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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Virtual-ly Working

The sun hovers just above the horizon, the light and heat still coming, but fading. I relax on the second floor patio, sipping cheap beer, watching a hawk circle the golf course. Visiting family in temperate, southern suburbia. Savoring the real world, but contemplating a virtual one. A Pharma one.

The Big East coast BD stands freshly completed, still being digested, but the West coast road show will fire up soon. I'm joining...last minute.Flights to arrange, meetings to schedule, more time in the US and more time at 'old' home on the east coast, waiting. I'm ambivalent about the change in schedule. I feel the pull of the future in China, a restless horse in the starting gate, but nostalgic at the opportunity to visit 'older' home on the West coast, and see familiar faces there, and smell flowers in February. Taking advantage of the unexpected time in the US, I surprise family and pop in for the weekend to escape the bitter cold. Its 65F (18C) here.

The warmer temperature relaxes the body and allows the mind to ponder. Pondering about the snapshot of the industry I've been afforded in the past weeks. Tectonic scale forces are acting upon us. The view of so many companies response to these pressures remains in my mind. Some big pharmas streamline their bureaucracy, to become lean, yet large powerful discovery engines, others try to disperse themselves into small entrepreneurial bits. Almost all have begun some outsourcing in search of efficiency, chemistry at first. Screening, DMPK and Tox more frequently, and on the extreme...outsource everything. True virtual pharma. Seriously, a one person company, it's here. (One Man, One Company OMOCs?)

First impressions on one person companies, it's enabling. Perhaps wonderfully enabling. One person, one idea...lower cost to push it forward. More targets get investigated due to lower cost and benefits to all. Also, the CRO’s will become specialized…not just doing one kind of medchem, but industry wide medchem experts. Specialization. The downside could be the lack of brain storming, of many talented minds (with a vested interest) and perspectives around a table, debating, arguing, building new strategies on the structures of each other, synergizing. The experienced talent in the CRO's could mitigate this somewhat. Issues both detracting and enhancing are yet to be uncovered. I wonder if in ten years we’ll be kicking ourselves for not starting OMOCs sooner.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Big BD and the Universal Fire Code

It’s been a long week of Business Development meetings, four or five companies a day, five to ten people per company, for the past week. Stacks of business cards, handshakes and smiles. A great chance to see old acquaintances; meet smart and dynamic people championing new ideas, and a fascinating snapshot of the state of pharma. My role in the meetings is minimal, lots of time to observe and ponder. I keep thinking of the Universal Fire Code.

Back in the day, the weekend began after Saturday morning lab time with a Whole Foods sandwich in front of the Discovery Channel. One program that affected me deeply surprised me. It was about fire, a history of fire disasters…infamous, tragic, titillating, perfect to begin the weekend. A man appeared talking about the Universal Fire Code. A huge tome of building regulations, very boring and dry, facts and no heart, but something in his speech grabbed my attention. He talked with conviction and passion. I stopped eating. This book is holy, he explained, perhaps more holy than anything ever written in human history. Every line in this compendium has come at the cost of human suffering and death. Pages and pages of knowledge learned dearly.

This holy book is what I’m thinking of as we meet leaders of our industry. I see the people we are meeting with as authors of a new holy knowledge. Maybe the universal pharma code. They work hard, with dedication, on an important endeavor. To understand the rules and solutions of suffering caused by disease, and write the code for all of us.

Our industry suffers greatly now, it’s visible tangibly in the fading lobbies of big pharma, and in the faces of those facing layoffs. Fewer people will be working on our universal pharma code in the coming years. I worry. But I’m hopeful. I’ve just met over 50 talented people who are convinced they can add something to the code. After this week, I believe them. I'm happy to be associated with them, I hope I can help.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's Business Time

I am one of them now. One of those rep-like people who, knock on your office door and interrupt your work day. Vendors?! Most of the time, if I needed it, I’d already had it. Just Google it. Now I’m standing on the outside of the door. I knock.

