Biotech “Walks With Light,” But If We Don’t Start Explaining it Better, We’re “Cuckoo”

For the last 17 years my office at Targeted Genetics looked out closely onto a pretty major intersection, busy with cars and pedestrians going to and from downtown Seattle. For years the pedestrian crossing signs stated “Walk with Light.” Maybe I’m a romantic fool, but I always thought of that phrase, “walk with light,” as a wonderful metaphor for how we should feel as biotechnologists, as we pursue our mission of developing new treatments for incurable diseases, new ways to feed the hungry, new ways to reduce oil dependency, and all the other noble efforts underway. Walk with light. Biotechnology is hard, risky, and full of challenges, setbacks, disappointments. But even if you prove that something doesn’t work, you’ve helped pave the way to understanding what does work. What a great enterprise! Of all businesses, the opportunity to definitely “do good” and maybe “do well” is tremendously compelling.

About a year ago, the “Walk with Light” signs disappeared. Instead, the street Powers That Be added a new feature to assist the blind (when I mentioned this to my sardonic younger brother from North Carolina, he replied “In North Carolina we don’t let the blind drive…”) Anyway, to assist the blind PEDESTRIANS, every 60 seconds from my office for the last year I’ve listened to a loud chiming “CUCKOO, CUCKOO, CUCKOO”…It’s impossible to ignore, and impossible not to relate to the toil and turmoil we’ve been experiencing in biotechnology lately. Lack of capital, an uncertain regulatory climate, the general economic downturn, a backlash against drug developers – as Pogo said, we are certainly surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.

So which is it, are we “walking with light” in pursuing our mission, or are we “cuckoo”?

Maybe a bit of both. It takes a certain type of person to deal with the risk inherent in our business, and to overcome the constant setbacks and maintain perspective. It’s not a profession for everyone.

Having said that, those of us who lean more to the “walk with light” side than the “cuckoo” side are more often than not blinded to the notion that anyone could possibly see our mission as less than honorable. We arrogantly assume that, just because we believe in the goodness of the mission, that everyone else should as well. And herein lies one of our major problems.

Biotech is a great mission, but it is also a business, … Next Page »

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