Archive for the ‘BIO2009’ Category

eclipse and twitter

Thinking Twitter? Bird perching on the statue of late Chairman Mao Zedong is silhouetted against a partial solar eclipse in Wuhan, Hubei province July 22, 2009. Reuters

I know… I used to be skeptical about using Twitter too. “Who has the time?” right? Also, I did not think it would be interesting to “tweet” about myself; however, I finally pulled myself from my inertia and gave it a try. I even succeed to beat Oprah to joining Twitter by almost… a day! I am now tweeting for My Lab Your Lab and for Amplinovia.

I do not yet feel pressed to tweet all the time. I tweet for two main reasons:

  • to communicate news and thoughts about science, scientists and about innovation in general, which I feel might be of interest to others. For me, tweeting is an interesting mental exercise. Twitter forces users to distill whatever they want to say in 140 characters or less (including spaces and included URLs). Many times I find it to be a challenge for me to write a message that it is both clear and interesting; however, the direct style of communication is right down my alley and I had already used Twitter as a paradigm of the times to challenge speakers on an innovation panel I recently organized for BIO to convey their main message in one minute or less (hey, I was much more “generous” with words than Twitter! 😉
  • to connect with like-minded people. In spite of its virtual nature, I can attest that Twitter brings together diverse people in real life. For instance, I might have never met Amira, an undergraduate student from U of MD, if it wasn’t for Twitter. Due to our Twitter connection, Amira became a member of My Lab Your Lab, our growing online scientific community, and later she asked me to become a mentor to help with her upcoming major career decisions.

I also use Twitter to gather knowledge and information. I follow people and news outfits that have something relevant to say. I try to encourage yet hesitant people by telling them that one can actually filter the staggering amount of intersecting chatter in the… Twittosphere (?). I would list as main reasons for which I recommend reading others tweets the following:

  • Twitter news are… well up-to-date! Twitter spreads news fast, these can originate either from a phone (e.g., as sms) or from a computer.  Compared to most websites that usually require some techno-savvy people to update content, Twitter updates in real time, as demonstrated by the news immediately spread during the recent events in Iran. I understand that a lot of professional  journalists use it now to get their leads for information.
  • Twitter is also “democratizing” the news and breaking down “walls” and “boxes” – i.e., anybody from anywhere can create or spread the news, no journalistic credentials required! Of course, access to technology (cell phone or computer) is needed… The Twitter crowd is innovating the way we create and  gather our news.
  • Twitter expresses the mood and interests of its global community =“crowd-feeling”? For those seeking patterns and global trends, the column that appears on the right of the Twitter’s homepage shows what the top topics people communicate about at any given time are. Most times I find that the topics are not what I would consider interesting… I think the main problem is that many people who might have something enlightening or interesting to say are not on Twitter yet (!) For instance, at the 2009 Experimental Biology  meeting, attracting 14,000 highly educated and smart registrants, it was pretty shocking to discovera as result of a poll that I was the only attendee using Twitter at a session specifically dedicated to employing Internet 2.0 tools to connect science, health, and the public… As shown by a recent articlein the “Journal of Happiness Studies” (yes, there is a legitimate journal that uses scientific methods to analyze and measure moods in a variety of contexts) the global online written expressions such as those from blogs and on Twitter (in fact a form of “microblogging”) can now be mined and analyzed. I can think of many public health, educational, and business reasons for which this exercise might be helpful.
  • Twitter allows the wide sharing of personal wisdom, knowledge and wit. I think great Twitterers (?) are philosophers and poets of current times. Is an educational collection of the best crafted, deepest, most inspirational messages on Twitter available yet?

In case you are intrigued, Twitter has put on line a very simple to follow “101 course” on how to use it for a variety of “serious” reasons, complete with business case studies. Btw, I have no conflicts of interest… Hey, Tweet me @amplinovia let me know what you think!

P.S. If all this talk about relevant and timely messages did not convince you to try Twitter yet, you might want to check if you favorite places now accept “to go orders” placed on Twitter…

Read Full Post »

It was the final night of a long conference: all looked drained, every business lead seemingly exhausted…. then the music started!

This was my second time attending the Biotechnology International Organization (BIO) annual meeting. BIO ”represents more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.”  This year’s meeting held in Atlanta gathered over 14,000 registered participants, including scientists, technologists, business people, lawyers, regulators, lobbyists, media, etc.

