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NIH Director Francis Collins at ASCB: We Need More Sexy Scientists

Posted by Mary Canady December 6th, 2009 .
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Photo by Karras Photography*

I had mentioned that I was hoping to get a personal interview with Francis Collins, newly appointed NIH director, during his visit to the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) meeting. Turns out Dr. Collins wasn’t available for a long interview, but I was able to meet him briefly after his engaging talk following Rudolf Jaenisch’s excellent keynote last night in San Diego.

Dr. Collins talked about his first 116 days as NIH director, including the work they’ve done to quickly process stimulus grants and disburse the funds and to provide important guidelines for stem cell research. The clear message of his 30 minute talk, which seemed to fly by due to his ‘charismatically humble’ style, was that we scientists, now more than ever, need to communicate the importance of our research more broadly so that we will continue to garner the necessary funding.

Dr. Collins likened his first few months as NIH director to ‘drinking from a fire hose on a roller coaster,’ partly due to the large number of the grants that were received as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Collins said they expected about 3,000 but instead received 20,000. Of the $10 Billion appropriated to NIH from the ARRA, $5 Billion was awarded by October 1st 2009 for 12,000 projects. It is estimated that 50,000 new jobs will be generated over two years. Collins indicated that the NIH will not be biased towards ‘big science’ under his leadership, as might be feared from his involvement in the human genome project. He pointed out the breadth of the ARRA funding, from The Cancer Genome Atlas to the ASCB’s proposed online image library.

Collins also talked about the amazing progress in stem cell research, triggered by President Obama’s signing of the Stem Cell Executive Order March 9th of this year. Since that time, the NIH has worked hard to publish guidelines and has very recently (Dec. 2) approved 13 human embryonic stem cell lines and is approving another 27 (Dec. 4–to be announced soon). You can learn more at http://stemcells.nih.gov/. Collins also discussed great NIH funding programs to encourage innovation through their High-Risk Research Initiatives.

Collins’ passion for science was clear as he urged scientists to get more involved in educating the public about the science that we do so that it continues to be funded. ASCB has set up a web page that makes it easy to get the word out–check out http://www.ascb.org/arra. Collins also talked National Lab Day, a non-profit group which aims to connect scientists and grade 6-12 students, create local communities to foster collaborations and improve the quality of science education. The website lists projects for which teachers need resources, and will also connect scientists with those that need their expertise. (Would this be a great charity event for the SDBN in 2010?)

It’s also clear that Collins is still engaged firsthand with science and scientists, as he enjoyed friendly chats with Rudolf Jaenisch and other ASCB members, and was seen heading towards the party after the session. He also has gone ‘outside of his comfort zone‘ to promote science. He was asked by Stephen Colbert to ‘take his glasses off and shake out his hair’ to make science ‘sexy,’ and Collins in turn asked the ASCB audience to do this as well. What he meant is that we should go outside of our comfort zones to promote the importance of our work. Tell our friends, neighbors, and politicians about what we’re doing and why it’s important, similar to the IamBiotech campaign which we’ve discussed. Collins suggested that one of the best ways is to invite your political representatives to tour your laboratory. Why not? He said they’ll likely view it as a refreshing opportunity to hear some good news about your work.

Personally, I was very inspired by Dr. Collins’ speech. It is clear that he is a scientist at heart, but not afraid to be creative and vocal in promoting science, and it is very encouraging to have someone like him at the ‘helm’ of the NIH. At SDBN events, we’ve talked about the increasing power of the individual or small business to make a difference. How can we be creative in our local industry and community to make a difference? Comments welcome below, and fill out the http://sdbn.org/2010poll to get involved!

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*Photo courtesy of ASCB, generously provided by Karras Photography

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2010: The Year YOU Make Contact

Posted by Mary Canady December 2nd, 2009 .
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2010_sandOK, cheesy title, I know. The point is that we want to know what you’re interested in seeing and doing in 2010 with the San Diego Biotechnology Network. What are the hot areas? What types of events would you like to see? Would you like to participate in new ways, such as blogging or charity events? We’re leaving it up to you, please take the survey at http://sdbn.org/2010poll by Dec. 10th and we’ll post the results!

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San Diego Biotech–What’s the Vibe?

