Forget the Shortcuts: Creating a Truly Innovative Biotech Culture
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in setting up these assays, not on the other work that you did. My interpretation of this time-split? The company thought the screening work was so boring that in order to hire people, they needed to allow them at least a small portion of time to do something that might actually be of intellectual interest.
Contrast this with what I found in biotech. Everyone in the organization seemed to dress in the same casual style that I had become accustomed to in my grad school and post-doctoral academic environments. An egalitarian system was in place where lab assistants with talent and drive (but no advanced degrees) could advance to the same scientist level as newly-hired PhDs. All of my time was to be spent exploring avenues of the company’s research focus in immunology and oncology. This would involve truly cutting edge experiments that held the promise of breakthroughs in understanding the causes and treatments of disease. Data could be published in top-flight journals, and the company would (and did) support my success by filing patents on my work and allowing me to talk about my work at conferences around the globe.
In the end, it really was a simple choice, and I leaped into biotech at Seattle-based Immunex in 1988. The strong science focus allowed me to ignore the fact that biotechs couldn’t offer the economic stability of traditional pharmaceutical companies. Yet this supposed advantage turned out to be an illusion, as Big Pharma companies have continually laid off thousands of researchers in recent years.
You know the old joke that there are two sides to every issue, and a politician usually takes both? Well, while it’s a bit of an over-simplification, there are two kinds of pharma/biotech cultures. Those that innovate, like Genentech and Immunex, and those that buy innovation, like most of Big Pharma. Companies that choose to innovate need to have a culture in place that will lead to novel discoveries that can be exploited in a clinical setting. But how does one set an innovative culture in place? What are some of the key factors that can be used to create a culture of success in biotech research? Let me share a few thoughts:
Understand that cutting edge research cannot be done on a deadline
As one of my grad school mentors used to tell me “if it was easy, somebody else would have already done it.” While one should always be held accountable for making progress, it is impossible to predict exactly when a particular protein might be cloned, a novel pathway identified, or a small molecule inhibitor developed. As a result of this, companies need to employ a diversity of approaches in their research programs. Some may bear fruit right away, others years from now, and some possibly never. Diversification … Next Page »