What Most Biotechies Are Missing on Twitter: A Huge Networking Opportunity

9/12/11Follow @xconomy

Twitter is coming to biotech, it’s only a matter of time. And this is a truly wonderful thing.

This thought occurred to me as I sat in my Seattle office, watching a video from a panel discussion of eight people in Boston—journalists, executives, venture capitalists, a PR person—who were talking about how biotechies can get the most out of Twitter. As I watched this, something dawned on me. I have personal relationships with all eight people on that panel and Twitter is the reason I met almost half of them. The other half, I have definitely gotten to know better because of what they say on Twitter.

I bring up this example because one of the biotech’s best tweeters, Stromedix CEO Michael Gilman (@michael_gilman), said on this panel that Twitter has helped him build a better network. While all of his fellow CEOs recognize they need to network, most still don’t see how they can do that on Twitter. “They don’t know what they’re missing,” Gilman said.

So I figured maybe I could help by offering a glimpse of what I have experienced on Twitter lately. Here are some of the people I’ve met in the Twittersphere, with a bit of color on what they are contributing to the emerging industry conversation that you can’t find anywhere else.

Gautam Kollu, (@gautamkollu) VP of marketing at South San Francisco-based Exelixis.

Back in the old days of media, like the mid-aughts, I probably never would have interviewed someone like Kollu, at the VP level of a small biotech. He never would have had an opportunity to share his personal thoughts on the industry in the open. But now, he’s free to chime in with well-informed opinion on timely topics like the marketing and pricing of cancer drugs. Take August 30, for example. An independent physician survey that I considered somewhat suspect, which I chose not to write about, took a shot at Dendreon’s prostate cancer drug sipuleucel-T (Provenge). But this being the web, it spread far and wide. And I was fascinated to see what an insider like Kollu—whose company aspires to be a Dendreon competitor—had to say about this survey. He wrote on Twitter: “lame survey $DNDN: 57% of docs say they won’t prescribe life-extending drug unless <$30K price. BS. Doesn’t reflect reality.”

This, as you can see, is way more interesting than if Kollu just passed along one of his company’s press releases. And Kollu has shown on many occasions in the past month that he has smart, pointed analysis to offer on the marketing of several new cancer drugs. I still haven’t called him on the phone, or met him in person, but you can bet I will soon.

John LaMattina, (@John_LaMattina) senior partner of Puretech Ventures, former president of R&D at Pfizer.

As the former president of R&D at the world’s largest pharma company, LaMattina has a treasure trove of perspective on the drug development business. Frankly, he’s the kind of guy who is hard to communicate with inside big companies, with all their gatekeepers and bureaucratic procedures. But now LaMattina is free to join the freewheeling conversation in real-time on Twitter. He’s been a big addition the past few months. While he isn’t the world’s most prolific contributor to the medium—88 tweets since he joined in May—people are listening very carefully every time he says something. One of his early tweets, on May 16, said, “What does it mean when a drug ‘goes generic?’ Are generic drugs safer than others? Get answers here: http://wp.me/p1y8QX-s.”

If you follow that link, you can read a LaMattina blog post about how generics aren’t really as safe as many people think. Then on Sept 1, he offered some quick commentary that didn’t require a full-blown blog post. In a Tweet directed to Forbes’ Matthew Herper, TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein, and healthcare investor Nathan Sadeghi-Nejad, LaMattina offered comments on a Pfizer HIV drug. “Selzentry mkt uptake may have been limited by availability and expense of diagnostic test,” he wrote. I haven’t personally met LaMattina yet, but it’s only a matter of time now—maybe my next trip to Boston.

Lastly, there are two new people I just started following this past week, and I’m looking forward to what they have to say over time. Maude Tessier (@Maude_Tessier), a licensing manager at Children’s Hospital in Boston, popped up on my radar. She was a prolific tweeter who was essentially acting like a good set of eyes and ears from the BioPharm America conference in Boston. I wasn’t able to attend, but Maude stepped in to fill a role that is traditionally played by journalists—by attending panels and publishing some of the best quotes in real-time on Twitter. Since I found her comments useful, I’ll probably pay more attention now to what she says about other things.

