Who am I?

I figure that I may be getting some traffic from the Huffington Post article so an introduction.

I’ve been working in the field of biotechnology since the early 80s, spending 16 years as a researcher at Immunex, the premier biotech in the Seattle area until it was bought by Amgen. It was an incredible crucible of top-notch researchers working with little money to find cures for important diseases. There were, I believe, less than 50 employees when I started and several thousand when I left. So I had first hand knowledge of many of the needs of a small biotech as it grew. I was a small part in the development of a biologic that changed people’s lives – ENBREL.

I left Immunex when Amgen finalized the merger and spent some time thinking about what to do next. Luckily Immunex stock options, which were given to all Immunex employees when I started, provided some economic buffer. I worked with the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association on several projects and helped form a philanthropic organization called the Sustainable Path Foundation, where I am still a Board member.

I started a blog called A Man With a PhD, something I continue to this day, as well as a science-based blog called Living Code for Corante, that Forbes picked as the 3rd best Medical blog in 2003.

In 2004, I became the third employee of a startup biotechnology company called Etubics. As VP in charge of Research, I did everything from ordering lab equipment, growing cells, negotiating contracts and having to fly cross country to talk with suppliers. All while trying to raise money so we could have a hope of producing the vaccines that I believe can change the world.

So I got to see firsthand and at the highest levels, what it takes to start and run a company. I left last year as the company was entering a new phase, where clinical development and manufacturing were at the forefront and research was on the back burner. Not only were these areas I did not have a lot of expertise or interest, but I also was pretty well burned out. The stress of a small company is enormous, particularly in an industry where it takes over 15 years for a therapeutic to get from the research lab to the patient.

I left to pursue one of my real passions – how to understand why Immunex was such a powerhouse of research, why it is was one of the few biotech companies started in the 80s to produce a blockbuster drugs, along with several other good drugs, and whether this could be replicated.

That is what SpreadingScience is about – how to create organizations that are resilient to change, that can adapt in ways that increase the successful outcomes need. You can read some of the material or follow my blog to get an idea of how I am accomplishing this.

Fixing problems

I expect some traffic from people following the Huffington Post article about Peter Rubin.

I always get a few butterflies in my stomach when I talk with a reporter who contacts me out of the blue. As with most things, trust is important. Also, I have a tendency to babble a lot on the phone, especially when talking extemporaneously, so I always worry if I will say something that does not exactly fit what I really mean. I hope I did not sound like too much of a Pollyanna.

I think Arthur did a reasonable job, particularly since he was talking with me for the first time and having to deal with my speech patterns.

The point I had is that I’m torn because there are vitally important reasons for some companies to need the expertise of some people so I do not want to prevent access to their expertise. But I also do not ant to see people using their position, particularly if it is a tax=payer supported one, to simply enrich themselves.

How to remove the latter without harming the former?

One big point I made to Arthur Delaney, who was the reporter that called, was that openness and transparency are a huge part of solving what is a difficult problem. Shining a light into this process makes it much less likely that people will game the system. Not impossible but less likely.

It seems to me that much of the misbehavior that many people partake in comes from the fact that they can carry out this bad behavior, and escape its consequences, because is happens in the dark, behind the scenes.

Most people – not all, I’m not that much of an idealist – may modify their misbehavior if they know that others can see it. And if they know that there will be consequences if they do misbehave.

There are lots of important, legitimate reasons for organizations to need the expertise of a range of people who have worked in government or for a company or for an NGO. To be successful, specialized expertise is sometimes needed. This expertise can be critical, particularly for small companies.

We need to make sure that those types of interactions are not harmed.

Real openness should not harm them. At least I hope not.