partneringONE® client event sets the stage for future bio-pharma innovation; EBD Group’s partnering platform pulled BIOCOM event together

Earlier this year I attended San Diego BIOCOM’s Global Life Sciences Partnering Conference held on February 1–2, 2012 at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. This two-day event featured EBD Group’s sophisticated, web-based partnering system, partneringONE® that enabled attendees to manage their onsite one-to-one partnering meetings and send and receive live meeting requests. The event brought leaders from Southern California bio-pharma companies, from emerging biotechs to leading dealmakers. Known as “Biotech Beach,” San Diego offers life science companies a progressive research environment coupled with a stunning climate.

“EBD Group’s partnering expertise was critical for creating an interactive environment at the event, and allowing our attendees to capitalize on meeting opportunities,” said Joe Panetta, President and CEO of BIOCOM. “With more than 97,000 people in Southern California working in life science research and discovery, we hope to enable biotech companies to explore desired partnering opportunities, and utilizing the partneringONE platform at this event was critical to that goal.”

The two-day event began with a panel on corporate discovery that invited discussion on the future of big pharma and pharma partnering. Pharmaceutical business development strategists on the panel were Martin Birkhofer of Strategic Transactions Group; George Golumbeski of Celgene; Brian McVeigh of GlaxoSmithKline; Tony Rosenberg of Novartis; and Greg Wiederrecht of Merck. The panel asked tough questions about the future of innovation and if there are enough targets being discovered, with a rhetorical remark thrown out to venture capitalists about sitting on their wallets. This prompted a timely and humorous reply from Andrew Schwab of 5AM Ventures: “I don’t think venture capitalists are sitting on their wallets; there’s no money in their wallets.” The discussion concluded with perspectives on the outlook of innovation moving toward rare diseases, novel targets for antibiotics, immuno-oncology, Alzheimer’s disease, biomarkers and patient selection tools, and the need to translate what is happening in genomics to therapeutics.

The midday Wednesday panel continued along the path of innovation, with panelists Jerry Cobbs of Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas; Paul Laikind of Sanford | Burnham Research Institute; Teri Melese of UCSF School of Medicine; Melinda Richter of Prescience International; and Jim Schaeffer of Merck discussing innovation centers and mitigating costs across the research-to-market valley of death. In terms of a model for innovation, panelists agreed that in terms of deal structure, they are ultimately looking for commitment. “Show me the science and I’ll support it, and show me the business plan,” said Jerry Cobb. “If the program is not working, kill it.” The panelists also cited removing roadblocks as another way to make it easier for new ideas to get pushed forward by leveraging risk and getting to proof of concept sooner. “If the guys from Google had given you their business model years ago, would you have known if it was any good or not?” asked Paul Laikind. “The value is in doing your due diligence up front.”

The afternoon rounded up with a panel of venture capital companies, including Luke Envin of MPM Capital; Jennifer Friel Goldstein of Pfizer Venture Investments; Bob More of Frazier Healthcare; Andrew Schwab of 5AM Ventures; and Kurt von Emster of venBio LLC. Panelists aimed to shed light on sources of capital in corporate ventures, and agreed that creative financing and more flexible virtual models were transforming the way they do business. As funding becomes harder to find, it is not uncommon to find one to three venture capital investors as part of a syndication for a new technology. “It used to be we were building companies with the idea to take them public. I haven’t had that discussion for over five years,” said Luke Envin. “Now we are focused on building relationships.”

In general, the panelists have seen pharmaceutical companies display a willingness to step up beside transformative research ideas. “My sense is that pharmaceuticals are reaching out for innovation by casting multiple lines in the water,” said Luke Envin. The panel was summed up by Bob More who said “In general, if you want to put a dollar to work in biotech, someone’s going to let you do it.”

