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January 2017

Battle of Wisdom: CRISPR-CAS9

in Sci-IP/SciBiz/SciWorld by
Editor’s Note: Gene editing for a better (or worse) is coming to a store near you. Some of you may have followed the ongoing patent war on the ownership of CRISPR-Cas9 technology between University of California (Berkeley) and Broad Institute (MIT-Harvard). But there could be many who are wondering what is the fuss all about? At the Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs we might still continue the debate about CSG’s usefulness to biologists vs non-biologists, but as inventors we are always in unison about perfecting the art of claiming ownership. #ClubSciWri is always attempting to listen and respond to your expectations and we are pleased to present the “Battle of Wisdom:CRISPR-Cas9” from Dileep Vengasseri. Dileep has nicely deciphered the meshwork underlying this matrix of claims to the CRISPR invention. We hope this story helps make sure that the next big thing from your gray matter secures your rightful ownership to the intellectual property.- Abhinav Dey

My dear friend, this 60 minutes of my time and 1597 words are for you! As you rightly said, maybe we should discuss our opinion(s) in public at least for educating others on what we have learned during the due course of our time.

Disclaimer: All what is written/expressed here are my personal opinions, and are not to be construed in any manner as a reflection/opinion of the firm that I am associated with. My words are solely my words! I will try to be as generic as possible to ensure there is absolutely no conflicts of any interest. This is purely a personal blog, written within the constitutional freedom that my Country has offered me when I was born here.

Many great battles are won not in the battle fileds, but in the minds of the battle leaders. What we read, saw, and talked about were the after-effects of those battles won or lost inside those great minds. In the great epic Mahabharata, Arjuna was about to lose Kurukshetra battle even before it was fought. But, there was a Krishna to save him from that humiliation. Many may not be as lucky as Arjuna was.

Before I begin, with all due respect, let me remind all of us one trivia very clear. US is not the “World” … it is just one of the many countries [a privileged one, indeed] of this world.  A larger population residing outside that privileged country, do not play a “World Cup” between their states or clubs. They don’t re-spell a word to make it look like they have invented it. For them, the metal “Al” is still aluminium and not aluminum.

We, living at the periphery of the world of modern(?) science, have got enough fuel from CRISPR-Cas, the game-changing method of gene editing, to satisfy our ego of being a part of a ‘privileged community’ who understands (?) the words like ‘gene editing’ and ‘CRISPR-Cas’.  For all such ‘privileged souls’, the “IP Battle of CRISPR-Cas” is more than just another battle. Let me call it a “Battle of Wisdom”.

But, was this battle worth fighting?

Let me begin with disecting this IP battle to four main sections: (1) Technology (2) The Battle Field (3) The Win and (4) The Strategy. May be, in future, I can complete this article with “Lessons Learnt”.

  1. Technology: At least from what is publically available, we know that Doudna/Charpentier’s team made that beautiful gene editng system work in-vitro in prokaryotic cells, in a neater, simpler manner than what it was in the nature itself. Instead of using a 3-component system including tracrRNA, crRNA and Cas9, her team beautifully designed a 2-component system, including a key synthetic, single guided RNA (sgRNA), that effectively performed site specific genome editing along with Cas9 (It is interesting to note that in-vitro 3-component system is also IP protected!). What was the big deal? The big deal was its simplicity, efficiency, and marketability. It was not that gene editing methodologies never existed before… however, now the World has access to an elegant gene editing system that is much more easy to perform (no more protein engineering!) & predictable. We also know that Feng Zhang (don’t forget George Church’s back-to-back publication in Science along with Feng Zhang) made it work in the eukaryotic system.
  2. The Battle Field: No one (at least the majority of money makers) wants a gene editing system that works only in prokaryotic systems. So, the “Battle of Wisdom” eventually boiled down to the IP on gene editing in eukaryotic system with CRISPR-Cas. Duodna filed a US patent application (remember, US is not the World, more so when it comes to IP protection) first and Feng Zhang got the first granted patent in US (note that the USPTO could have  provoked an interference at that time itself, but they didn’t!). Feng Zhang’s patent ‘claims’ to ‘cover’ eukaryotic CRISPR/Cas gene editing system (no comments on its “claims” and/or its “coverage” as the battle is still on…at least let the battle be fought under the belief that the land that is going to be conquered is still fertile!).  Duodna had anyway made it easier for Feng Zhang to get his patent granted by ‘boasting about’ her team’s achievement in multiple forums and explaning ‘how difficult it is/was to make it work in a eukaryotic system’.   Alas! enough of such wisdom on eukaryotic system was passed on to that Patent Attorney who filed her provisional applications, at least before the one on 19th October 2012 that is prior to the Feng Zhang’s priority date of 12th December 2012. Now, the battle of wisdom (what we call as “Interference Proceedings”) is to establish who invented (i.e., conceived and/or reduced-to-practice) the “eukaryotic CRISPR-Cas” first. Duodna will be fighting to make a point that porting CRISPR to  eukaryotic system is just a non-inventive aspect. Feng Zhang is going to fight back at least on the ground that if it is that obvious why did it then take Doudna a good 6-9 months to achieve the same.   I refrain from making any comments on how long or short is 6-9 months in a field like Molecular Biology. I know that my dear friend, who forced me (as usual) to write this long article, has wandered in the wilderness of IISc campus behind an elusive protein for a good 6 years :-)). And, I must admit that I have made the entire story of this Battle of Wisdom to a deeply  abridged version as the facts of this case are much more than what this layman article can handle. But, I believe that this much background is good enough to make my “teaching moments” convincing.
  3. The Win: Does it matter who wins this battle? Of course, YES! All battles are known after the leader who has won it (Aravind Kejriwal and Hilary Clinton are no where near their counterparts, as of today). Generally, the winner get the privilege to write the history that we all can read and study. But, is this Battle of Wisdom the same as any other great battles fought, lost and won? No. What is required to win this battle? It is required to show that who has invented the “eukaryotic CRISPR-Cas” first; it is required to show what is inventive/not inventive in this field; and it is required to show what constitutes an adequate written description/enablement in this field so that the “public disclosure function” (spirit and letter of any patenting system in the world) of the patenting sytsem is intact.  But, as with any other battle, only one person can be the winner. But, what will they both win or lose? The loser will any way have a deep wound in ego that may take years to heal. But, will he/she lose everything? Need not be. It depends on what other IP portfolio or picket-fencing that he/she has done around this gene editing tool. For example, a good claim on the synthetic guide RNA, a good IP portoflio on a better Cas9 proteins,  a better method for transfecting the cell, or an alternative to Cas9 itself… all these can make or break a commercial deal.  Is the winner going to get everything? Need not be.  During this entire process, it might open a pandora box and a myriad of avenues to potentially invalidate the patent claims that the winner can take home, to limit its claim scope, to limit its application coverage etc.
  4. Strategy: Isn’t it important for everyone in the field of IP to realize that most often a “hand shake” may do more good than “a fight”.  Before taking the army to a battle, it is important to know if raisng a white flag will be more beneficial than a gruelling battle. It is important to understand for what one is fighting a battle.   Does anyone fight for satisfying an ego or to make a point?  It is imporant to  understand that in a patent battle field, a wiser does not fight from their heart, but from their mind!. It is  important for each of the fighting members to know “What will happen if we do not fight, but rather collaborate?”.  Both Doudna/Charpentier and Feng Zhang could have been still partners in Editas, and they could have ruled the field.  When you fight in public, you expose yourself…you expose more than what you wanted to. And, what you have exposed can kill you even if you win YOUR fight.

