ENCODE Critic Goes into TV Business and Other Life Science Predictions for 2014

Theral Timpson

It's here.  2014 is no longer that strange number we'll deal with at a later time.  Fortunately this year, I got hold of a crystal ball, and here's a timeline with the predictions I saw for our industry.

Jan 14  Luke Timmerman came out as an entrepreneur to his audience during the annual JP Morgan conference.  

“Growing up in Wisconsin meant traditional values, and the calling of journalism was higher than that of business.  So even though I felt the natural urges to be a businessman, I repressed those urges and opted for journalism," he said in the hotel hallway out in front of the Xconomy press suite.

Many in the life science venture capital community praised Timmerman for speaking out openly for entrepreneurs.  Including Tom Perkins, who said that in an age when entrepreneurs are overly harrassed by the government, it’s a breath of fresh air.  

It's thought by some of Timmerman's close colleagues that it might have been fresh air which brought about his forthright announcement.  Last June Timmerman climbed Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.  

Timmerman says he will still be writing his regular Monday BioBeat column at Xconomy, but commits to pass any stories about the various companies he’s founded to his colleagues.  He pointed to fellow life science journalist, David Ewing Duncan, as an example of other journalists who have come out as entrepreneurs.  For many years a writer for the Atlantic, New York Times, Discover Magazine, Duncan recently founded an environmental genetic testing company.

Finally, it’s rumored that tensions flared at the office of BayBio, the Bay Area life science trade group, when it was discovered that Timmerman’s first openly founded company will be in Boston. Sources say that BayBio CEO, Gail Maderis, has been encouraging all Bay Area entrepreneurs to "come out of the closet" and "speak out" for local business.

The San Francisco Bay Area is already considered to be the least closeted of the Biotech clusters.

March 15  Dan Graur has chosen this auspicious day to announce that he has gone into television.  

It appears that after writing the criticism of ENCODE last year, On the Immortality of Television Sets, Graur and his colleagues became interested in the idea of eternal TVs.  

"As it turns out, there’s a business here,” said the professor.

It is not known whether Dr. Graur will be making televisions or becoming a TV star.  Both seem equally likely.

Ewan Birney, leader of the first phase of the large ENCODE project who took the brunt of Graur's criticism put out a congratulatory tweet:  “Happy for @DanGraur.  Hope he's as ruthless in television as he's been on Twitter.”

April 1  Elsevier buys PLoS for $1 billion.  Much discussion about the future of open access flames over Twitter.  The spokesperson for PLoS assured researchers that this move will only advance the cause, as their are no plans to change anything about PLoS.

It’s rumored that PLoS founder, Michael Eisen, and his brother have moved their revolutionary zeal into another area, that of microbial rights.  The movement is of yet little understood.  In a recent tweet, Michael Eisen writes  “there they go again, calling themselves human when they are mostly microbe.”

April 20  Self proclaimed Indie Scientist, Ethan Perlstein, opens first day of the Deconstructing Man Festival,  a counter culture event for the life science industry based on the popular Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert.

Held for the first time, the festival took place in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout," says Perlstein in one of his thousands of interviews with mainstream media.  “After all I’d said about the NIH grant system being unfair, to have Dr. Collins show up in blue jeans and sing his number one hit song, Sequester Blues, was the highlight for me.”  

Not everyone was happy with the appearance of Collins at Bio’s own indie festival.  

“Uh, it would have been nice if, uh, we could have had at least one, uh, powwow without the powers that be, you know, here, you know,” said one independent scientist in the group, a joint hanging from his mouth.

It’s been confirmed that Bernard Munos, a leading critic of big pharma, held a special meeting in his tent and ordained future Apostles into his "High Order of Innovation."  Though the meeting was secret, a source in the tent  said that each of the Apostles of Innovation had to swear that they would do all they could to lower the price of drug development.  What was unconfirmed is whether it's true that Munos was seen later that  night with his shirt off doing a striptease dance.

“Who would have known that Munos was such a great strip dancer, unless we had put on this festival," said Perlstein with a DNA bandana tied around this forehead.  “And Steve Burrill.  When he showed up in his giant RV and walked out wearing purple instead of his traditional pink, the crowd went wild."  

When asked what was the purpose of Deconstructing Man, Perstein said that he hoped the biopharma community could finally open up a bit and let their hair down.

“It’s important for those who are carrying man’s future and possible immortality in their hands . .  it’s important for them to loosen up a bit,” said Perlstein.

June 6  In federal court, a judge has decided the case, ACLU vs. Craig Venter,  in a decision mostly against the genomics maverick.  It is ruled that Venter cannot patent the speed of light.  However, the judge held open the option that though Venter’s patent on earth was invalid, the patent might hold up on Mars.  The case is expected to go to the Supreme Court.

September 24 George Church was seen riding an Asian elephant in Chang Mai in northern Thailand today.  While Church confirmed in an interview with Der Spiegel that the Asian elephant is the one species capable of assisting in the cloning of the extinct wooly mammoth, he would not confirm whether the DNA of dead famous scientists, such as Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel, was being used to create a new “super generation” of top rate scientists.

November 26  Despite having regulators swarm around the company all year, CEO of 23andMe, Anne Wojicki, announced today a new home kit for collecting “personal” microbes from your own feces.  The kit must be sent back to 23andMe for the microbes to be isolated and held in storage.  Already a superstar among the libertarian sector of life science, Wojicki further announced that the personal microbes were available to be returned to their owners and could be sold and traded with other customers via the 23andMe website.  In the spirit of openness and sharing and accomplishing more great science, Wojicki said she didn’t “see why the microbes couldn’t be traded and sold elsewhere, such as on eBay and Amazon."

“The internet is the future, folks," said Wojicki on the day before Thanksgiving.  "While we are working solidly with regulators, we're not going to slow down this personal omics revolution. We’re all part of a giant mega organism and the longer we take sharing our microbes, the longer it takes to solve problems of disease and world hunger, and important stuff like that.”

The announcement further inflamed the controversy over the regulation of personal omics.  It is anticipated that the  FDA will consider the home kit and microbial service subject to regulation, but it is not known when they will have the will to enforce such regulation.

Ms. Wojicki wouldn’t confirm whether the name of the company would be changed to 23BillionandMe.  At one time during the press conference, the attention turned from Ms. Wojicki to one of the reporters in the room.  It was Luke Timmerman of Xconomy who said that he was not a part of the founding team of 23andMe.  

“But I’m not opposed to the idea of starting up a competitor company,” added Timmerman.


What are your predictions?  Write them in the Comments Section below.


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