Magazine Article | October 12, 2011

Cherish The Mavericks

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

This month’s cover feature story is an interview with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, by Sara Gambrill (p. 14). I am excited about this interview because this year Collins created the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in an effort to spur drug discovery and development, as well as to help biotech and pharma companies rescue and repurpose compounds. But, there is another reason I am excited about this article — it’s another example of how LSL has some of the most influential and controversial scientists on our covers. For instance, in March we featured John Craig Venter as a cover feature story. Venter, who worked at the NIH prior to leaving to start his own company, was passionate about using genomics and shotgun sequencing as a means to accelerate the gathering of useful data in the Human Genome Project (HGP). He left the agency out of frustration — viewing the progress of the government as being too slow. Venter founded Celera Genomics with a goal to sequence the entire human genome more quickly while using less money than the government-run HGP.

As Venter spearheaded commercial efforts, Collins represented the federally funded side of the equation, serving as the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. The race between the public and commercial sector as to which would be the first to successfully map the human genome became center stage, with bickering between the two sides becoming downright nasty. Pressure was applied to Venter and Collins to resolve their differences by a variety of sources including U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. According to the article, “The Race Is Over,” Time magazine, July 3, 2000, the two sat down to begin solving their differences on May 7 over pizza and beer. Thus began the successful collaboration between the public and private sector on the HGP — resulting in its successful completion, three years ahead of schedule and $400 million under budget.

There are several key learnings from these events. One, two heads are better than one. Two, the public and private sectors can successfully collaborate. Finally, there is nothing which can’t be solved with a few beers and good pizza. The highly controversial Venter with his private-sector initiatives did push the government into action. Today the shoe is on the other foot. Collins is leading efforts to push drug discovery and development of the private sector from his government position.

One thing is certain — both Collins and Venter are mavericks and should be cherished. Life Science Leader is considered to be somewhat of a maverick. At recent conferences and tradeshows, readers have told me they like the magazine because “We do things differently.” Those who deserve the credit are you, our readers, who take the time to call and write us with your recommendations and suggestions. At Life Science Leader — like Venter and Collins — we like doing things differently. We have some new things in the works for 2012 — so stay tuned.