Three more points to ponder:

  1. IP protection of PCR technology made Roche the king of DNA amplificaiton for quite sometime. Why? It is true that PCR was a technology that literally transformed the world of Biotechnology. But, was the IP protection on PCR probes for important pathogens less important? Were Taqman probes for real time PCR less important? Were the chips that made thermal cycling easier less important? No. All of them “together” made PCR a “cult” technology. That’s what a strategy means.
  2. IP protection in the field of ESC took Thompson and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to the center of the scientific world. Many IP/Tech Transfer cells in the Universities across the world wanted to be like WARF. As far I know, WARF gave its rights for free to any academic instituties, but made any industry pay for the same. Great! What were the other things that were needed to sustain and progress that technology ? An environment that morally support ESC research, a completely synthetic media to grow ESC, a culture that is devoid of mouse fibroblasts … all these were essential for taking ESC to reach its maximum potential. In modern day science, it is unlikely that we will see a winner of a single battle emerging as the “real winner”. A real winner is going to be the one who knows the game and strategize accordingly.
  3. US is not the “World”, and IP rights are jurisdictional. So, make yourself open to strategize for the real world!

Another Disclaimer: While starting my blog in WordPress, I had promised that I will not proof-read what I have written. In the past, many times, I had become a victim of my perfectionism and my writings had never seen the light. So, please pardon any typographical, grammatical, or otherwise errors. I hope factual errors are not there. Please let me know if you find any errors so that I can correct the same.

Authored by

 

Dr Dileep Vangasseri, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc); Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh; Senior IP Professional, John F. Welch Technology Center, GE India Technology Center Pvt. Ltd., GE Global Research, Bangalore, India). Dileep has over ten years of in-house IP experience in Life Sciences, Healthcare and Medical Diagnostics industry after eight years of academic research experience in Bio-Organic Chemistry, Gene Therapy and Cancer Immunotherapy. He is well versed in all facets of patent analytics, techno-competitive intelligence, technology forecasting and business development.

This blog was originally posted here on December 7 (2016).

Featured image source: Pixabay

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The week that it was 22nd Jan to 28th Jan 2017

in ClubSciWri by
  • 4-reasons-social-polls-online-learning.jpg?fit=820%2C460

As India celebrated its 68th Republic day this week and every country in the world honoured our Tricolour, the enthusiasm in the CSG endeavour was no less. This week saw an upsurge of ideas as fellow CSGians initiated and participated actively in discussions on various new themes.

Genetic modifications all the way!!

While CSGians debated the safety of GM crops and their abundance in near future, Indian scientists validate the efficiency to GM mosquitoes to outcompete their disease-causing Aedes aegypti peers. Moreover, genetically engineered immune cells (T-cells) were shown to eliminate tumors in infants.

Taking Science to the Senate

California has become a personal favourite among scientists as fly biologist; Michael Eisen makes his political plans public. Dr. Eisen hopes to win the US senate in 2018 so the views and perspectives of the scientific community are better represented where it matters.

Metallic hydrogen is here!!

Material scientists celebrate, as metallic hydrogen becomes a reality!! This metal, predicted to revolutionise anything from local transportation to rocket science is still undergoing confirmatory tests.

Lights, camera …action!!

Dr.Anshu Malhotra’s research at the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation (Emory University) made a debut, in response to idea of promoting research using short video presentations. Fellow CSGians are welcome to showcase their work or any topic of scientific interest through a 1-2 min talk for the benefit of our ever-growing CSG community.

Figuring out where you belong

Natalie Lundsteen asserts why career assessment is essential in this era of multiple career choices and introduces various assessment tools available to young PhDs and post-docs. Needless to say, harmful thought patterns should be kept away during this self-analysing process.

On the scientific front, YouGenomics aims to generate reference genotype panel representing the Indian population / sub-populations, using whole genome sequencing of USA residents of India origin.

Calling out all Sci-entrepreneurs

For PhD’s and post-docs with an insight in science and an aptitude in business, BIRAC (DBT’s interface agency) calls out applications for the Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) Scheme, 2017. A fellow CSGian, Viswa Nadham, has kindly volunteered to offer advise and guidance for those interested.

A small roadmap towards jobs and more

The forum has had some valuable inputs for those contemplating switching jobs and tips on picking your next employer. Moreover, the newbies in the job-hunt arena can benefit from resume writing strategies and what to do on the day of your interview. On the other hand, we have a smart chart to help you plan you new-work-year so you have a productive 2017.

The CSG global village

This week has seen a lot of activity of CSG in response to various polls. Please respond to our polls to help us form a localised community in your vicinity. CSG Europe is slowly taking shape while communities in US, Singapore and Europe (soon) plan annual meets to improve the networking policy of CSG. A CSG world map has also been created to gauge how widespread our community is.

Club SciWri to flaunt CSGian Research

Club SciWri invites fellow CSGians to showcase any interesting piece of work you are reading in the field of immunotherapy, immunooncology, oncology, neuroscience, microbiome etc. We wish to contribute to the weekly development of scientific awareness and to appreciate the various innovations we have coming our way. Please write to us at sciwri2016@gmail.com.

Taking lessons from the learned ones

A kind reminder to those interested on transitioning from academia to apply for the Mentor-Mentee program 2017 by CSG by Jan 31st, 2017. Make the most of this opportunity to tap into the knowledge and experience of our kind mentors to make your dream job a reality.

Have a great week ahead.

Nisha Peter

Managing time in Research

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/That Makes Sense by

Like most researchers, I have struggled through my initial years of research to find my groove. While I can’t say with surety that I have found it eventually, it would be vain to deny how much learning has happened in these years. I don’t know about genius minds who, with even failing breath, can come out with ground-breaking ideas. I need some sanity in my life, some space in my mindscape, to be able to concentrate, think and look around. I have found methods of time management immensely valuable in keeping away clutter from my surroundings and my thoughts. Below, I share some simple techniques that can create chunks of time/space so that you can focus your energies in doing what really inspires you.

Why is Time management Important for Researchers?

Research Myths

It can’t be planned. Actually, the real purpose of planning is to plan away those hundred other chores you must do apart from your main duty, so that there’s enough time and energy to carry it out.
There’s too much time; too little to do. Most dangerous myth! There’s too much to do. It’s just not apparent. Identifying what to do is an inherent part of research. Give it time on a regular basis.
There are no customers. There are. And they are very demanding. And you have to sell your work to them; and sell very hard. Each research community creates very high bars for newcomers.

Shabbiness indicates genius. I see no reason to believe that merely by looking shabby, or by leading a shabbily managed day to day life, one proves his genius. And I feel, it’s stupid to barter success and satisfaction in work and life to a vain bloating feeling of being a genius.
Research is all about great ideas. As the famous saying by Edison goes: ‘Genius … 1% inspiration … 99% perspiration,’ research too is mostly about persistent, hard toil. Most of it is boring, uninteresting, mechanical and mindless to the core.

Differentiators of Research

So then, what is it that’s really different about research? Really, from the perspective of time management, there is no fundamental difference. Just that the values of some variables are different.

Incentives. The incentives for which researchers work is somewhat (not very) different from that for which non-researchers work. For example, a pat for your work, your name being added among the experts of your area etc. are more important than money, promotions and suave lifestyle to researchers.

Timelines. For researchers, timelines are fuzzier. Had it been possible to have crisp deadline for everything in research, it wouldn’t have been research. Moreover, the smallest atomic tasks that a researcher may have to do would usually be much larger in size than that of others.

Deliverables. The value of a researcher’s contribution to the world is rather hard to gauge. Sometimes, the profits from the same start coming back rather late: months, years, possibly decades after the idea was conceived.

Step 1. Getting back Your Focus

Respect your own time. A feeling that plagued me for a major part of my PhD was the feeling of not doing anything important. I feel this low respect for one’s own time is an occupational hazard of a PhD student. So it’s important to be on your guard against this feeling right from the first day. Everything done in the name of research is very important: literature review, downloading software, learning programming, assembling instruments, or interacting with suppliers.
Distinguish between recreation and distraction. Learn to identify when you are seeking distraction to escape work. It is all the more important to devote a stipulated amount of time to research when it doesn’t seem to be moving.
Minimise interruptions. The time of the day you have decided to devote to your lab work (or whatever it is in your research) must be protected with your life against petty interruptions. The interruptions may appear in many disguises: invitation for a cup of tea, phone calls, and most disastrous of all, the Web (mails, scraps, posts, wikipedia, Google…). Learn to say ‘No!’
Prioritise. Divide most of your time among a top few things which show up in your grand scheme of things.

Step 2. Overcoming Procrastination

Tips to overcome procrastination

Start small. When you are neck deep in the habit of procrastination, there’s only one way to get out: start small. Take baby steps. Keep small targets, achieve them and celebrate the victory profusely. Some examples: I will read this one section at a stretch; or I will get up after I have understood these 10 lines of code.

In the next iteration, raise the bar slightly. Things will gradually start falling in place.
Make it SMART.
S(specific)M(measurable)A(achievable, ambitious), R(risky, reasonable)T(timed) goals are the key to time management. For example, ‘I will present this paper tomorrow to my lab mate and make sure that he has understood’ it is a SMART goal. ‘I will understand this paper’ is not.
Create tangible commitments (e.g Involve others). When it’s hard at the individual level to ensure progress, quickly involve somebody else. Usually it could be your boss. But there’s no reason to start or stop there. Also, try to create stakeholders. This means that there should be tangible benefit for those who involve themselves in your work. Therefore, involving your friend in hearing you out in a mock presentation is fine; but presenting it to someone who might potentially be able to use it in his work is much better.

Reward yourself. In the beginning it worked for me to reward myself with some indulgence when I achieved tiny successes in defeating procrastination. For example, I used to promise myself a cup of coffee alone if I finished a small chunk of work. And on actually finishing, I used to make it a point to reward myself. It was very effective. Of course, the reward should always follow the achievement, and not precede it.

