Month: August 2013

Due Diligence to bring postdocs and investors together

For the past month I have been working with a great trio of postdocs to complete a due diligence technical assessment template for Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR), a group committed to promoting conversations between early career academics and entrepreneurs. One way to accomplish this goal is for OBR to offer consulting services. This postdoc/student-led group has a vast network of postdocs across diverse technical fields who would be ideal for performing due diligence on novel technologies for venture capital (VC) firms, angel investors, or possibly startups preparing to approach investors.

With the technical assessment template, a team of expert postdocs can be quickly selected specifically for the technology the client wants assessed from a pool of active consultants, and then the group can proceed with maximum efficiency by following the detailed guidance of the template. We invested great effort into developing the content of the template through researching due diligence guidance and incorporating feedback from VCs, angel investors, and experienced consultants.  

This is an excellent idea that has been successful in other markets outside of the bay area and a great opportunity to further bridge that ever shrinking divide between academia and industry. It’s an amazing opportunity for postdocs to connect with investors and founders and a productive way to acquire some skills away from the bench that could increase an academic’s marketability in the future. Furthermore, the budding postdoc-entrepreneur could find mentors through this process. This is a win-win situation for everyone and I can’t wait to see it succeed.


Bacteria: from gut to lab to disease


B. fragilis, National Review of Medicine

Bacteria are not forgotten like the fungi but they are somewhat neglected when it comes to prioritizing research dollars and drug development efforts. It is perplexing considering that bacteria are often in the mass media with tales of flesh eating infections and antibiotic resistant killer infections, but very little is invested in basic bacteriology research and antibiotic development. As this image from the group Extending the Cure shows there are almost no new antibiotics coming to market despite the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s 10x’20 initiative (10 new antibiotics by 2020). 


Fortunately the UK is taking action to rectify this situation and has announced the creation of the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection, which I discuss in the current OBR News of the Week. This follows up the Newsflash from last week when the UK announced the formation of the Manchester Fungal Infection Group (MFIG). These two new institutes put the UK at the forefront of action in the infectious disease world. What’s especially cool about the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology is that its focus is on the basic science of bacteria to identify new antibiotic targets and mechanisms instead of only high throughput drug screening. The Centre is investing in cutting-edge technology that leads to some really amazing eye candy that is also useful such as the 3D imaging of bacterial colonization over the entire course of infection. 

Research similar to an August 18th online letter in Nature from Caltech on the identification of a set of genes necessary and sufficient for specificity and stability of some gut bacteria would be the stuff of the MRC Centre. I review the findings of this paper briefly in the OBR News of the Week, but basic research of this type that provides a better understanding of the organism itself will give us loads of targets for drugs, and allow us to create drugs that we actually understand their mechanisms. If we could manipulate bacterial stability in the gut we could battle conditions from obesity to autism. This probably deserves a few dollar bills. 



Focus on Fungi

C. neoformans, Casadevall lab

When we think of the pestilences of humanity, usually bacterial infections like the bubonic plaque, viral infections like the bird flu, or parasitic infections like malaria come to mind. However, there is a neglected fourth member to this quartet of maladies and that is the fungal infection. A new research group, the Manchester Fungal Infection Group (MFIG), aims to focus new light on the forgotten fungi as I highlighted in an OBR Roundtable Review Newsflash last week. 

Fungi are so much more than the tasty mushrooms in our salads or the yeast responsible for our beer. They are even more than the fringe lore of fungi including implications as the cause of cancer and the potential killer of the dinosaurs. I first heard the fungal extinction theory during a seminar given by Dr. Arturo Cassadevall from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He delivered the theory at the end of a talk about the much less fanciful and serious reality of Cryptococcus neoformans. Fungi like C. neoformans and Candida albicans are especially dangerous for immunocompromised individuals but untreated fungal infections in healthy individuals can contribute to chronic illness such as sarcoidosis later in life.   

With the addition of the MFIG to the mycology research sphere, it’s encouraging to see science taking active steps to embrace the often forgotten fungi.