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SAN FRANCISCO—It's been a tough time for pharmaceutical and biotech companies and their pipelines in recent years. Patent cliffs, stiff generic competition, post-approval patient safety failures, high costs of research and development and more have all combined to dry up some pipelines and make the pace of progress sluggish at times in terms of new therapeutic options.
As we've seen over the years, one answer for the pharma and biotech industries has been to turn to academia and research institutes and sometimes forge novel partnership models with them to help inject new energy, new ideas and new targets and compound leads into the mix.
The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) has seen this, too, and will be addressing that dynamic in the society's 2012 annual meeting, to be held Dec. 15-19 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
The ASCB is primarily a basic science group, focused on mechanisms of cell function and molecular interactions and mechanisms, notes ASCB President Dr. Ron Vale, "but with the annual society meeting, we're trying to really reach out in two directions to make our society and members more aware of connections between early-stage basic science and connections to drug discovery pathways."
In the world of drug discovery, he notes, there is an increasing need for biotechs and pharmas to be connected with developments in the academic world.
"In particular these days, investment in early-stage basic sciences is becoming more restricted in biotech and pharma as companies are looking at things that are a bit more certain or tangible in terms of their investment of time and money," Vale says. "In terms of the industry side, I think the kind of research and work going on in our community is becoming increasingly relevant and important for looking at opportunities for new targets, understanding of existing pathways for drugs and development of drugs currently in the pipelines."
Of course, the other issue aside from recognizing the need to get basic scientists and discovery researchers together is the issue of how to achieve that, Vale acknowledges. So, one thing ASCB is doing in this annual meeting is to create a sort of "meeting within the meeting"—a themed track that ASCB refers to as a "thread"—with a special emphasis on topics related to cell biology and medicine.
"This is the first year we're trying a thread on cell biology and medicine," says Vale, noting that the intersection of cell biology and drug discovery was a key consideration in creating that thread. "We're really trying to identify that theme as a meeting within a meeting so that someone from biotech or pharma could come into the meeting and see a clear series of events related to the theme, feel they're getting useful information from it and follow it throughout the meeting."
That theme will be strong from the very start of the annual meeting at the keynote symposium, Vale notes, and will trickle down through much of the programming and into even the smaller and more intimate discussion-style activities during the event.
"We'll be setting the tone and getting things started off with a keynote by Art Levinson, who came from a basic science chemistry background but has been leading Genentech for many years in various ways," Vale shares. "He will address issues that are both interesting and relevant to what we're trying to do in getting these cultures of basic science and drug discovery to talk together more."
Vale's opinion is that ASCB as a society—as well as its annual meeting— could be a fruitful meeting ground to facilitate direct interaction between the people in academia and industry who need to be more connected for the sake of both basic science and pharmaceutical development.
"This thread for the annual meeting in 2012 is not a one-off kind of thing. We're committed to this thread—this theme—for next year at the annual meeting in New Orleans—and, we hope, well into the future as well," Vale says. "This is an area we're deeply committed to, and not just a thing we're trying out to add something new. It's because we really believe that this connection between basic science and discovery is deeply important both for academia and industry and to the nature of the science that goes on at the ASCB meeting. Our deep connection to cellular mechanisms is poised well at the interface of basic science and the needs of drug discovery going forward."
Aside from Arthur Levinson's contribution at the keynote presentation—which also will feature U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu as a keynoter—the symposia, mini-symposia and other presentations that comprise the cell biology and medicine thread will address the interplay between basic science and discovery with such topics as reproducibility of data and data verification, cell biology and neurodegeneration, infectious disease, stem cells, protein folding mechanisms and more.
"We'll also have discussion tables where we'll have people in biotech talking in very informal settings mostly to the academic community so that people from our community can better understand what it's like to work in the industry and hopefully foster not just understanding but inform career decisions for some of our members and students in the field," Vale notes.
There is also a second "meeting within the meeting" thread, which is composed of presentations that cover the intersection between the physical sciences and cell biology. In some cases, presentations will straddle both threads.
ASCB is also offering presentations it is calling "tutorials" that will be held before the mini- symposia. According to Vale, these tutorials are more focused on niche talks and will provide a big-picture view of what all the mini-symposia are about.
