Monday, January 21, 2013

Where have I been?

I was never someone who blogged a great deal. But once or twice a month, I would put hand to keyboard and come up with something to talk about that is relevant to my favorite field of study: Genetics.

I have every intention to continue doing that. But last April I started working for a small start-up company, and I've been very busy. And I do mean busy. I thought I was busy before in graduate school and my post-doc, but with the exception of grant time or paper writing, I can honestly say I have never been as busy as I have been the past nine months.

That's right, I've been working in industry for nine months. I'm not sure if I mentioned that before. Admittedly, I'm working at a start-up, so it's not quite like joining Massive Dynamic and getting lost in the army of scientists doing this or that. It's much more fun than that. I would say it isn't quite at the level of the Internet start-up era in the late 90s/early 00s, but it's interesting.

The genomics field is really heating up. It's great to see how rapidly it is advancing. And the competition is fierce. Every little company competing in this space is exceptional with exceptional people, exceptional goals, and (hopefully) exceptional funding.

There was a time where I was gung ho about staying in academia. I still love academia and research. But I began to see the writing on the wall about two years ago, when I realized that, frankly, the way academia has handled genomics has resulted in a few massive centers for genomics and sequencing and then a lot of little centers that amount to core facilities servicing their attached universities. I took note of what opportunities there were, and there seemed to be a lack in academia. Perhaps it's because of the funding situation with the NIH and the way it has funded massive centers over smaller sequencing projects.

Meanwhile, at the same time, I saw a number of start-ups in this space popping up. Places that had money and drive to advance the science of genomic analysis--which is exactly what I had wanted to do in my academic career.

I tried writing a grant once where I had planned out ten years of work with the goal of advancing genomic analysis and after reading it through a few times I realized I would have had far better chances securing VC funding with that grant than obtaining an R01 from the NIH. That's the moment it struck me that perhaps the most rapid and impressive advancement in this area will take place in industry for the time being.

I basically feel validated when I see the Biobase mark on the ANNOVAR website, or the Appistry logo on the GATK website.

That's not to say that I would never return to academia. I would love to, and if there's a shift in the wind and it pushes me back in that direction, I would go there. But for now, I would just say that I am having a very good time in the industry, learning new skills but also flexing my strengths.

Anyway, that's where I've been. I'm still around. I'm just working longer hours.


  1. Would it be possible for you to elaborate on what most of the startups are focussed on right now ? I know a couple of companies which try to provide cloud based solutions to some pharma companies and universities, but in terms of analyzing genomic data are companies trying to get into the clinical side by selling their products to hospitals ? I've been working in one of the big centers that you mentioned in your post but eventually I'd like to step into industry, I'm just not curious what are the different avenues out there.

    1. Well, I think there are companies all over this space. Certainly there are quite a few in the genomics space, ranging from sequencing itself to the analysis of the data to delivery to clinicians (or direct to consumer in rare cases).

      There certainly seems to be a bit of a boom in the analysis space when it comes to startups. On the analysis side, there are companies offering cloud-based analysis tools and GUI to companies with their own software for alignment and variant calling. There are companies selling machines that will do the analysis for you in your own lab and (hopefully) deliver something a clinician could interpret and use. There are other start-to-finish clinical genomics companies that are dotting the landscape as well.

    2. Oh by the way, this round-up has a ton of info on this: