaki, take it. Guy keyed off the first ever one-day HealthTech Next Generation 2011 conference Aug 12th in Burlingame, CA. We usually cover life science conferences, but this one, which brought together leaders of the healthcare and IT industries, seemed too cool to miss. The organizers did a great job making the conference more lively and fun with Kawasaki leading out and a magician act during lunch, as well as bringing together experts to venture into the future. I’ve not heard Kawasaiki before, so I was not immune to his charisma and excitement for entrepreneurship and innovation. Guy worked twice for Apple, Inc. and once turned down a job as president of an unknown start-up in the mid-90’s by the strange name of Yahoo, a fact which Kawasaki used during his one-hour speech titled ‘Innovation in 10 Steps.’ One of Kawasaki’s steps is ‘Don’t listen to the Bozos’--those folks who say you can’t do it. Regarding the offer for Yahoo, Kawasaki said famously, “it’s too far to commute from my house, and I don’t see why anyone would use the service.” Kawasaki estimates that his stock in Yahoo would be worth $2 billion today as he contemplates the short distance from San Francisco to Menlo Park. In addition to listing himself as a Bozo, he also had the former CEO of IBM up on the slide for saying there was maybe a market for 10 computers in the world.

How else do we innovate? How about “Don’t worry be crappy,” step 5. Don’t wait til the product is perfect. Get it out there. Then work like crazy to update, going from 1.0 to 1.1, 1.2 and so on. And when something is working that your customers like, go with it, even if it’s not your main intention. Kawasaki calls this step 6 or “Letting 100 flowers blossom”--a line from Mao Tse Tung. Relating personal stories to emphasize all of his major points, Kawasaki told of the fact that Apple wanted desperately to put out a great word processor and spreadsheet in the beginning. But the customers liked Apple’s desktop publisher instead. It took a while, he remembered, but finally the folks at Apple said, “hey, let’s go with desktop publishing and stop trying to be Microsoft.” We all know what happened next.

HITECH Act Stimulus Dollars

With the passing of the HITECH Act, healthcare organizations can received stimulus incentives to use EMR’s. This is spawning new companies like Dr Chrono, epion, and new life for companies such as RedSpin.

Dr Chrono

Dr Chrono is a start-up based in Mountain View, California (surprise) and sells an EMR app by the same name. Not in the Expo hall of this conference, Dr Chrono was brought to my attention last week by a friend who just began working there. Using the all-popular iPad, Dr Chrono replaces paper records, providing physicians a way to complete everyday tasks and access information. This can be done through the Dr Chrono app but also is available from any Web browser, iPhone, or Android. Physicians can use the app for scheduling appointments, writing e-prescriptions (can be sent to any pharmacy), paperless billing, taking notes, transcription, and drug interaction tests. X-rays, EKG’s, or lab results can be uploaded to the app.

The app is free on one iPad, but more devices require subscriptions ranging from $99 to $199 a month. Most importantly perhaps is that using Dr Chrono qualifies medical practitioners for $44,000 in economic stimulus incentives provided through the HITECH Act which set aside $19.2 billion to persuade doctors to transition from paper to digital.

Epion

Another new company, Epion Health, is using the electronic tablet (they make they’re own) to target “low health literacy.” According to the company’s website, poor knowledge of health is costing the U.S. healthcare system $200 billion annually. The idea is for the tablet to educate patients while they wait outside (and inside) the doctor’s office. The content is peer reviewed and coming from the Mayo Clinic, who, according to the company, has entered into a partnership with Epion to provide exclusive content. Epion will provide the tablet free to physicians and relies on sponsors for revenue.

RedSpin

In order for physicians and clinics to qualify for federal stimulus incentives, they must have an IT security audit. No one could be more pleased with this requirement than RedSpin. The company specializes in testing whether an organizations is vulnerable to threats to their IT system. Not just about preventing hackers from accessing patient records, the company tests things like whether internal passwords are strong or used at all and whether backups are in place. RedSpin is focuses on the healthcare industry but also serves banking and financial services, retail, energy, technology, hospitality and casinos.

