Friday, February 20, 2009

Hello TechStars, Goodbye YCombinator

YCombinator has pulled up its tent and moved permanently to the West Coast. Clearly our style of entreprneurship did not fit what they were trying to do. I would agree; what they are doing is largely Web 2.0, which is a West Coast business. I would advise most web-based startups to move West too. The entire ecosystem is in the valley.

Techstars is moving into Boston. This is a Boulder, Co based firm that operates like YCombinator. It is smaller, accepting 20 companies a year of which 10 will be in Boston. The company will give $18K in seed funding to web-based and software companies. Sorry - biotech and medtech entrepreneurs. TechStars prefers companies that have more than one founder.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Some grim statistics in The Scientist:

These are distressing but worth discussing

• NIH budget has has declined by more than 10% in real terms over the past 5 years.
• Initial success rates for grants is less than 10%
• Average age of first NIH grant is mid-40s.
• New drugs approved by the FDA has fallen linearly from 53 in 1996 to 17 in 2007 (the same number as 1983). In 2008, 21 druges were approved including 3 that were “reconsidered” and 3 radiocontrast agents
• Pharma has lost 100,000 jobs over the past 5 years

The author lists solutions - my reactions are in (brackets):
• Restore funding to the NIH (Obama has a $10 billion increase so this is fixable)
• Have graded FDA drug approvals (not sure how this would work)
• Reward more personalized medicine (this is a path FDA is taking)
• Increase academia and FDA interactions (drug approvals take 10 years; I don't see how these interactions will improve approvals. Academia is upstream and not connected to drug trials)
• Spend on science in schools (a focus of this administration)

While drug approvals have dropped considerably, its not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it means a lot of companies and investors have lost money. Scientists have spent lifetimes on products that ultimately weren't approved. But how many of these drugs should have gotten to the market in the first place ? Is there a cure for Alzheimers or Cancer waiting to be approved ? Or a drug that works in 80% of a selective population that was turned down.

I think the FDA needs to rethink approval processes of contrast agents and its diagnostics tests as well. These generally are safer with lesser side effects. The economics simply aren't in favor especially of developing contrast agents through the startup process. Similarly with diagnostics; there needs to be more of a focus on accelerating the approval processes. If we can find it early, we can cure it. Diagnostics tests and contrast agents can help us do that. And while it builds up industries, it will make a real difference for patients as well as the life sciences industry. Death rates are not going down because of better drugs. Its going down because of better screening and imaging.

Click here to read the article

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What's in the Stimulus Package

From NBC/FirstRead

Here is a breakdown of some of what's in the stimulus, by the numbers:
-- $825 billion total (as of 1/16/08)
-- $550 billion in new spending
-- $275 billion in tax relief ($1,000 tax cut for families, $500 tax cut for individuals through SS payroll deductions)
-- $ 90 billion for infrastructure
-- $ 87 billion Medicaid aid to states
-- $ 79 billion school districts/public colleges to prevent cutbacks
-- $ 54 billion to encourage energy production from renewable sources
-- $ 41 billion for additional school funding ($14 billion for school modernizations and repairs, $13 billion for Title I, $13 billion for IDEA special education funding, $1 billino for education technology)
-- $ 24 billion for "health information technology to prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients and introduce cost-saving efficiencies" and "to provide for preventative care and to evaluate the most effective healthcare treatments."
-- $ 16 billion for science/technology ($10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation; $6 billion to expand broadband to rural areas)
-- $ 15 billion to increase Pell grants by $500
-- $ 6 billion for the ambiguous "higher education modernization."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bill Gates: Malaria & Education @ TED

An outstanding talk by Bill Gates at TED discussing two major world issues a) Malaria: The biggest cause of child deaths and b) How to make teachers great in America. Twenty useful minutes of your time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Do You Find Your Passion and How Do You Pursue It? Randy Komisar

"My career makes no sense in the windshield. It only makes sense in the rear view mirror. That applies to lots and lots of people in their careers."