Thursday began with a panel on company creation led by panelists Karen Bernstein of BioCentury; Dan Burgess of Rempex; Faheem Hasnain of Receptos; Patrick Mahaffy of Clovis Oncology; and Laura Shawver of Cleave Bioscience. Discussion focused on the challenges researchers have in convincing people about their research studies, forming a company, syndicating investors and satisfying the investors’ expectations. “Sometimes it’s about showing you are persistent in the face of adversity and allowing people to give you another chance,” said Laura Shawver. “It’s how you handle yourself in a difficult situation that shows what you’re made of.” In terms of growing vibrant companies and ideas, panelists discussed the difficulties of training models for a new generation of researchers and having incentives to recruit youthful and energetic new talent. The trend of pharma investing in smaller start-up companies is expected to increase as is the return of talent from overseas due to progressive company culture and the high quality of research being done in the US. Dan Burgess jovially summed it up with his comment, “What I would say to big pharma is ‘Overpaying today will help you ensure your future tomorrow.’”

Conference attendees focused on company presentations and one-to-one partnering meetings facilitated by partneringONE until the afternoon. The closing session topic covered the latest trends in business development, with panelists Jennifer Cayer of Conatus; Kurt Graves of Intarcia Therapeutics; Polly Murphy of Pfizer; and Mark Noguchi of Roche Partnering. Mark Noguchi saw a trend in the continuing focus on what is good for the patient in delivering medicine as driving all of their partnering discussions. Polly Murphy agreed stating, “We have to consider five to ten years out, how does the patient fit into the ecosystem?” Citing 2012 as a banner year for M&A, Kurt Graves said, “I think it’s always been about the patient. Now it’s about what the payer is going to do. In 2012, there will be more deals, and more deals structured M&A for risk-sharing.”

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Random but Interesting

I found the Creative Commons newsletter interesting because of an article called “OBO Foundry Announces its First Set of Ontologies.” The short article discusses this “initiative to create a group of biological and biomedical ontologies [or categories of being] that covers a wide range of life science phenomena in a modular fashion.” In other words, the OBO Foundry, a collection of Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies, contains a vocabulary of free reference ontologies for the scientific/biomedical domain. The CC article was interesting because it led me to the OBO site which is committed to the open sharing of biomedical ontologies information.  I am always pro any open sharing of information, especially in the sciences, because of what it means for fostering collaboration and discovery.  Very cool.

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another victory for social networking

Viacom lost their lawsuit with Google today over copywrite infringement issues related to user-uploaded content of popular TV programs. The NY Times reported in the brief “Judge Sides With Google in Viacom Lawsuit” about the win.

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no brain drain, only a lackluster career outlook

I read the article “The Real Science Gap” today on the Miller-McCune web site about the lack of jobs in America for engineers and scientists. To sum up, we do not have a “brain drain” per the popular misconception, but rather a lack of career opportunities for gifted scientists under the current pyramid structure. There is simply not enough funding and not enough tenure-track university professorships to sustain the number of Ph.D. graduates out there, so this pool of highly-skilled intellectuals is drifting into other careers. Without a career track to support even a moderate middle class lifestyle, the graduating elite is deciding against the prospect of many arduous years spent as a PostDoc under faculty whose primary motivation is to win grants and not to place their students in good jobs. These same jobs are still very attractive to foreign-born scientists and technical experts who often are coming from a more low-wage country. The article suggests that it is not our schools that need changing, but the structure of the labor market and the way we fund research.

Read the article, it’s very interesting. What can really be done?

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Positive Experiences 2.0 Still Command the Virtual World

I agree with Emotion + Logic blogger David Armano’s assessment that we are all still as much of social beings as we were in the past, and we still seek to have our basic needs met in a positive way. Everyone wants a positive experience, and in America, we also feel entitled to one. Combine this with impatience and a desire to get in, get what you need, and get out, and you have today’s digital user/customer. In the ever evolving information age, customers still want to feel good about their experience with a web site, find what they need, and interact with it in a way that gives them the same sensation of a good hug.