BIO seems to be mainly a giant biotech business networking event, indeed it is very useful especially in today’s environment where collaborations and partnerships are essential. Business “match-making” in many shapes and forms occurred, from a separate extra-fee event dedicated to company partnering to “speed-networking”, and making individual contacts during the sessions, exhibits and the many social events. A special emphasis this year was on collaborative efforts between academia and industry, and on international collaborations presented in parallel tracks that included examination of business, legal, regulatory, and cultural differences. A track highlighting “Exciting science”, included sessions on stem cells, nanotechnology, diagnostics, and new biofuels. Current efforts along these lines and emerging technologies springing from local universities, especially from the Georgia Institute of Technology (“Georgia Tech”), were well represented.

While San Diego, the site of last year’s event, is a difficult act to follow, the organizing committee for Atlanta put on a good show. Sir Elton John, one of the most famous and loved (adopted) Atlantans, spoke in front of thousands gathered at a keynote luncheon on behalf of his AIDS foundation. Atlanta’s weather was crisp (!) and its local music scene, benefiting from a rather strong tradition, boosted an energetic engagement of participants during a couple of events featuring the B52s (likely in their 50s’ but very much still able to bring down the house), and a local rock and roll/hip hop band, complete with a Bono look alike, at the “Tabernacle.”

Dance floor comes to life with BIO dancers unified by music

Dance floor comes to life with BIO dancers unified by music

The “good bye party,” was far from a tired, sappy “farewell till next year” (in Chicago) type of event. In fact, it was fascinating to watch the unexpected unleashing of human energy on the dance floor. Young and old, scientists and sales people, entry level and executives, now shedding their regular day skin (suits and ties), emerged as friends on the dance floor. The infectious effect of the dance music rhythm and maybe the conscious release of guarded behavior, due to being beyond what was perceived as the end of the conference, revealed the true selves. People became naturally drawn to other like-minded… dancers. Before long, the last remaining business cards were exchanged, and many napkins had to be used for contact info, as many had not anticipated the need to bring more cards. Such business contacts made when everyone’s guard was down were seemingly based solely on the natural associations between individuals sharing similar style/preferences, without prior knowledge of their area or level of expertise. I am wondering if these personality-driven connections will spark new business endeavors that would have not happen through regular business channels.

Oh, and besides dancing, this year I also organized and chaired an interactive session dedicated to examining current barriers to innovation in the life sciences, “Fast Forwarding Life Science Innovation: What Works, What doesn’t, Where Do We Go From Here?”  We gathered many great insights from the panel and audience which I will report on in future posts.

p.s. As I was about to post this, an email hit my inbox. Pam, a fellow BIO dancer (!) with whom we exchanged cards at the Tabernacle, is telling me how much she enjoyed learning about my business ideas while moving together to the music and is offering me a “blank check” for any collaborative proposal I may come up… Let the music play!

Read Full Post »

Personalized medicine is going through the usual cycle: from an “out-there” idea to a buzz word, to current band wagon everyone must get on. If we must, we must… but as it turns out, there are many wagons introduced as “personalized medicine” that are pulling into the station… Which is the real one?

A major obstacle is that personalized medicine means different things to different people. However, that should not be a deal breaker (yet) because nobody can claim to have the whole or the only correct picture of what it should look like. There are many considerations, including scientific, economic, political, and ethical, which had been intelligently discussed in other places. I only want to bring up one issue that seems basic, yet hopefully we all realize it’s a sine-qua non for realizing personalized medicine. This issue has everything to do with the common denominator of all the various visions of personalized medicine: YOU, the individual patient. The individual patient is emerging from being lost somewhere in the average value derived from the many participants in a humongous clinical study, to being the sole focus of attention in the development of an individualized health strategy. Each patient is about to become special (not only to his mother!).  Wow! Now what?!?

