BayBio conference

Yesterday Lorraine Thompson and I attended the BayBio annual
conference for biotech companies. BayBio is the SF Bay Area biotech trade
group. We attended to network with people in the industry. I’m on the
organization’s Patient Advocacy Committee. We’re looking for an appropriate
working relationship between nonprofit organizations and biotech companies that
supports both the goals of disease-oriented organizations and the business
needs of companies working on products for those diseases. Needless to say, there
are many companies working inn oncology. The committee presented a workshop
during the conference.

Besides networking with industry people, Lorraine and I made
a point of meeting Paul Berg, an ACS Nobel Laureate, who was one of the keynote

Most of the workshops of the conference were focused on the
nuts-and-bolts of running a small biotech company. The truth is that most life
science companies are small: fifty or fewer employees. Many are struggling
startups trying to turn something scientifically very difficult into a product
or service that works well enough to generate some income, pay back all the
money they’ve borrowed, and generate some profit. It’s Business 101 under a lot
of pressure.

What I came away with was a strong impression of the
intensity of the innovation and striving in the life science industry. The
companies you come in contact with tend to be in the middle ground between a
far-out idea and a usable device. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong. But
just as strong is a sense that there is something about life science that has
many people taking it upon themselves to fill perceived gaps. That goes for
startup nonprofit services and patient advocacy groups. People seem to feel
empowered to have a go at creating a service or organization if they think
there’s an unmet need. They don’t look to established institutions for help;
they generate it themselves. For instance, a guy in biotech thought that
existing means of helping people find their way into clinical trials was inadequate
so he started the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research
Participation. It promotes a better-organized effort to enroll in clinical
trials both to the public and to doctors, a group that is doing little to get
patients into trials. A guy named Patrick Terry has children with a rare
disease and has created a whole approach to quickly funding research into
diseases and cutting through the bureaucracy to develop products quickly. His
company, Genomic Health, is now planning a “disruptive” way of developing
cancer treatments.

Indeed, I’m struck by how much activity is taking place
outside established institutions like ACS. There’s a welter of activity and a
super-abundance of people, companies, and organizations around cancer. The
internet and the connections being formed among people appear to me to be
generating a whole new dimension of action in the field. I find it encouraging.
There is so much more happening than when I entered the field three decades ago.

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