I think that the trend to establish communities within the digital framework is the future of the feel-good experience. People are increasingly disconnected from family through distance, disconnected from their work through overload, and disconnected from the companies whose products they need and want because of a feeling of remoteness, of “us” and “them.” There is a search for relevance and connectedness and it is real and tangible, and is happening in homes and coffee shops and companies every second. I recently worked for a company that vilified social networking by firing people who were “caught” reaching out to communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter during working hours. They saw these web communities as threatening to their time ownership of their employees. Instead embracing an opportunity to create a network of their own to migrate the participation of their employees and customers, they didn’t understand what their employees were doing on those sites, and they could not tap into the culture of social networking to boost their business model. The mentality immediately established the management as out of touch, and their opportunity to tap into their internal and external customers’ minds was diminished. They missed the most modern way to find a loyal customer or employee, through community networks that were already established. Their lack of vision established the company execs as instant dinosaurs. They needed a little Web 2.0.

I’m sure most everyone is familiar with the term Web 2.0 in this day and age, but in case you’re not, here’s the lowdown. Web 2.0 is a popular term, originally coined by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, the publisher of all those technology trend and software application books on your bookshelf with the little black and white woodcut logos of animals. (I highly recommend his blog at if you want to keep up on technology trends.) Basically, Web 2.0 is a concept to describe the way the Web works. It is the user-driven trend that defines how people behave on the Web to exchange information, boost creativity, assign and maintain relevance, retrieve and map information, designate “networks” of affiliation, and in a word, revolutionize the way they interact and do business. Web 2.0 is a term that attempts to describe the near-indescribable way we do what we do when we go online, and how that carry’s over into our behaviors in life.

Now, what I am continually trying to know is, how all this translates into understanding methods of connecting to your desired customers. How do you navigate all this to tap into your customer’s wants and needs, and give him/her that virtual hug they are seeking? This goes back to the user-driven experience and the learning framework of Exploration that I discussed in a previous post. Customers don’t want you to assume too much about them by taking them into a static web brochure. They want to explore, they want to find what interests them, and they will determine in seconds if your web site has relevance for them. You literally have seconds, not minutes, to become relevant or interesting enough to engage them. What is the quickest way to get someone’s attention? A lot of really expensive but bad movies would say that shock and awe are the way. A lot of really expensive but bad web sites would say that you have to be clever. Perhaps, but I think that the new way is to create a positive experience by moving away from what you are selling and diving into what you are delivering.

What does that mean? Well to describe it in the terms used by David Lee King in his now two year-old book entitled “Designing the Digital Experience,” if my camera breaks, I have an internal motivation to purchase a new camera. If I love photography, I have an emotional as well as functional need to get the camera, to get it for a good price, and to get it now. There are many web sites with hundreds of camera makes and models, price comparisons, ratings, etc. There are camera manufacturer sites with makes and models, lenses and tips. Useful, yes. Great to get the right price. But there are two elements that are easy to incorporate but are dubiously missing from many camera sites: photos and a community. If you want to build the next generation of loyal followers, build customers who will return again and again to your product and your web site, give them the experience they are seeking, the one they are buying the camera to achieve. And give them a place to talk about it, to improve their ability to create, to feed into their image of themselves. When they have vision, they can take their virtual experience out into the world, take that perfect, moving photo, and get the hug experience. If National Geographic attached a camera link to every amazing photo, they could really sell some cameras! If you are trying to cure cancer, and you want to raise money to cure cancer, do you think your web site is going to be focused on cancer? Or perhaps, would it be focused on life, on health, on travel and family and what you want to deliver? A cure, sure. But what does that look like? An example in two words: Lance Armstrong.

So give the customer all the control, let them explore, let them connect and find a community to share ideas and interests, let them get in and get out, and they will surprise you. They will come back to your site, because it feels good. Because it delivers.

