One Less Voice on the BioBeat - Luke Timmerman Ends Stint with Xconomy

Theral Timpson

Monday mornings won’t be the same in biotech.

Luke Timmerman announced last week that he’ll no longer be writing his Monday morning BioBeat column or serving as National Biotech Editor at Xconomy.

Timmerman’s voice has stood out in our industry for consistency, optimism, pragmatism . . .  and great sports analogies.  


Source: Xconomy

In a farewell article, Timmerman writes:

“I was hired to help take our life sciences coverage to a new level.  I’m proud to say Xconomy is a must-read news site for people in the bioetch and pharmaceutical industries.”

It’s true.  I can confirm that Luke’s column has been a part of my Monday mornings since we started Mendelspod.   Most of what we read in life science media is regurgitated press releases.  Luke wrote his share of these.  But his Monday morning column stood out.  It was obvious Luke put some thought into each week’s column, writing on topics he found fascinating and relevant.  

Recent headlines for the BioBeat column read:

The Big Guys Have Lost their Iron Grip, and It’s All Good - A piece about the relationship of big pharma and smaller biotechs.  Luke argued that there’s been a recent shift in the balance of power where smaller biotechs have more options.  

The $1K Genome?  So What?  Illumina Is on a Quest for World Domination - Here Luke actually downplays the milestone of the $1K Genome saying that there’s a lot more than this headline going for Illumina.

Molecular Diagnostics Are in a Rut.  The Industry Needs the FDA  - A gutsy headline that stands on its own.

These columns could only be written by someone who has been covering biotech for some time.  Someone who has seen the peaks and valleys--several of each--and who maintained a healthy dose of passion for the industry to go along with the reporter’s “been-there-seen-it-all” skepticism. 

Curious to know more about Luke and how he got to his place on top of  biotech journalism, I interviewed Luke at the end of 2012.  He struck me as an old school journalist in the best sense of the term.  A writer who worked always toward the ideal of journalism and willing to put in the hours to know his field and develop his craft.  In today’s world where everyone on Twitter can be journalist, Luke seems cut from another cloth.

I remember going to an Xconomy event where it was like sitting in Luke’s office and overhearing his conversations.  Luke interviewed one biotech CEO after the other, not shying away from difficult questions.  His command of the history of each company and the drugs they had commercializied or were working on blew me away.  He could name these compounds from memory and many of the drug targets.

In a phone chat last week, Luke said the Monday BioBeat column was a personal challenge.  He wanted to "plant a stake" and come up with a  “really meaty, impactful piece of journalism” once a week.  Consistency builds readership.  

“It’s very easy to get caught up in all kinds of little tasks and wake up in a month and realize you haven’t done a piece of journalism in a while,” he said. 

I asked him if there was a column or two in the past few years of which he’s especially proud.  After some um-ing and ah-ing, he came up with a piece from last December, 12 Things the Pharma Industry Can Do to Rebuild Real Public Trust.

“I remember when I wrote that,” he said, “and I thought I’d be really happy if pharma even considered one of these things."

Luke honed his chops at Bloomberg and moved to Xconomy to be part of a new paradigm in media.  He says social media drastically changed journalism while he was at Xconomy.  He has written regular posts about who to follow on Twitter and today has nearly 12,000 followers.

Again from his farewell column:

"This has been quite an adventure in online journalism entrepreneurship. At other companies where I’ve worked, the readers were there, regardless of what you wrote or didn’t, but they seemed more like a set of composite demographic characters than actual people; it was hard to identify with them.

"Xconomy, as a startup, was something altogether different. When I joined it was still in the midst of being built and defined. Reporting and writing were just the start. It forced me to stretch in all kinds of new directions. This job required being an entrepreneur, ambassador, proselytizer, recruiter, staff mentor, editor, conference impresario, name badge stuffer, and computer anti-virus technician."

Overall thoughts on the industry as he changes focus?  Luke says he’s encouraged about big pharma becoming more transparent.

“I’m seeing signs of movement in the right direction.  I do think pharma wants to become better corporate citizens that they’ve been in the last 15-20 years.”

So what's next for Luke?  He told me that over the years he’s developed a passion for getting the word out about our industry to the wider public.  He’s  going to devote his full attention to a biography of the industry giant, Lee Hood.  Luke feels that a biography is a great form for educating the general public on the possibilities of genomic medicine and other trends. 

“People like reading about other people,” he said.

Erik Clausen, a managing partner at Chempetitive Group, has been in life science PR for over twenty years.  He’s worked with Luke and been a regular reader of the Monday column.  I asked him over email if he’d heard about Luke moving on, and he gave this reaction:

“Save for a few individuals, the media that covers the life sciences operated at a slower pace (or at from less-informed position) than their brothers and sisters tasked with covering the tech or other sectors. That is, until Luke Timmerman brought an informed tenacity to Xconomy that made the outlet, his peers, colleagues and (frankly speaking) CEOs and PR flacks better at what they do. He set the bar a bit higher. His ability to accurately grasp and relate both the science and business aspects of this industry are paralleled by only a few journalists, but not surpassed. And, his talent for infusing a point-of-view into his work is a testament to his passion for discovery and a compliment to his predecessors in print journalism.”

Luke’s Xconomy column will be missed, especially those yearly biotech picks based on sports stars.   Good luck, Luke - looking forward to reading the book.