In developing a personalized therapy and a whole personalized health strategy for you as an individual, we are now going to need the complete medical picture of you. A big question becomes how could someone get all medical information that has already been collected about each of us? If you are like me, you have moved a few times and thus you’ve changed your primary and other specialist physicians; you had a few different jobs offering different health insurance plans. If you are like me, you might have seen these health care workers/places only once. You might have had specific medical tests done more than once, but chances are that many results were never looked at comparatively. However, an increasing number of experts are agreeing that we are indeed so different from each other, that the real value of various test emerges by comparing longitudinally the values collected at different time points for the same person/patient. The opportunity to harvest this value from my test has been certainly lost in the many shuffles of my paper medical files. I say this because I unsuccessfully tried to extract my own medical information from previous providers. I then checked on their obligation in terms of time for which the records needed to be kept. Did you know this is not officially specified? There goes all the time I have spent repeatedly filling in similar questionnaires, all the time and money spent on all those repeated tests. Unless one has been really obsessive about it, one’s medical picture (get an idea of what this might contain) is a puzzle with pieces scattered or even buried or lost all over the place. In my case, the only thing I’ve received were postcards simply stating that there was nothing special to note about my tests, no numbers for my own personal records. The inherited fragmentation of the health care system in the US is currently a major barrier to personalized medicine. Various types of medical information currently collected throughout one’s life, along with new genetic information (equated by some with personalized medicine) could be added up to create the overall medical picture of oneself. This IS the basis for any rational strategy to personalize prevention or therapy of one’s medical problems. 

Now we come to the other important part of this question: are we willing to let all this information about us be gathered and put to use? Economical and ethical considerations among others put aside, is the current mind set in the US itself undermining the patients’ willingness to let a complete medical picture be put together and “immortalized” in a personal electronic format?  Many personal topics are off limits even among good friends, a preference that applies of course to personal medical information. Since living here I learned that people place great value on “personal space”. People do not want to feel cramped in any way, spatially or physiologically. In addition, the individual’s uniqueness further fades away by the wide application of a great equalizer. When it comes to first names, one of our most personal and defining feature, many Americans prefer generic names. Foreigners are likely to have to accept one themselves, or maybe some short version of their name. I myself was re-baptized by associates “Dr. Z” (or even just “Z”). I had to accept it at some point (I like my first name!), figuring Dr. Z should be unique enough to represent me. Then one day, I was surprised to learn that my personal physician had voluntarily and officially changed his fist name to the initial Z and shortened his last name to the first few letters, exasperated by complains about needing to remember or pronounce his actual name.  Dr. Z here to see Dr. Z!”… It did not end there, a friend signaled that she had heard of another Dr. Z (this one of a “certain” fame). So, apparently I had managed to become one of the generic Drs. Z…

Does anybody still harbor the hope we could achieve personalized health care without comprehensive personal health records?  A lot of people will need to get comfortable soon with the idea of allowing the collection and use of the information that makes them unique from a medical point of view, or else there can be no personalized medicine.

Please comment here (constructively interfere) and/or join our discussion at BIO2009.

See more: articles on personal health records  from Medline Plus A service of the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH) and FAQs about your health record

Read Full Post »

Life sciences and medical practice have made tremendous advances, creating the opportunity for great medical innovations that will allow us to cure most major diseases, and live healthier, longer lives. Yet, what is known as the “unmet medical need” continues to outweigh our capacity to find viable solutions.

What are the major, maybe specific, challenges that confront this type of innovation? My take is that the best chance to come up with solutions will come from genuinely seeking to understand all points of view and by working together to overcome barriers amongst the major stakeholders in the process, a fine example of “constructive interference”.  Reportedly a similar view was recently publicly expressed by Andrew von Eschenbach, the outgoing head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Miriam Hill cited him on philly.com saying: “the drug industry will have to break down the walls not only between competitors but between big drug companies, smaller biotechnology firms and medical-device makers. The era of personalized medicine will require diverse types of companies to cooperate to generate solutions for patients, acting more like a team than individuals focusing on their own products. ‘They’re all playing golf,’ he said. ‘They need to play basketball.'”

At the upcoming Biotechnology International Conference, BIO2009 I had proposed and will be facilitating an interactive discussion between representatives of major stakeholders on the topic of: Fast forwarding life science innovation: what works, what doesn’t, where do we go from here. Meanwhile I am seeking to gain a better understanding of different points of view through this blog.

To get started, I will offer several perspectives on the current challenges I have gained from the different standpoints I came across during my work in the area of life science innovation, and as a user/consumer of medical products. Check the accompanying postings following this one. Hopefully they will be stirring enough, please do interfere!

The other posts regarding various perspectives: consumer, scientist, developer, investor, can be found by clicking on the BIO2009 category/tag under this post or in the tag “cloud” on the right hand side menu.

Read Full Post »

We all are, have been, or will be at some point in our lives, users/consumers of medical products, that is unless someone is a “Superman/woman”. We all have thoughts and specific opinions about what we would like or expect. Two great examples were provided by answers to my previous request to define medical innovation. Kathy said:” From a consumer perspective, I want to see new products and care that consider the quality of my life and my body – not the statistical average”. Allen Fahden commented more broadly in response to the same:Life science/medical innovation means to me that the model of reaction to failure gets updated with preventing failure.” Kathy is expressing the growing support for “personalized medicine”, Allen is touching upon the need to shift more towards preventive medicine.

