Earlier today Nathan Vardi at Forbes broke the news that one of biotech’s most notable investors, Steve Burrill, was ousted from his own company’s fund and has been sued for fraud by a former managing partner. The news hit the biotech community like a major earthquake, particularly in the Bay Area where Steve has been advising and funding bitoech companies since the the founding of Cetus and Genentech.
There are an estimated 7,000 rare or orphan diseases. But there are currently only treatments for about 5% of them. In this series, we've been exploring the promise of various new technologies to come up with more treatments and more cures. Today we are going to discuss the promising research with stem cells.
Scientists have made dramatic advances with stem cells over the past ten years. Dr. Larry Goldstein, Director of the Stem Cell Program at UCSD is one of them. He’s been using stem cells as a new technology for understanding disease, such as the rare Niemann Pick Type C disease. Stem cell therapy is now FDA approved for certain cancers and is at the heart of numerous clinical trials for various diseases.
Larry discusses the unique challenge that funding has proved for stem cell research and discusses whether there is still a PR problem holding back future research.
For more info, get the free eBook from Rare Genomics Institute
On July 4 of 2012, we all watched with suspense for the outcome of one of the biggest and most expensive experiments in the history of science: the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. What many of us were not aware of at the time was that an entire generation of physicists were hanging in there to see whether their careers had been in vain.
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.
At the end of each year we do a program where we look back over the year and forward to the next. We're very pleased to have Jim Greenwood, the CEO of BIO, the national trade organization for our industry, here to do this show.
As the CEO of BIO, Jim represents the life science industry in Washington. Back in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, Jim learned the political ropes as a congressman from Pennsylvania. He's been a member of an ever declining species--a Rockefeller Republican. Jim's centrist political views no doubt make him a great choice to represent an industry which doesn't fall neatly along political lines. This past year he's fought for protecting drug and diagnostic reimbursement and lobbied against GMO labeling. When it comes to the sequester he admits there wasn't much anyone could do as the cuts affected every department in government. He says that the NIH budget should steadily increase but sounds doubtful that we'll see the kind of increase that happened when the human genome was sequenced.
Has the IPO boom in 2013 been a long overdue window, or a bubble? How can we raise the value of diagnostics? And what is his top priority in 2014? Jim openly shares his thoughts on these questions and more in today's interview.
Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."
17:23 Is there a way to match the VC model to the long biotech cycle times?
19:59 "We're the real deal"
Today we're excited to welcome a special guest to the program for a rare and exclusive interview. Sam Colella is being honored this year at the BayBio Pantheon Awards ceremony in December for a lifetime achievement award. We sat down with him in his office at 3000 Sand Hill Rd.
Encouraged into venture capital by Tom Perkins (indeed, Colella replaced Perkins at Spectra Physics as CEO when Perkins headed to work for Hewlitt and Packard), Colella has become a legendary figure in our industry for picking winners. Talking first about his early years in the industry, Sam goes on to discuss his magic sauce for picking companies that go on to achieve success. He's a co-founder of Versant Ventures where he and his partners have come up with an innovative "build to buy" model of funding.
Sam sits on several boards of directors including Fluidigm, Veracyte, and Genomic Health. He tells how he came to invest in Fluidigm, a company who has seen their stock shoot up this past quarter. Speaking with a poker face and steely blue eyes, Colella says he still falls in love with deals and is motivated by the huge medical needs that are still unmet.
"This isn't a fad," he says. "We're not a social media. We're the real deal."
Sponsor:Today’s show is brought to you by the 10th Annual BayBio Pantheon Ceremony, presenting the 2013 DiNA Awards on December 5 in San Francisco. The Pantheon Awards Ceremony is a celebration of the contributions and achievements of the Bay Area, a moment to pause and reflect on the industry’s legacy over three decades.
9:25 Who's creating the future, the scientists and engineers, or the sci-fi writers?
11:22 The philosophical battle between science and capitalism
16:07 How does one go about creating the future on paper?
25:10 Is science becoming too much like a religion?
29:24 Fiction is the steady instrument, science is what evolves
33:00 Audience Question: On which planet or astroid or community from your novels would you most want to live?
35:55 KSR reads from 2312
Interviewing scientists and those who are in the field has led me to the question, are scientists and engineers the new world leaders? Are they setting our direction more than any other group? Are they creating the future? And these questions have led often to the answer, “We got it from the sci-fi writers.”