Posted by Mary Canady November 30th, 2009 .
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With the help of IamBiotech, we interviewed you at the Oct. 29th ‘Bootstrapping Biotech’ event to learn more about what is going on in the area and communicate it to others. This interview with Philip Skinner is indicative of what we hear a lot–excitement about the possibilities, but nervous as well. We plan to continue the conversation at our December 8th event ‘Drug Discovery 2.0 with Assay Depot.’ See all the interviews at http://sdbn.org/bootstrap, and as always let us know what you think: in person, on the website, on LinkedIn, Facebook…you can even make your own video and send it to us!


We’ll also be interviewing you at the December 8th event, let’s keep the conversation going!

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SDBN December 8th Event: Drug Discovery 2.0 With Assay Depot

Posted by Mary Canady November 16th, 2009 .
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The outsourcing model for drug discovery, where a significant fraction of drug research is carried out by contract research organizations (CROs), is a great opportunity for the San Diego Biotechnology community. Our rich history in research and development has given rise to around 125 local CROs. Assay Depot is a local company with a simple yet fully functional marketplace for CROs and the researchers who need them. By facilitating communication, removing bottlenecks and allowing full ‘search to service’ access to scientists, Assay Depot dramatically improves the efficiency of outsourcing for CROs and researchers alike. Researchers gain access to thousands of services that they can order on demand and CROs benefit through increased exposure and the ability to more easily manage client relationships.

We’ll hear from Assay Depot CEO Kevin Lustig about how this model can transform how drug research is done and its potential to stimulate growth for local companies and consultants. As always, there will be plenty of time to network and meet the Assay Depot team and others with similar interests. Also, be sure to join the Drug Discovery 2.0 LinkedIn group and also check out the blog so we can keep the conversation going.

Event Details

Who: Biotechnology professionals in the greater San Diego area
What: San Diego Biotechnology Network’s December 8th Drug Discovery 2.0 With Assay Depot Networking Event
When: Tuesday, December 8th, 5:30-9:00 p.m.
Where: Tango Del Rey, 3567 Del Rey Street, San Diego 92109 (Directions below)
Cost: $20, including appetizers ($15 for Academics) +$5 at door, cash/check only
Contact: http://sdbn.org/contact
For more information about the event: http://sdbn.org/december

Directions: From the North: South on Interstate 5, Exit Balboa Ave, Straight to 4th Traffic Light then left on Bunker Hill St. Building directly ahead 3 blks. From the South: North on Interstate 5, Exit Grand/ Garnet Ave, Straight to 3rd Traffic Light then right on Bunker Hill St. Building directly ahead 3 blks. Park on the street or in the structure just past Tango del Rey.

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New NIH Director Francis Collins to be at ASCB Meeting in San Diego

Posted by Mary Canady November 12th, 2009 .
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Newly appointed National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins will attend and speak briefly at the American Society for Cell Biology Conference in San Diego Dec. 5-9. Dr. Collins will provide some short remarks after Rudolf Jaenisch’s keynote presentation at 6 p.m. SDBN has requested an interview and hopes to give San Diego Biotechnology professionals a voice for the direction of NIH funding.

Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project, an achievement which significantly changed the landscape of life science research. The project has found increasing relevance as the data becomes ‘translated’ into implications for health and medicine. The information has pervasively impacted the way our industry ‘works,’ just one example being the improved communication between drug discovery and disease diagnostics. Dr. Collins is also a physician and a proponent of personalized medicine, and was appointed as NIH Director by President Obama in July of this year.

Dr. Collins has been a strong supporter of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) for years, and is described as an ‘eloquent speaker and all around great guy’ by John Fleischman, Science Writer for ASCB. Fleischman said Dr. Collins has also been known to pick up a guitar and play at their functions. We know that Dr. Collins has a sense of humor because he has appeared on the Colbert Report. We can’t promise a ‘kumbaya’ session, or a funny rapport (pun intended), but it will be great to hear Dr. Collins talk about the direction of the NIH. The meeting is also a great place to learn and network with scientists and exhibitors, I highly suggest that you attend.

The ASCB is dedicated to basic research which is of paramount importance to supporting our local biotechnology economy, as our industry is fed by our top research institutions. Personally, I am interested in changes in NIH funding which will better prepare our academic scientists to more easily ‘translate’ their knowledge to industrial applications.

Do you have any questions for Dr. Collins? Please leave them as a comment below, and we will do our best to get them asked!

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