Conference Tracks

Taking place for just one day, the conference teased with fantastic titles including ‘Data Privacy and Security - Are we safe?’, ‘Meaningful Use of EHR - Hit the Ground Running!’, and ‘Future of Healthcare Systems - Innovate or Else.’ I attended ‘Adoption of mHealth - Got iPads?’ which included a panel of experts, including physicians and an electrical engineer. Focusing mostly on ‘tele-health,’ this discussion began with stories about using technology, mostly mobile phones, to aid in the treatment of victims in the recent Haiti and Katrina disasters. Dr. Enoch Choi from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) gave an account of his experience setting up a triage in Haiti pretty much all from his mobile phone which had excellent service while there was no power or internet.

Mobile Health

Dr. Choi’s employer has been an early adopter of mobile technology, using their own App to connect with their patients. If you see a doctor at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, you can submit a request over your mobile and expect to hear from your doctor within 2 hours, a great example of how technology is changing medicine. (When I think of how hard it is to reach my doctor outside of scheduling an appointment, Dr. Choi’s advertisement for interconnectedness made me feel somewhat left behind.) Upon a comment from the audience about challenging problems for tele-health such as the fact that “there is no good reimbursement model for tele-visits (doctors charge much less for a visit over the phone, yet it takes the same amount of time), Dr. Choi replied, “it’s not a matter of whether to do it, we have to do it.” The planners at PAMF consider connecting with their customers over mobiles as the entry for service. Kaiser is offering services like answering medical questions over the phone for free. In order to compete, a healthcare organization must interact with their customers in new ways just to have them as patients, Dr. Choi emphasized.

It’s true, their are major challenges in addition to reimbursement including liability issues, malpractice concerns, working over state lines, and health fraud (is the person at the other end of the line even a doctor?).

According to Dr. Sara Rushinek, a professor at the University of Miami, tele-health can be used as incentives for advertisers as well as employers. She told of doctors using the X-Box to communicate with their patients. In this case a doctor “can talk to extended family as well which rarely happens in the office setting.” Perhaps the spiciest moment of the conference came not from Kawasaki but from Dr. Rushinek. As expected, someone voiced concern that something is lacking in a video conference with a doctor. The physician is unable to touch the patient and therefore somewhat handicapped. In many cases this kind of touch contact is not needed for follow up visits, Dr. Rushinek replied. “Think of porn,” she ventured, “it may be coming over the TV but you’re still having the sex experience.”

Health in the 21st century--where are we headed?

Adding Glamour to Science: Around the World with the Diva of Biotech

Author: 
Theral Timpson

In every age and culture, the world has had its divas, and it turns out life science is not without its own. The Romans obsessed over Cleopatra. In the last century there was Liz Taylor, playing the exotic queen of Egypt on the silver screen. Today Beyonce struts the role. And the life sciences? Enter Ms. Ruby Gadelrab, Head of Marketing and Clinical Development, International Markets for a leading Bay Area genomics company. She’s known on Twitter to over 1,600 followers as simply @divabiotech. The word ‘diva’ is derived from the Italian noun, diva, which refers to a female deity, a goddess. Ms. Gadelrab certainly gets around the planet like a deity. She is full of spice, sporting five inch heels and plenty of glamour. And she’s on a mission.

Producing a series of upcoming podcasts called “Biotech in China,” I’ve been looking for someone from the US who could tell me what it’s like working in China. What it’s really like. A colleague said I must follow @divabiotech. Ms. Gadelrab had blogged from Shanghai where she spent four months last year. So I met the Diva over a glass of wine, or two. “Meet me in Palo Alto or Santana Row,” she emailed me, “there’s nothing in between.” I had some business in Santa Clara close to her office and thought it would be convenient. We could find a local Starbucks or a pub. Divas don’t live in the world of convenience.

China

“Let me tell you about China,” she offered before I could order a glass of Zinfandel. “Just down from our office over there is Cartier, Tiffanys, Louis Vuitton. Set in the gorgeous Luwan district of Shanghai, our office there is the most beautiful one anywhere in the world. When I started this job two years ago, I thought China was the developing world. Wrong! It’s as if communism and poverty never existed, at least in Shanghai.”