Step 3. Implementing Time management

Now, I introduce the method which, if roughly followed, will yield immediate benefit with little effort.

To-do List. The most rudimentary structure of time management is a to-do list. It is a dump of every task you want to do. As a part of your time-planning, it helps to create a to do list. This emerges from the tasks in your projects.

Schedule. A to-do list with chronological sorting of tasks is a schedule. To turn a to-do list into a schedule you have to first assign priorities to your to-dos. Based upon your estimate of how long they would take and when they ought to be completed, you allocate specific times to them. This results in a schedule.

Where to Keep your To-do List or Schedule?

Not your brain. Our brain comes with the birthright to forget. And forgetting is foul in the game of time management. Worded differently, brain is the most high-end tool we have at our disposal. There are better things than remembering trifles that you would like to use your brain for, for example, research.

Pocketbook. A little pocketbook contains the power of taking you out, away from the mess of having to recollect every now and then all your tasks and promises. It’s also the first step one takes in committing to the practice of not hiding behind forgetfulness as an excuse to laziness. Once you have it written down there, you aren’t any more allowed to completely forget anything.

Diary. As you get past the first few baby steps of time management, pocketbook soon starts proving inadequate and messy. While you would still like to keep your pocketbook for its versatility and lightweightedness, in the least, you need a page for each of your day. That’s a way of saying, ‘This is my day today!’

Planner. As you become somewhat advanced in managing your time, you start feeling the need for a more elaborate format. Something that has your tasks sorted, your goals placed at a visible place where you can refer to them often, a scratchpad where you can work on your plan (i.e. breaking down your goals into projects and sub-projects), and a space having your schedule of the days. Planners are the things to be adopted at this point. Planners come with detachable refills. So, you don’t have to carry a lifetime of sheets in your planner. Just keep the current ones.

Software. Software calendars like Google calendar, outlook calendar, KOrganizer etc. are sophisticated applications which allow you to schedule tasks and meetings, and get reminded of the same through various means: pop ups, emails and SMSs.

Important Note: Maintain only one scheduler, whether traditional or electronic.

Conclusion

Time management is one of the basic life skills we all ought to have learned in childhood. Like communication skill, analytical skill etc, time management is something that can be useful in all professions, in all walks of life. Fortunately, the subject of time management is no rocket science. It doesn’t require any special talents to manage one’s time well. It can be learned and profited from by anyone. I encourage you to experiment and find out what works best for you. A personalised combination of the tools above may turn out to be just the thing for you. Even as I write this article, I continue trying out new methods in search of what fits my needs the best. There’s no need to get stuck to one method.

The more critical and harder part of time management are: acceptance and implementation. To make it work for you, you must first trust that it is needed. Once you start, time management is to be implemented with discipline.

Resources

  1. Randy Pausch
  2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  3. Many Google and youtube videos. Just search for ‘time management.’
  4. KOrganizer (http://userbase.kde.org/KOrganizer)

Finding antibodies in the haystack…

in Entrepreneurship by

Face to Face with Thomas Leung, CSO, BenchSci.

 

The first day I started my postdoc in the Bremner lab, I remember talking to Tom, a graduate student working in the “Epigenetics” wing of the lab. Being fun-loving and most importantly coffee loving, we instantly bonded and formed a team…doing Science and talking non-sense. I witnessed the BenchSci growth closely…it is amazing how Tom took his idea forward, pursued relentlessly and now successfully launched his startup, raising money from both angel investors and VCs. Within a short span, the BenchSci team won University of Toronto Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BBCIE) Fellowship 2016, Ontario Centre of Excellence (OCE) Smart Seed 2016 and the Brightlane Entrepreneurship Award (BEA) 2016. To inspire potential start up seekers in CSG, I interviewed Tom recently about his journey with BenchSci.

 

ME: Tell me about BenchSci?

TL: BenchSci is a machine learning software that analyzes and decodes scientific papers to extract antibody usage data in the form of figures. These figures are then further indexed and aggregated to make them easily accessible to the research community.

ME: So, how did the idea get started?

TL: During my PhD, one day I was planning a new experiment, which required a lot of new antibodies for this huge Western blot. I was sitting in front of my computer, using conventional search engines and looking through PubMed to search for antibodies that have been validated in peer reviewed papers. After many hours, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice if there was a database somewhere that I can just input my favorite protein and I will be able to see all papers produced with different commercial antibodies against that protein?”. I started looking online and realized that such database does not exist, so I decided to build one on my own.

ME:  How did you go about it? What’s the process involved and how did you form a team?

TL:  To build this massive database, I know that I am going to need someone with superb programming expertise. My whole academic career was in Life Science and I do not know many people in Computer Science. I know that UofT is a great place with awesome ComSci talents, so I logged into my LinkedIn account and typed in “UofT, programming”. The first result was David Chen, who became our Chief Technology Officer. Amazingly, David is both an adept programmer and a PhD researcher in Neuroscience. I invited him out for a drink and we chatted for many hours and that’s how the team got started. I continue to look around UofT and assembled an awesome team right here, including our Chief Executive Officer, Liran Belenzon, MBA from Rotman, our Chief Database Officer, Elvis Wianda, PhD from Medical Biophysics, and our Community Architect, Maurice Shen, PhD from Pharmacology.

ME: How did your exposure in University of Toronto (U of T) help you in this pursuit, from a lab to a startup?

TL: UofT has many incubators aiming to nurture and support new ideas. We took advantage of this great opportunity and went to a few of these wonderful incubators such as the Hatchery at the Department of Engineering, the Creative Destruction Lab at Rotman Business School, and H2i at the Faculty of Medicine. Also, being a research scientist myself means I was able to talk to many professors and researchers to get valuable feedbacks and comments. For instance, our scientific advisors Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Ruth Ross, Chairwoman of the Pharmacology Department and Dr. Ioannis Prassas, Staff Scientists at Mount Sinai, gave us many great suggestions that helped us develop and improve the BenchSci platform to better serve the scientific community.