The ‘big meetings’ scheduled by higher-ups come later this month, so no sense going back and forth around the globe, but what to do here and now? I’m in the US, when I want to be in China doing medchem. Here is my past, there is my future…and very anxious to continue there. But not yet. It’s business time. ‘BD’…business development, mysterious and new for scientists, but integral for a small company. Talk to current clients, make sure they are happy. Talk with new contacts, turn them into current clients. “What’s a client?!” asks the scientist. I’m not slick. I’m not persuasive. I’m probably borderline asocial. But having big pharma experience and native English ability, I can talk client language on two levels…eventually. Find out what they are doing and how to help them do it. That’s admirable, something to hang on to in this strange territory that feels as different as China.

I try to set things up online as much as possible. Linkedin is excellent. It’s fascinating to reconnect with past co-workers, and this part rocks. I remember faces, stories as I invite more and more former co-workers/friends. So strangely satisfying to see the connections count rise. Why didn’t I do this before? Soon, though, it’s time to venture into the brick and mortar world.

I’m at a new site. Everything is new and high end, furniture, d├ęcor, plasma monitors, new people. An old friend. He introduces me to a major mind there. The kind initiating multiple start-ups. He stands tall, with a pleasant demeanor and warm handshake, sharp quick eyes. We chat a bit, but I’m nervous. I’m not in the conversation. I’m too busy thinking. I should say something BD-like. I forget the names of people we probably both know. Awkward silence and it’s done. Business hours are over. I forget to give him a card. The next meetings are more fruitful. Since I’m not salesman, better to be myself, just a chemist. Meet intelligent interesting people working on cool projects and see what I can do back in China to help them make those projects successful. BD the science way.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Don't Go There

The sun shines brightly and feels warm, a nice respite from the cold damp air. I close my eyes to feel the warmth when I hear a voice. “Do you speak English?” asks one of two girls smiling at me. Why yes, I do. We chat for 10min. They are charming and I get up to walk with them. They are about to rob me.

I’m sitting in People’s Square, a vast expanse of people watching, a huge metro station with 10 (or more?) exits. I’m waiting for a friend to show me around, be my guide to some local attractions. There is shopping everywhere. Just an incredible amount of stores and merchandise, one cannot exit a metro station without walking through a mall. My friend is late, but I’m enjoying the spectacle. It’s Sunday afternoon, I’m done apartment hunting for the day, time to finally relax a little and explore my new city. It’s nice to just sit and be.

Living in a big city, one gets used to constant barage of selling. But nothing like this. I guess I’m a target, a foreigner, a lone foreigner. Shopping trip? Watches? DVDs? Bags? Hawkers abound. In a brief walk around People’s Square, I became an expert at saying ‘No’. I find a place where there seems to be fewer of them…but much sun. And sit down to enjoy the light and heat on a crisp winter day, watching people go about their lives. My eyes are closed, but I can sense someone approaching. I prepare my ‘No.’ but open my eyes and am pleasantly surprised.

Two cute, smiling faces asking me to speak with them. They are not selling. They are English students and would like to practice English, would I mind to speak with them for a few minutes? I would not mind at all. Speaking English here is one of the few things that I can do well. Makes me feel momentarily competent. And they are friendly, charming. But they have to leave, could I walk with them for a little bit longer? Why yes, of course I would like that.

They are college seniors, they walk fast. They are full of energy and its wonderful to think this city is full of such people. It’s sunny. Happy. We walk through another mall. All smiles, harmless flirting. We are in shadow now. We come to a stop in front of a Tea House and there are three people waiting for us, expectantly. Something is wrong. I don’t want to go in. I say I have to leave and they look lost, not sure what to do. I hurriedly walk away before they can charm me. I have escaped. Undamaged, but changed.

Other expats were not so lucky. Going into the tea house is nothing sinister, it’s as banal as a simple swindle. $200-$300 for a pot of cheap tea. Don’t go there.