The stories about China’s new burgeoning consumer culture continued. “I left Shanghai for a week, and when I came back a new Apple store sat all fresh and neat a few doors down from my apartment. The biggest Apple store I’d ever seen. I came down from my apartment in the morning and the line of shoppers went three times around the block!” Short on details about the business she was doing in China, Ms. Gadelrab was obviously impressed by China’s emergence. “There are one million English speaking ex-pats in China. BGI converted a shoe factory into the world’s largest sequencing facility.” I found these stats on her blog from last November.

-The richest 10% of the population had a whopping $20,500 of disposable income in 2008. -Chinese households hide $1.4 trillion, equivalent to 30% of China’s GDP. -Grey income--bribes, gifts and undeclared earnings--play a major role in the incomes of the elite and aren’t accounted for in the surveys.

“Shanghai makes New York look like a small village.” Now I was beginning to understand. China had plenty for biotech and even more for a diva.

A Diva in an Abaya?

These were good stories. Maybe we should put them in a blog, thought I. So what did she do in other parts of the world? Ruby is head of international markets, meaning those markets outside the North America and Western Europe. What was the most challenging place, I asked. “Saudi Arabia,” came the answer, her bright lipstick making its way around her wine glass. “A woman must cover her hair completely to respect the culture, even if she’s a westerner.” Now there’s a dilemma, I thought, getting comfortable as my own Zin showed up. What is a diva going to do in a country where women are required to cover all of the body but the face and hands?

As Ruby went on telling of donning the ‘sheyla’ and ‘abaya’ in a crowded plane when landing in Riyadh, I took note of her exotic, dark shiny hair, her bright fuchsia top, her tight skirt and her five inch high heels, Kurt Geigers she informed me. "I had to shop the Arab dress in Dubai, Miami of the Middle East. A woman cannot show her hair. We were driving to the meeting in Riyadh when the driver suddenly said ‘duck down, we don’t want any problems here.’" Not only could Ruby not drive in this Saudi Arabia, she had to have a male chaperone her everywhere. And she was constantly worrying that her ‘sheyla’ would slip off and expose her hair, which would be a violation of the law.

How does a diva feel about such encroachment on her freedom, on her identity? “It’s tough. As international marketing person I must respect each place and culture. This is my job. Many times the business deal depends on an understanding of cultural differences.” Without hesitation she continued on to an experience in Japan. “I sat at a table and across from me was a row of gentlemen. I explained our offer. And the interpreter didn’t say anything. So I asked her to translate what I’d said. She wouldn’t. She told me that if she translated, it would be too direct for the Japanese culture.”

And the best place for a diva? “Singapore--without question. It’s the most civilized country in the world. The people are the nicest anywhere. Great science. Amazing food. Amazing shopping. They even have outdoor air conditioners.”

Biotech Geeks on a Plane

We were traveling the world. Indeed Ruby has begun a LinkedIn Group called ‘Biotech Geeks on a Plane.‘ She’s drumming up enthusiasm for a trip around the globe for top level business people and researchers to scout opportunities and promote international collaborations. We circled back to China where on a recent trip she was taken to a hospital for a meeting. Here there was poverty. It was crowded. It was boiling hot. In the crammed elevator, people were fighting about who was sicker. “This was hard for me. Three blocks away was the huge Tiffany’s.” Up Ms. Gadelrab went in the hot, crowded elevator to a beautiful office and labs decked out in opulent fashion. Everyone in this suite was dressed in western wear including the professor she was to meet. “He was adorned in $20,000 worth of accessories. I’m a diva--I know.” Upon leaving, she turned toward the elevator in which she’d arrived. But no, the professor wouldn’t hear of it. He guided Ruby and her colleagues to the other side of the room where a wall opened up and they entered “the good elevator.”