"The idea is for students and people from biotech and pharma who aren't as familiar with the cell biology science have an interactive forum and also be able to step back and get an overall view of what the mini-symposia talks will be about. That 's new this year," he says. "In addition, we're trying to make some of the symposia 'frontier symposia' so that the speakers for them can not only present the work they've done, but also share where they see the field going in the future. There are interesting problems, challenges and opportunities to be shared, especially for young scientists and giving them ideas for the paths ahead of them."
ASCB NEWS BRIEFS:
Sequestration is coming
BETHESDA, Md.—The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) reminds its members and others that "sequestration is right around the corner" and offers the view that its arrival "will have devastating effects" on the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. As ASCB notes, during summer 2011, legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama to resolve the federal debt limit crisis included the creation of a "super committee" to identify at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to federal spending over 10 years. Because that committee could not reach an agreement, a provision of the legislation is set to kick in Jan. 2, 2013, that will mandate $1.2 trillion in cuts across all portions of the federal budget, except veterans' programs. Given that sequestration is a law, the ASCB says, "Now the debate in Washington, D.C., is focused on ways to stop it, delay it or reduce the impact. Congress needs to hear from you about what these cuts will do to your research," the organization urges, encouraging people to begin by visiting the website www.coalitionforlifesciences.org/be-an-advocate/advocacy-tools/sequestration/.
Keeping it local
BETHESDA, Md.—ASCB reports that in 2013, it will again fund young scientists to organize one-day local meetings. Such meetings must involve two or more institutions (within the United States or international ones), and topics can range from basic science to career development, "as long as there is clear relevance to the broadly defined field of cell biology." Applicants already must be members of the ASCB or must become members to be considered. Describing the application process as "simple," the society says applicants must provide CVs of all organizers, a description of the meeting and sessions and a proposed budget of up to $1,500. "A larger budget that is suitably justified may be awarded in exceptional cases," ASCB notes, "depending on the availability of funds." The next application deadline for local meetings is April 1, 2013. Meetings may be held anytime within one year of funding approval.
We Are Research 2012
BETHESDA, Md.—During the first week of October, ASCB members and others across the United States took time to participate in the ASCB's We Are Research campaign. Some posted pictures of the members of their lab to put a face on science, the society notes, while others made two-minute videos explaining their research. Some advocates sent letters to their representatives explaining the importance of federally funded basic research, ASCB adds, while one group has invited an experienced science advocate to speak to its postdoc association. "Like research, science advocacy is a year-round job," ASCB notes. "Like research, advocacy can take place across the United States, not just in Washington, D.C. But unlike research, advocacy takes only as much time as you have to give."
HIGHLIGHTS & FEATURES OF ASCB 2012 MEETING:
Overview: ASCB annual meeting 2012
The ASCB annual meeting is intended for scientists and students in academia, industry, government and higher education. More than 100 scientific sessions and 3,000 poster presentations are planned so as to cover a variety of scientific areas within the discipline and appeal to the diverse interests of the international cell biology community.
Some meeting highlights:
ASCB mission statement
The American Society for Cell Biology is an inclusive, international community of biologists studying the cell, the fundamental unit of life. We are dedicated to advancing scientific discovery, advocating sound research policies, improving education, promoting professional development and increasing diversity in the scientific workforce.
Upcoming ASCB annual meetings
2013 Annual Meeting
Dec 14-18, 2013
2014 Annual Meeting
Dec. 6-10, 2014
2015 Annual Meeting
Dec 12-16, 2015
On the air
The ASCB has formed a partnership with the global television production company WebsEdge to launch a new program called ASCB TV at the 2012 annual meeting in San Francisco, in an effort "to raise the visibility of the field of cell biology, as well as to highlight collaborations between diverse institutions including research institutions, universities and private-sector organizations, as well as governmental bodies at all levels."
Each daily program will have two features: "Thought Leadership" and "Conference News." Thought Leadership pieces will be five-minute sponsored film segments highlighting programs, case studies and best practices from the field, the society says, while Conference News is a daily program of conference highlights, featuring behind-the-scenes interviews, coverage of conference events and reactions to the day from attending delegates.