The other person I started following this week was Jason Kelly (@jrkelly). The founder and self-described “DNA hacker” at Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks chimed in on the latest TechCrunch/CrunchFund controversy. Kelly directed a comment to Atlas Venture’s Bruce Booth (@LifeSciVC) and Quintessence Biosciences’ Laura Strong (@scientre) with this little pearl that caught my eye for obvious reasons: “what we really need is a biotech version of techcrunch — xconomy isn’t really cutting it.” I replied to Jason, asking him, “What would a biotech version of techcrunch look like to you?” Naturally, I looked him up on his site and found that he’s a young PhD biologist from MIT, so I figured I should see if he has something interesting to say, or whether he just wants to be a crank. We ended up having an interesting back-and-forth conversation, out in the open among all our respective followers, about what the biotech community needs to improve its information flow.

When it was done, I realized I met someone who could be a great new member of my network, and that I learned something that could help me do my job better. That’s what it’s all about, and those are the kind of connections that are being made out there for biotechies willing to experiment a bit in how they communicate.

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  • http://www.lacertabio.com Lacerta Bio

    I thought Adam and John did a nice job explaining the utility and value of Twitter from a content provider perspective. Your name came up during the pre-panel banter!

  • http://www.BiotechStockResearch.com David Miller

    It was Feb 2010 when @adamfeuerstein goaded me into joining Twitter. 2,600+ followers later, I can’t imagine doing my job without it. If your job depends on knowing what is going on in the markets or in biotech, you’re not doing it right unless you are on Twitter.

    David Miller

  • Josh

    Could we please retire the term “biotechies” forever?

  • David

    Luke, you’re a journalist and as such you are continually in search of new, updated information. For the rest of us I think’s it’s relatively useless. I have far more going on in my life (personally and professionally) that does not need to be interrupted by a text message in the middle of the day.

    Twitter, by EXTENSION, is useful in that it helps you generate content that I read when I have the time. But at the individual “end-user” level so to speak, to sit and sift through my phone through dozens of 140-character blurbs from every company that might be doing something interesting? Fugetaboutit.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    David—you’re right that it’s my job to search for new information, wherever I can find it. And since Twitter is providing more information/analysis/insight than I can get through other sources, it has an obvious appeal to me. But I think those same dynamics are true for a whole lot of other people (investors, executives, scientists) who are also knowledge workers. I wouldn’t have recommended Twitter in this column if I only thought it was useful for journalists like me.

    That said, I think you need to carefully tend your garden, so to speak, to get the most out of Twitter. It would be impossible to try to track everything that everybody is saying all the time. I don’t try to do that–it would take too much time. I’d suggest getting started by following the 8 people who were on that panel, and maybe looking at who they follow to get a few more ideas. Start slow, check in a couple times a day, see what you get. “Unfollow” the people whose comments aren’t relevant to you, and try following a few more who have things to say that are more up your alley. I’d also recommend getting a free application called Tweetdeck to help keep things organized on your desktop.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/markedwardminie Mark Minie

    I still have many reservations about using Twitter in this way…how do you stop it from becoming a game of “Rumor” or “Gossip” , much like discussion boards turn out to be…for example, your comment about trying to determine whether a particular post was from a “crank” or an expert…who gets to decide that and how? Warren and Marshall were considered cranks by BigPharma and BigMed until their peer reviewed publications and a Nobel Priize made it impossible to ignore that peptic ulcers were caused by H. pylori and not spicy foods, bad attitudes and too much stomach acid (and so much for the BigPharma antacid blockbuster drugs as a treatment for that…)…and could be treated efficiently and effectively with antibiotics. I know of MDs and nursing staff who still believe only “cranks” think ulcers are caused by a bacterium…and you will have no trouble finding otherwise well informed rational people on Twitter who believe that vaccines cause autism and that vaccines are dangerous and not worth risking their kids…and thus in effect risk all our lives…seen CONTAGION yet? :)

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    Mark—I don’t think Twitter itself as a medium is the problem here, it’s how people use it. Every different media platform ever invented can be used to produce quality information, or garbage. If people produce credible information on Twitter, I’ll follow them. If they don’t, I won’t. And right now, I see a lot of quality biotech information on Twitter, and it’s growing.

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