Taking the Genomics Revolution to the World

Wait a minute? Does fashion and glamour not feel right in some places? If the Diva doesn’t have trouble reconciling her glamour with the poverty in the places she visits, she does have a mission. Her goal is to ensure that all countries and ethnicities are involved and represented in the genomics revolution. “Genomics has the potential to solve global challenges, if applied correctly,” she beams applying more rouge to her cheeks. Like the diva of Roman times, Ruby is from Egypt and she visits Africa regularly. She has a trip planned this summer. She rattled a list of several countries as fast as I could write. Nigeria has the biggest market. South Africa is the business door to the rest of Africa. She repeats a leading scientist who described Ghana as a Maserati without fuel. "Ghana has brilliant and motivated scientists but very little funding.” She stopped to touch up her lipstick. “In Egypt, there is no genomics, they’re still analyzing one gene at a time. Cross the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, and you’ll find they have the latest and greatest of all genomic technologies and doing intensive research into Arab genomes. Or compare it to Israel,” she urged. “There genetic testing is the law to find out carrier status of recessive genes. Rabbi’s are doubling as genetic counselors.”

I asked her how she’ll make a difference and who inspires her? She immediately referred to the work of Howard McLeod, the director of PGENI (Pharmacogenomics for Every Nations Initiative). The project is the first of its kind, and McLeod’s aim is to ensure that non-Caucasian populations are represented in efficacy, toxicity, and dosing studies for the top classes of drugs in order to make better recommendations to each country’s ministry of health. “Really he’s aiming for the middle group of countries.” The Diva of Biotech glowed. “Howard looked at the list of countries and said, drop the bottom 40--they have bigger problems to think about. Drop the top 40--they already have the funding to do it.”

Science is Sexy

All of Ruby’s followers on Twitter know she is a big supporter of personalized genomics. I asked her about a tweet from the day before about Dr. George Church (Listen to our interview with Biotech's celebrity). “He is sooo smart. I’m his groupie,” she looked sweetly up from her glass. “Meeting him was like meeting Brad Pitt.” Really? Let’s see. Vote George Church or Brad Pitt on the cover of Vanity Fair. Dr. Church did disappoint her once. She invited him to lunch at the famous restaurant, Al Muntaha, in Dubai. “All he ordered was a simple salad. I mean you should have seen the menu. You should have seen what I had!”

The day after my interview with Ruby I found her tweeting about DNA microarrays, personalized medicine and photos of her dinner. “Now this is art,” went her tweet with a picture of an elaborately decorated entree. A peek at her tweets from last week go from looking for a sales person in Mexico to a picture of Argentinian food at Spuntino Alameda. “Science is sexy. I want to make it sexier.”

Sexier science. For years I called upon research labs promoting various products from genes to pipette tips. It didn’t take me long to become acquainted with lab culture. Post docs and grad students in jeans or shorts and flip flops. Plain white coats everywhere. Geeky comic strips pasted up on doors or the rare empty wall, some of them ten or twenty years old. The smell of reagents. PI’s who go to conferences and give speeches so dry gallons of water have to be served at break. Life science is a culture that rewards discovery, not public speaking or sporting the latest fashion. We don’t remember the lab of Thomas Hunt Morgan for its appearance. Isn’t there something about scientific research and incredibly complex technology which is above glamour? Isn’t it glamourous in its own right? Ruby says let’s spice it up. She belongs to another LinkedIn Group that’s growing rapidly, ‘Biotech Divas.’

Ruby also teaches at the new Singularity University, an institute focused on exponential technologies and co-founded by Peter Diamandis of X Prize renown. She gives classes on genomics and global biotech to some of the leading business minds in high tech from around the world. “I get it,” said my colleague here at mendelspod.com who put me in touch with Ruby. “Science is sexy. My man of the year would be a scientist who is thrilled when he’s talking about a new sequencer or about viruses. Still, one can be into science and glam it up. Most of the women don’t wear makeup.” Hmmm. I see a tweet just up. In a fun, self deprecating way, @divabiotech has just retweeted one of her followers: “You can either have women with high IQ’s or high heels. Take your pick.” In Ruby’s case, one doesn’t have to choose.




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