By Rob Wright, Life Science Leader
As I perused a bunch of the show agendas I will be attending over the next several months, it occurred to me how helpful these shows are for helping connect me with people who make for interesting editorial. Depending upon the size of the show, this can be very easy or sometimes difficult. Last year’s BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) International Conference was held in in Washington D.C., and it was loaded with people I wanted to meet. Just one problem, there is only one of me, and I had appointments scheduled so closely together that I couldn’t get to meet all the people I wanted. This turned out to be less of a problem, thanks to the helpful folks at BIO. Let me elaborate.
Controversial People Make Great Covers
The December Life Science Leader magazine cover featured Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Collins created the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in an effort spur drug discovery and development, as well as to help bio and pharma companies rescue and repurpose compounds. Having him featured allowed Life Science Leader to have two of the most influential and controversial scientists on our cover in the same calendar year. You see, the March 2011 issue featured John Craig Venter, who worked at the NIH prior to leaving to start his own company. He 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 NIH out of frustration, viewing the progress of the government as being too slow. 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 commonplace. Pressure was applied to Venter and Collins to resolve their differences by a variety of sources, including President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. According to the article, “The Race Is Over” in Time magazine, July 3, 2000, the two sat down to begin solving their differences on May 7, 2000 over pizza and beer. And 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.
Not A Missed Opportunity
Keynote speakers are traditionally very busy, and if you don’t meet them shortly before or immediately after their presentation, they are jetting off to somewhere else, as their most valuable commodity is time. Collins was one of the speakers at last year’s BIO International Conference and one of the people I was unable to meet as a result of my own hectic schedule. He may never have appeared on the cover if not for people like Tracy Cooley, director of events communication, and Brent Erickson, EVP industrial and environmental section, at BIO. When I asked for their help, they made it very easy to get in touch with Dr. Collins. The result — an excellent article about a highly controversial figure — both as scientist, as well as person not afraid to express his beliefs in Christianity, placing him in the 7% minority among his National Academy of Science peers who believe in God. In his bestselling book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” Collins created a lot of controversy. On one side, he is faced with defending the theory of evolution to his scientific colleagues. On the other side, he is faced with espousing the benefits of embryonic stem cell research to his religious equals. Leaders in the field of life sciences willing to speak their mind can be quite controversial. They also make for great cover feature stories. The helpful folks at BIO turned what I thought was a missed opportunity by not being able to personally meet Dr. Collins into a win for Life Science Leader. Even after the event is over, people at BIO are willing to help you connect. I am looking forward to connect with more people at this year’s BIO show. But if I miss someone, I know who to go to for help making those connections well after the event is concluded.