You’ll no doubt understand my pleasure, therefore, in interviewing the award winning sci-fi author of the Mars Trilogy, Stan Robinson. The Mars Trilogy is Robinson’s most popular work, a series of novels about the settling and terraforming of Mars over nearly two centuries. And it is this series which has been most oft cited by our guests as the source of their crazy ideas about settling Mars.
I’ve been reading the first of the novels, Red Mars. The opening shows off Robinson’s more poetic, lyrical side.
"Mars was empty before we came. That’s not to say that nothing had ever happened. The planet had accreted, melted, roiled and cooled, leaving a surface scarred by enormous geological features: craters, canyons, volcanoes. But all of the happened in mineral unconsciousness, and unobserved. There were no witnesses--except for us, looking from the planet next door, and that only in the last moment of its long history. We are all the consciousness that Mars has ever had." (Red Mars)
Red Mars tells of the initial colonization of Mars and delves deeply into the relationships and politics of the first 100 settlers. It provides Robinson another platform (he wrote a similar series about the future of California) to pit science (the expedition to virgin territory, a planet untouched as yet by man, is made up almost entirely of scientists) against capitalism (the earth is taken over by transnational corporations as resources become scarce and war breaks out).
For Stan, science and capitalism--born around the same time, he says-- are engaged in an epic battle for man’s future. Science is the greatest hope for mankind, he quips matter of factly in today's show. For Stan, capitalism is the greatest threat to this hope. It’s a provocative idea. One I must admit that plays out before me each day as I make my way through the news.
Stan has an inspiring notion of science. And midway through the interview, as I listen to him, I begin to sense his definition and wonder to myself how I would define science. Try it. It’s not easy. Feeling it his duty as a writer to probe the difficult questions, Stan is comfortable talking on the philosophical plane. He acknowledges and expands upon the “loop” between scientist and science fiction writer in creating the future. He’s willing, if not anxious, to theorize about politics in his utopian fashion. “Science is egalitarian. . . and it’s always for human good. . . . In capital[ism], there is no sense of sufficiency, or adequacy, or of what’s it all about. It’s just, more is better. And more is not always better," he says.
(There is fertile ground for a series on the subject of science vs. capitalism where we could have Stan back to the program to argue his point with a venture capitalist who might argue that there is an important symbiosis here between the two forces.)
This series is named Creating the Future, so I push Stan to tell us about the actual writing process. How does one go about creating the future on paper? Is it the futurist writers who do the heavy lifting for the rest of us? Extrapolation is the main tool at work, but what gives Stan his confidence to go out so far and say, "hey, this is how it’s going to be?"
I haven’t read or met many sci-fi writers with whom to compare Robinson, but he, and his writing, strike me as very grounded. He doesn’t write about technology which is not feasible now. He admits that he is evolving in the direction of going further and further out there. His latest novel 2312 is set in that year, a time when interplanetary travel between Mercury and Neptune takes just 16 days. This is the furthest he’s gone.
KSR at his writing table in Davis, CA
Stan lives in a quiet community in Davis, CA surrounded by the fields of industrial agriculture. He was eager to show us his writing station located outside his front door, where he writes, rain or shine, warm or cold. It was unusually cold last week, yet he persists, writing in a ski coat and gloves. His home and place in what he calls a “village” community with common garden space bears no resemblance to any place in his novels. Except perhaps the odd rock collection he keeps on his writing table.
KSR and Host, Theral Timpson in the garden
As he proudly points out which winter greens he attends to in the garden each morning, he tries to explain to me that a 16 day trip from Mercury to Neptune would only require that we go at 1 g. Standing between a patch of lettuce and some healthy looking carrots, watching children play in the distance, I’m entirely convinced that such a trip is possible.
“I’m as 'here' as anybody,” he says in the interview. “This science fiction thing is a way of thinking about now and a way of understanding now more fully. . . It’s a very boring and stable life, which for a novelist is a great thing.”
Be sure to get to the end of the interview, where Stan reads from the opening chapter of 2312.
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I provocatively call the nexus of government research and regulatory agencies, university biology departments and medical schools, and drug companies the Academia-Pharma Complex. This vast public-private partnership financed by US taxpayers to develop drugs is on an unsustainable path and desperately needs Open Science. Reform begins with a diagnosis of what ails us. Many roads lead to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, long ago in the pre-Internet Age. Bayh-Dole grants patent rights to non-government entities for inventions resulting from publicly funded research.