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cracking the code of information overload

I just started reading a book called “Your Brain At Work” by David Rock. In the first pages it has already promised that it will look inside my brain, or a brain somehow similar to my brain, and tell me why I feel overloaded with information and how I can think better. I am seriously excited to see if this book delivers. I have read many an organizational, motivational book, but this one is going to tell me specifically how to stay in my brain’s “sweet spot.” Up to now the “sweet spot” has meant the place in my desk where the chocolate is stashed, so I am curious to know what this book has to offer and if the waxy film of information overload on my brain can be removed. More to come…

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A learning model for a fickle world

In reviewing my ISPI Handbook of Human Performance Technology, I came to consider the three variables of learning described as 1) the experience of the learner, 2) performance outcomes, and 3) instructional strategies. Briefly described for reference, the experience of the learner refers to the perception of the learner from the reference point of their current mental model. In other words, if you broadly instruct me to cut a potato with a knife, the result may be anything from julienne to Mr. Potatohead. Therefore the point is valid, the instruction must consider the potential mental models of the target audience if it is going to assume even moderate performance success. The second variable, that of performance outcomes, refers to those outcomes that involve either informing or performing. Informational outcomes are good if you want to build awareness, as with a new company name or a natural ingredient. Performance outcomes are the trickier proposition, because you are ultimately attempting to build or change behavior as the goal. You cannot merely slap up information if you want to affect someone’s Pavlovian response. They must receive relevant training. This can be training that changes procedural performance, as in learning a new function key on your computer. Or it can be training that impacts principled performance, which requires instructional architecture at a much higher level because there is no absolute approach. For example, if you are attempting to sell a product, every potential buyer is coming from a completely different reference point. The sales presentation must be tailored to each customer, taking into consideration a huge number of variables and preconceptions. This is, in my mind, the gold mine. To understand what it means to create a training that compels a customer to change their principal behavior and start buying your product, that is the sweet spot to be sure. But how? How do you create instruction, bury it in your pitch, and realistically expect a core behavioral shift?

Instructional strategies must approach the question with a discussion on reality. There are four instructional architectures that can be used to accomplish this marketing feat, receptive instruction where the learner is a sponge and are just sitting around waiting for you to inform them; directive instruction, where the learner builds increasing chunks of knowledge to build appropriate responses and skills; guided discovery, where the learner has greater control over a cognitively flexible process that is readily applicable to real world situations; and exploration, where the construct assumes that learners build their own knowledge with selection of any number of stimuli and tools and thus, variety is king. But I am in favor of only one: Exploration. In my mind it is the most difficult proposition for instruction and performance because it places emphasis on the individual”s preexisting knowledge and experiences, which are unique to every person. Exploration leaves it to the individual to “step in” and find their starting point as appropriate to their needs and preferences. It cannot successfully impose a pre-specified skill set of preferences by nature, because it is futile to tailor to everyone. It assumes that the individual will instinctively know where to start based on their unique schema, and the instruction need only provide any number of methods from which the user may choose.

Daunting, yes. But in this way, isn’t it reflective of the current informational economy, where everything is available but not everything is useful? If we truly understand the rapid pace and large expanse of information out there, we will design instructional strategies that give the learner the greatest control. In sales, the idea is to give the client the illusion of control so that the desired decision has the semblance of coming from the client. So then, exploratory instruction must be broad but devious, must provide for many potential choices with an inherent emphasis on a key few. We must assume that the learner in today’s society is used to a high level of control and has a level of relatable experience or schema. Multimedia technology must be designed to have immediate importance to the learner and then have a self-directed framework where the learner can back out or change gears at any time if they have bumped into existing knowledge or lost their way. The enemies of performance change are boredom and irrelevance, so learning must take place in a stimulating environment. Not just bells and whistles which can be distractive, but by having supreme relevance on a deep level. Don’t assume relevance to the learner or you enter into a mind maze. Make the instruction relevant to the task, to the job, to the competition, to the market, to the pace of life, to the key instincts of the human mind: fear, hunger, hope, love, power. Then you have the potential for real change.

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