ME: How is your platform different from the several antibody validation websites that already exist, like Antibodyreview, Biocompare, etc…?

TL: We are a true validation platform, meaning that we directly showcase experimental usage validation of antibodies in peer-reviewed journals. As a researcher, I realize the importance of seeing a figure more than anything, that’s why BenchSci is designed to show scientists antibody evidence-of-use directly in the form of figures, and not just a mere citation number.

ME: So right now what’s the design of your BenchSci website?

TL: It is very straightforward. All you need to do is go to our platform, type in the protein you are interested in and press, “enter”. We will show you a list of figures produced by commercial antibodies that target your protein of interest. You can continue to narrow down your search to fit your experimental criteria by applying multiple layers of filter including technique, tissues, cell lines, and disease models. We have a demo video on our website at www.BenchSci.com. For one minute of your time you will immediately realize how simple it is to use BenchSci.

ME: Do you plan to move to other reagents, other than antibodies?

TL: Yes for sure. BenchSci is a powerful software that can decode scientific papers, and we are also planning to target other experimental reagents that require validation information before making a purchasing decision.

ME: Is the software the end product that you will sell, if so, what is your future direction after that?

TL: We are offering BenchSci free to use for all research scientists. We truly believe that BenchSci would be helpful for researchers around the world. Many PhD students that we talked to had one recurring comment: “oh how I wish I have something like this earlier in my career!”.

ME: You mentioned to me that you are the CSO, but not the CEO of the company, although the idea is yours. For scientists like me who do know much about startups, can you describe how these titles work out? What or who decides these things?

TL: Each of our founders plays very specific role in the company. As the Scientific Officer, I am responsible for all things life science and biology related during product development, from backend data collection logic to frontend user interface search mechanics. I am not directly involved in the coding (which is done by David and Elvis), I design the scientific reasoning behind the code. Our CEO Liran is responsible for all things on the business side of our company. It is a triangle: Science, Technology and Business, each of the founder’s specialties in each of these components makes the team strong.

ME: There are two types of people who are getting into startups. One kind, like you, start with your own idea. On the other hand, I was attending a talk recently and the guy wanted to start a startup and he did some research on what’s hot right now and came up with an idea and went about it. According to you, which type is more sustainable? Or do you think both will work the same?

TL: The story that you build from the idea is the important element. A good story will resonate with people and bring more impact to the idea. However, the idea can either be something that took place in your dream, or something that was triggered after hearing another person’s seminar. The only difference is that, if you are creating a solution to a problem close to yourself, it is easier to convince others the value of your solution. It is more credible for a cell biology scientist to create a solution for the reagent problem than, for instance, an outsider from mechanical engineering. Let’s say I realized this terrible traffic problem on the highway and wanted to build a transportation system to solve this problem. This idea itself might be very good, but since I have no computer or engineering background, it would be more difficult for me to convince people about this idea.

ME: Finally, do you have any advice for beginners, who want to start a startup?

TL: Imagine a road parked full of cars, looking for a parking space is not going to be possible. If your car is your idea and the road is the market, with so many other solutions already out there, it would be tough for your idea and product to develop and grow. To build a startup, good “product-market” fit is important. Do not try to find parking space on a road already filled with cars. Instead, create solutions for problems that do not yet have a good solution. Maurice, our Community Architect, wrote a very good article for students who are thinking about startup, you can read more here.

 

 

You can find more information about BenchSci, see the following:

Company info: http://www.benchsci.com/about/.

Demo/Introduction video on www.benchsci.com

Company statement: http://blog.benchsci.com/2016/09/15/the-benchsci-story/ “The BenchSci Story”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/science-startups-make-research-faster-cheaper-more-accurate/article32270645/ “Science startups make research faster, cheaper, more accurate”

 

About Thomas Leung:

 

Tom Leung completed his MSc in Virology and PhD in Epigenetics at the University of Toronto. For his PhD thesis, he investigated the molecular mechanism of repressive genetic bookmarking during cellular division and the potential application of reversing these bookmarks as alternative cancer therapeutic approaches. As a molecular biology research scientist, Tom experienced first hand the inefficient organization of biomedical publications.

Tom is very passionate about the development of a solution to better organize the vast amount of data in scientific literature in order to bring the most relevant information to scientists to facilitate the next big biomedical breakthrough.

 

About Manoja Eswara:

Manoja did her PhD from University of Guelph, Canada, where she worked on unraveling nuclear cytoplasmic transport pathways for transfer RNAs (tRNAs). Currently, she is doing Postdoctoral fellowship at LTRI, Canada, on Cancer Molecular biology and Epigenetics. Her work is focused on understanding the epigenetic factors involved in regulating replication and gene expression in Cancer cells and the potential use of small molecule inhibitors targeting them as Cancer therapeutics.

 

Featured image source: Pixabay

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Med-Ness-JPM meeting, Epipen and more…..

in SciBiz by

Hi all, its our second week and co-incidentally this week SciWri turned one. Happy Birthday SciWri and may the members continue to spread the light of wisdom through their blog sections!

MedRecap

35th Annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPMHC17)

The annual JPMHC17 took place in San Francisco from Jan9-13. This conference boasts to be one of the largest healthcare conference wherein pharmaceutical companies and small-scale biotech companies present their most recent innovation technology and share their future goals. The major highlights of this year’s conference are as follows:

  • Major focus on Oncology as leading pharmaceutical companies presented their innovative ideas at the pipeline stage or approval stage. CAR-T therapy presentations stole the show.
  • Genomics was another hot topic that was discussed and new therapies and technological advancements were presented. Illumina’s $100 genome was one of the most successful presentations. Illumina’s latest baby NovaSeq was unveiled at JPMHC17. This new machine (available as 5000 or 6000 system) is expected to expedite the experimental plan while reducing the over all cost, although, the real “$100 genome” deal is still far. The introduction of NovaSeq is definitely good for the company’s rising stock.

Head turning business deal: $5.2 billion bid by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd for Ariad Pharmaceuticals Inc. Ariad Pharmaceuticals, specializing in oncology drugs, developed drugs like Iclusig (Ponatinib for chronic myeloid leukemia); AP32788- kinase inhibitor for NSCLC and now Brigatinib for Alk positive NSCLC patients resistant to or who experienced drug progression on Pfizer Inc’s Xalcori (Crizotinib). The deal is expected to close by end of February.

 MedNess

Do we have an alternative to Mylan’s EpiPen?

2016’s most controversial product, EpiPen’s alternative is expected to hit the market with a list price of $4500. Kaleo’s Auvi-Q allergic device will be available for as low as $360 in cash for uninsured patients. However, the company has agreed to cover the full cost for those with a high deductible insurance plan or with household income less than $100,000.

MedPharm

Biosimilar for AbbVie’s Humira accepted for Review

Abbvie’s Humira (adalimumab), indicated for multiple inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, adult and pediatric Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, pulls in annual sales of nearly $15 billion. This drug was approved in US and EU. Boehringer Ingelheim introduced their biosimilar to Humira and has been accepted for review by both FDA and EMA.

In September last year, FDA also approved Humira’s first biosimilar version- Amgen’s Amjevita.

MedPol

Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Future

Cancer Moonshot- an initiative by Joe Biden was a ray of hope for the scientists focusing on cancer research. However, researchers all over the US have feared the thwarting of research after the successful fulfillment of Barak Obama’s presidential term. In one of the last initiative, National Cancer Institute (NCI) is designing a new plan wherein the scientists can pursue new combination therapies. NCI will act as a mediator between the drug makers and the outside researcher’s thus enabling scientists to access new drugs for research.

At the present, six companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Kyowa Kirin, Loxo Oncology and Xcovery have participated in the program.

Francis Collins to stay as NIH Director under Trump’s administration

Francis Collins has been asked by the president-elect Donald Trump to stay on his position as National Institute of Health Director. The duration of his stay is still unknown. He has been serving at NIH since last eight years under Obama’s administration.

 

This was the succinct version of MedRecap, MedNess, MedPol and MedPharm..more to follow next week. Have a great weekend.

ClubSciWri turns one!

in ClubSciWri by

Reminiscing the year uno that ClubSciWri has lived through, it is amazing to see how many different voices it has had. Born out of the need to represent the not so widely spoken issues of graduate school system it has not only been an effective platform reaching thousands of PhD students worldwide, it has been a hub of creativity as well.

It is now a crucible that grooms many a writer among us letting us express ourselves in varied literary forms-essays, cartoons, paintings and discussions. And the range of topics that we have seen in the past one year has been spanning over the struggles of Indian PhD students, both in India and abroad. We have seen discussions on how mental health is often ignored in academic setups under the veil of academic rigor. We have had many write-ups talking about career planning and effective ways to deal with dilemmas around it, for those yet struggling to find the right match in the real world out there.

As we wholeheartedly appreciate and thank our writers for their valuable contributions, here is a compilation of some of the more popular articles of the past year.

We, from team Club SciWri are always eagerly waiting to share your insights to inspire, motivate and support the graduate school community. Let this space grow even wider!

Rethink your diet

in Reporting from the Lab by

 

The new year is often the time to make lifestyle changes that most commonly include dietary restrictions to stay healthy and happy. It is no surprise, to most of us, that these alterations impact us as well as our gut microbiome – the microbial community associated with the human digestive tract. Several studies have underpinned the role of the gut microbiome in regulating our physiology including metabolic functions and immune response. As a consequence, variations in the gut microbiome have been associated with autoimmune disorders, cancer, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

To understand how the gut microbiome influences our health, a fundamental question that remains to be answered is – what dietary components influence our microbiome. Scientists (Holmes AJ et al.) in a recent publication in the journal Cell Metabolism have made some insightful observations to address this question. The researchers used experimental as well as simulation models to thoroughly investigate the influence of 25 different dietary compositions on the gut microbiome of 858 mice fed over a period of 15 months.

One of the key findings from this study was that the microbial diversity is dependent on the energy density as well as the nutrient distribution of the food i.e. the ratio of protein to carbohydrate. The study also showed that this diversity is largely governed by the utilization of nutrients by our body and their subsequent availability to the gut microbiome. In simpler terms, the complex proteins and carbohydrates we consume are broken down into end products that are primarily made up of carbon and nitrogen. These products are reabsorbed for our metabolic activities and physiological functions. The microbiome, however, has two major sources of nutrients which include (i) endogenous secretions in our gut such as mucin and (ii) digestion-resistant or partially digested carbohydrates and proteins present in our diet.

Interestingly, the researchers were able to generate ‘guilds’ that constitute bacterial species that vary in their utilization of substrates for nutrients. For instance, a high protein to carbohydrate intake led to an increased abundance of Firmicutes that utilized dietary carbon and nitrogen for their metabolism. On the other hand, Bacteroidetes were more abundant in a low protein to carbohydrate diet where host endogenous secretions were the primary source of nutrients. Further analysis revealed that nitrogen that constitutes the protein diet played a key role in governing these microbial shifts in the gut. This suggests that the ratio of protein to carbohydrate is critical in mediating the gut diversity. Previous studies by the same group indicated that low protein intake by mice is associated with better immune response and intestinal function. Also, other studies have revealed that the abundance of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes helps in regulating obesity. Overall, this study has tremendous implications as we usher in an era of host-gut-diet interactions to understand disease processes.

It is imperative to acknowledge that such studies are difficult to recapitulate in humans where several confounding variables exist within the diet. Nevertheless, they have begun to provide an understanding of the qualitative and quantitative aspects of our diet that can predict microbiome composition and consequently our health. In a period where precision medicine is the new norm, it will not be surprising if precision diet regimens might be generated for an optimal symbiotic relationship between us and our gut microbiome for healthy living. Ultimately, while these findings warrant further study, you might want to think twice before you completely exclude those carbs and indulge in your legumes. Remember, it’s all relative!

Journal reference:

Andrew J. Holmes, Yi Vee Chew, Feyza Colakoglu, John B. Cliff, Eline Klaassens, Mark N. Read, Samantha M. Solon-Biet, Aisling C. McMahon, Victoria C. Cogger, Kari Ruohonen, David Raubenheimer, David G. Le Couteur, Stephen J. Simpson. Diet-Microbiome Interactions in Health Are Controlled by Intestinal Nitrogen Source Constraints. Cell Metabolism, 2017 Jan 10;25(1):140-151. 1016/j.cmet.2016.10.021

Additional  newsfeed:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161123141436.htm

http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Nitrogen-key-for-gut-health-Study

http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/science/humans/article/2016/11/25/

nitrogen-holds-key-healthy-gut-bacteria

https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2016/11/24/

major-finding-identifies-nitrogen-as-key-driver-for-gut-health.html

Article contributions: 

Isha Verma  is currently pursuing her PhD in Stem cell research from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. She loves reading and traveling.

 

 

Ipsa Jain (Illustration). Ipsa is a PhD student at IISC. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

The week that it was- 8th Jan to 14th Jan, 2017

in ClubSciWri by

The weekend started with the CSG members voting for the kind of topics they would like to hear more about from us at Club SciWri. I believe the list of topics will grow as per the requirements of the group. But for this week we will focus on what and where are the different job opportunities that exist for PhD holders outside academia and how to apply for these jobs.

Choose what is to your taste as there are multiple options open for scientific writers at La Jolla, for science writers at PhiladelphiaGreater Boston and Massachusetts and a workshop on science communications at Harvard and Rockefeller Universities.

The science/scientific writing enthusiasts, learn how to make effective scientific illustrations to convey your messages clearly to a wide audience.

Early career scientist position at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, primarily for toxicologists.

P&G offers an unique setting to know its research and development settings and experience its innovation centre in Europe via its R&D European PhD Seminar. Gear up soon, for the deadlines are fast approaching for Belgium and Germany.

Choose the right locations to help you find the right opportunities in the USA.

If you are feeling you need to explore beyond academia and yet haven’t sorted how and where it should be, here is a guide to sort you.

Know yourself, explore your strengths and learn how to apply your skills in a non academic setting.

Keep yourself in shoes of the prospective employer and judge your application.

Attention, young PIs: Learn to strategize to ensure growth of your team members as you grow into a successful team leader.

Let CSG grow its wings to cover the brethren of PhD and postdocs. Let it reach newer cities, find newer members. For now, there is a possibility for the CSG members to meet altogether at Cambridge, Boston on 19th Jan.

A reminder to apply for the mentor mentee program by CSG by Jan 31st, 2017. Make most of our kind mentors to apply for your next dream job. After all, we at CSG are here to create, share and grow.

About the author:

Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project co ordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.

You can reach her here.

 

To Bio or Not to Bio

in That Makes Sense by
Editor’s note: The members of the Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs might have fond remembrance of their teen years when it became nerve-wracking to make that choice. I am not referring about the choice of who-to-date but the choice of taking up Science, Commerce or Arts as majors to move-up the livelihood ladder. In the Sunday Blog from ClubSciWri, Sayantan Chakraborty brings out the ways where the lights should not go out on the aspirations of a starry-eyed biology undergrad. “To Bio or not to Bio” is one of the blogs that you might like to share with your friends who are helping their kids take decisions for their future careers after a biology major.  Surely, the kids are way smarter so Sayantan does mention that “Read, learn, and update yourself with the upcoming careers paths and how to mold your present to shape the future” and we are sure they will figure out how to beat the robots in creating a new Earth on Mars. Are you listening Elon Musk?- Abhinav Dey

Our neighbor’s child is now going to study MBBS after his class 12th. You should learn something from them.” This is a common dialogue in India. Every student in high school who studied biology gets to hear it – either from his/her parents or someone else. Although this can be said in many forms, it’s almost unavoidable, and parents tend to lose sleep pondering about their child’s career. In some cases, as soon as we are born, parents tend to decide our profession, most notably – engineering or medicine.

Given the significant population growth in India over the years, the sheer number of students has dramatically increased the competition amongst them. Competition is inevitable whether in life or in profession or in nature. But, it is not surprising to learn that students tend to follow the herd. A lot of them start preparing for their medical entrance examinations while some enroll for Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) courses (specializing in Zoology/Botany or any applied fields of biology). Those who can’t make it through the entrance exams, subsequently enroll for similar B.Sc. courses. Some of the curious and the enthusiastic minds move on to pursue a Ph.D. with a sheer will to become a Professor or a scientist in the future. Some make it, but the others move on to alternate careers. Becoming a professor or a scientist is a tedious and nerve-wracking journey and only those who tread this path would tell its tales. However, given the tight situation of academic positions, a number of PhDs switch to alternate careers even though the passion of being a scientist burns within them. Some transition out of academia in time, while others remain oblivious of alternate careers and their scope. Why is that? There are and could be many answers, but one of them is critical – the lack of proper guidance.

We, as school goers are never informed about the variety of prospects that we can explore apart from medicine or biological sciences post class 12th. Not every student is of the same intellectual level and although no one should ever under estimate themselves and stop dreaming big, they shouldn’t be kept in the dark about other career prospects. It’s better to prepare and work towards more options. Mentioned below are various career choices that a student who’s studying biology (along with other subject combinations) can prepare and decide for. As you might notice, these courses are different from the traditional biological courses (Zoology, Botany, Biotechnology, Microbiology, Genetics etc.).

  1. Law
  2. Fashion Technology/Design
  3. Journalism and Mass communication
  4. Web development/animations/graphics/multimedia
  5. Geology
  6. Event management
  7. Air hostess/pilot/aviation training
  8. Management education
  9. Bachelor of Audiology Speech Language Pathology.
  10. Forensic science
  11. Food Technology
  12. Agriculture
  13. Sports science
  14. Speech therapy
  15. Physiotherapy
  16. Nursing
  17. Pharmacy
  18. Hospital management
  19. Commerce streams (Chartered accountancy)
  20. Armed forces
  21. Civil services

While choosing a course of study, it’s very important to follow your passion and interests. Do NOT follow the herd! It’s recommended to take advice from well-wishers and peers alike, however, never let those advice dictate your path. Read, learn, and update yourself with the upcoming careers paths and how to mold your present to shape the future. Lastly, remember, nothing worth having comes easy.

 

The following websites were referred for this post:

http://www.apnaahangout.com/top11coursestodoafter12thscience/

https://www.quora.com/Whataresomeoptionsforabiologystudentafterclass12thinIndia

http://educationwalablog.blogspot.com/2013/05/top10careerafter12thsciencefor.html

 

About the author:

Sayantan Chakraborty

I am an IRTA postdoctoral visiting fellow at the National Institute on Aging – National Institutes of Health, Baltimore. Apart from science, I invest my time in networking, organizing events, and consolidating efforts to build a platform for guiding school students to their suitable career choice.

 

Featured image source: Pixabay

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Med-Ness: At the Frontier of Medicine, Healthcare and Pharma Business

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This weekly blog will bring the major pharmaceutical and healthcare highlights. We all hate to move from blog to blog, post-to-post and website-to-website. Here, at Med-Ness we understand and value our reader’s time. Along with the major highlights, I will give you my opinion and my take for the week. 

     Med-Ness is for you if you are:

  • An inquisitive scientist and want to stay abreast in all the fields
  • Money minded and want to know business aspect
  • Medical Writer
  • Healthcare consultant

We will also focus on different sections each week. For example, next week will be the post-dated (or should I say, post-week?) section discussing the most coveted healthcare conference- JP Morgan 2017 (#JPM17)! Seriously, what is the fuss about this year’s conference? Never have I ever seen such hysteria about any conference! I hope one day my blog creates such a frenzy in the pharmaceutical field.

I will also brief you about the changing healthcare stocks and other market trends.

And how can I forget about political aspects? Did anybody say Trump’s take on Pharma industry? Where there is money, there is a political agenda. That is completely my take. Finally, I will bring in forefront any new policies or regulatory aspects that might or can affect the pharmaceutical business.

 

CNNMoney ranked healthcare stocks on number 2 position on their list, “5 stocks to buy in 2017”

So lets start with the simple and most commonly seen noun, “stock”. The dictionary spells out a very straightforward definition except; there is nothing simple about stocks. Moving on, stock is the capital that can be raised by any business firm when they issue and provide subscriptions for their shares. It basically defines and provides ownership rights to a company. So let’s say, you decide to buy stocks of a pharmaceutical company. With this stock you bought or rather own that part or percentage of the company. If the company makes profit or its net worth increases, so does the value of the stock increases. A Stock market aka equity market or share market enables such buying or selling of stocks.

  • Have you ever wondered about stocks, investments and equity research?
  • Have you ever thought of investing in healthcare market shares?
  • Have you ever felt speechless in the presence of colleagues talking about market forecast?

The most important question to ask is what determines the trends in stock market? Why should or why shouldn’t you buy a particular stock. The key to this question lies in research known as “equity research”. Equity Research involves analysis and forecast of company’s financials. The whole agenda behind such an exploration is to recommend a particular stock to buy or sell.

“Money has transformed every watchdog, every independent authority. Medical doctors are increasingly gulled by the lobbying of pharmaceutical salesmen”

– Thomas Frank

If you want to follow a particular stock market yourself, you will have to observe and understand the stocks in order to predict their future worth. This might take weeks or even months. All you need to keep is patience! In addition, if you are an amateur in healthcare stocks, you might have to consider previous historical trends to determine the worth of a particular stock. To learn more about stock market, I recommend you all two insightful articles published Forbes.

www.forbes.com/sites/…/01/…/10-things-you-absolutely-need-to-know-about-stocks

www.forbes.com/…/how-to-spot-the-stock-markets-trend-before-it-is-obvious-to-all/

The variability in the stock market due to drug introduction or rejection.

A pharmaceutical company invests in the drug much before it is available to the patients. The drug stays in the pipeline stage for years. The reason- it has to pass all the safety tests before it reaches the patient. Now, the success or failure of the drug’s safety or its use will determine the worth of its stock. Sometimes, small biotech start-ups or pharmaceutical giants announce the research of a particular drug against a disease or condition. The requirement and the need for that research will determine its initial stock worth and successful launch of the drug and Phase IV post-marketing analysis will determine the rise or fall of the stock. According to “Investopedia”, orphan drugs (drugs for the treatment of rare diseases or conditions) are most expensive drugs in the USA. Such drugs will often bring more revenue and hence increased stock value.

The information on new drug launches could be obtained from company’s website or from The Wall Street Journal or from Businessweek. You can also keep a check on the drugs entering clinical trials (clinicaltrials.gov) to follow drugs from the company.

With this, we wrap up our very first post on Med-Ness. Let the medicine and business madness continue. Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imit pursued her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, and is currently pursuing her Postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein Medical College in Bronx, NY. She has an expertise in preclinical drug development and regulatory protocol development and analytical chemistry focussed on Oncology. Her current work explores the signaling pathways involved in hematopoiesis and leukemia stem cells. She is passionate about medical and science communication.

NASDAQ Image Source:

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/bfishadow/3100369536/

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