Sunday, April 26, 2015

3 Realizations from the AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Annual Meeting

In April, one of the biggest gatherings of cancer researchers met in Philadelphia to discuss the current progress in the field. I was lucky enough to attend most of the conference this year, and three things stuck in my head:

1. The number of attendees and intellectual power focusing on cancer research is truly inspirational. Seeing rooms full of thousands of highly trained scientists and doctors dedicating their careers to solve this challenge exudes a sense of hope that this menacing disease can be conquered.

2. It surprised me how pivotal the role of cell biology is to the future of cancer treatment. The seeming tidal wave of good results from immunotherapies and T-Cell therapies is almost too good to be true-- and promises to usher in a new class of treatments for patients.

3. Even the most astonishing new technology or discovery takes time to reach the market. 15 years seems to be typical even of the biggest success stories. So while killer applications like adoptive T-Cell therapy and percision medicine (informed by gene sequencing) were widely published over a decade ago-- they are just now reaching the inflection point for clinical impact.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is Biological Research the New Aspiration for Top Talent?

While most of us are exposed biological sciences in high school and college, the field has never really represented an aspirational career goal for young, highly talented individuals. For most of the past century, the respectable explanation of obtaining a life science degree was to then become a medical doctor. A much smaller subset successfully became rock-star professors-- but for the most part this path was secluded to the "genius types." (

Common knowledge on college campuses (at least for the past 20 or so years), was that if you wanted to be really successful in life, you studied finance or computer science. And for the most part that premise has been supported by the trajectory of the economy. This also has the effect that new generations of talented individuals naturally tend to follow the fields that are the most lucrative.

For a long time (at least since before the human genome was first published), it has also been common knowledge that life sciences would be the successor (or at least the younger sibling) to the amazingly successful "computer science" boom. There are many explanations of why this has remained "5 years away" for a few decades, but I bet there is a high correlation with the career paths chosen by the "top talent" at our universities.

There is hope that we are near a time when the best and brightest will snub the 6-digit offer from Wall Street or a social media giant, and instead accept an even more lucrative offer from a life science technology company. Private money is starting to flow more readily into basic research, such as the new Allen Institute for Cell Science ( Investments in "health tech" by industry giants like Apple and Google, and traditional VCs ( point to a general understanding by those with deep pockets that there is untapped value in the biological sciences. And perhaps most interesting is that the college campus "bioengineering start-up" is fast becoming the destination of the "cool kids".