My own view as a consumer is that I subscribe 100% to these two goals. I should say I did not know or discuss with either Kathy or Allen before they offered their visions on life science/medical innovation. Let’s see what might be the answer to these opinions from the other perspectives.

Read Full Post »

I spent the better part of my life researching the human body, searching for answers as to what keeps us healthy and what makes us sick. My shortest answer after all these years might be… it is very complicated! Of course, this is what makes it so exciting for many scientists, the enthusiastic dedicated problem solvers, but can became very frustrating for the others.

Here is an analogy I used when a very good friend of mine, a sharp-witted software developer, expressed her frustration bordering on anger to me when grim news regarding the side effects of a widely used medication were announced. At the time I was in the discovery unit of another pharmaceutical company and she asked me: “What’s wrong with you people, why can’t you figure it out?”

 I thought for a moment. How could I best express the extreme complexity of the problem of finding a universally viable “fix” for just one medical condition? I then asked her: “OK, let’s assume I am asking you to develop a software that will work flawlessly, on every and any computer in the world, not matter how old the hardware or operating system were, no matter what other applications were installed, regardless of the operator’s skill level, whether or not s/he chooses to read and follow the instructions, no matter what viruses might get into that computer. Agh, and did I mention that you do not know exactly what was used to build that computer”. She looked at me in disbelief: “well, that’s impossible!”

I do not want anybody to think though this means we are giving up. On the contrary. I personally have and many others have great hopes that we will soon be able to integrate and apply the knowledge coming from great advances from many branches of science and technology to individually diagnose and treat patients, and furthermore, to predict and prevent many diseases before they strike us. The promise of personalized medicine, referred to till not too long ago, as the “academic view”, has been indeed a favorite of scientists for a while, but is gaining more and more support both from the “front end” (i.e., consumers) and the other stakeholders.  However, all of these have raised some interesting points that will need to be addressed. As consumers, some still understandably fear the need to expose too much information about their individual risks, or not being able to afford the cost of individualized treatments.  For other stakeholder’s perspective, check the following posts.

Read Full Post »

The short answer I gained from working in discovery/early development in the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to implementing medical innovation is: it takes too long and it is too expensive.

True, except for some very specific conditions that had been clearly connected to genetic modifications, personalized medicine is still in its infancy. The great majority of diseases have been or could be connected with a myriad of risk factors, some of them possibly related to individual genetic make-up. Efforts in preventive medicine are not compensated.

A great amount of thought and work goes into identifying risk associations, integrate all the pieces of information, and then confirming these findings, hence a lot of support is required (money + time). Public corporations need to create value for their investors, and so are known to spend a great deal of effort to prove (positive) financial achievements each quarter. Innovation, which to me means not only discovering, but also creating and implementing something new, takes much longer than that and can cost a lot. As often said, “you get what you measure“. Fittingly, in response to my request to define innovation, Ondrej Zaoral offered (on LinkedIn) his favorite definition: “Research and development turns money into knowledge. Innovation turns knowledge into money.”

Furthermore, due to very good reasons, new products designed for human health have to pass through additional rigorous hoops. Consider the time it currently takes from the discovery to the launching of a pharmaceutical product, which was widely reported to be in average 10 years and was calculated to cost in the realm of a billion dollars. Consider also that most of these products are not revolutionary, many represent improvements of previous versions. The pharmaceutical companies were the most likely to survive such a formidable journey, but their money is drying up as most are losing patent protection for their big selling drugs and fewer new products are approved. New business models are clearly needed. A major question is: who is willing and able to pay (and wait) for real medical innovation? Maybe the investors? The government? Anyone out there?!?

Read Full Post »

First the disclaimer: I am not an investor myself, but I have worked with some. I will thus keep this short. Here is the most often heard perspective on investing in life science/medical innovation: “ It is very risky”. Suffice to say that there has been more than a year since the last biotech IPO (no IPOs in 2008), the venture investment in biotech has decreased significantly, and the current economic circumstances are not likely to improve this situation. It is not business as usual and it should not be – that is what brought us here. So, maybe because I am the optimist type, I can stop wondering: isn’t this the best time to invest in innovation?!?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: