Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC

Advice and Resources for the Biotech Industry

Advice and Resources for the Biotech Industry

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Photo Credit: Josh Lyman


Biopharma Haiku Round 6

Stem cell purveyors
Most are simply scam artists
Sick, gullible fleeced.

Another tough year
Alzheimer’s trials revealed
More drugs that don’t work.

Tuberculosis
Great new drug combo data
Breakthrough is right word.

Prison time or fines?
Date set for Theranos trial
Get your bets down now.
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Summer Reading List 2019


Photo Credit: Josh Lyman


Summer Reading List 2019

It’s time once again for my annual roundup of some of the best books I read this year. As usual, my focus is mostly on nonfiction tales from the world of science, medicine, and technology. A master list of all books that I recommend can be found here, and you can also check out my previous book recommendations from 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

I couldn’t wait to read John Carryrou’s detailed expose about biotech shooting star Theranos Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (2018), and it didn’t disappoint. This book recounts all of the sordid details of the company’s meteoric rise and spectacular flameout amid accusations of fraud, intimidation, and paranoia. It’s as engaging a read as you will find in any contemporary detective story. CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes and her boyfriend/business partner/company enforcer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani are the villains eventually toppled by investor lawsuits and federal civil and criminal charges. The book traces the early days of Theranos from an idea of Stanford dropout Holmes as it steadily builds itself into one of Silicon Valley’s most valuable unicorns (startups that are worth more than $1B on paper). However, the company had a fatal flaw: it was a tech company with no solid science behind it. The eventual crash and burn was inevitable, but the lies, intimidation tactics, secrecy, and bullying all add up to a terrible tale of talents wasted and patients harmed. Employee turnover was tremendous. Questioning of the company’s efforts to build a blood analyzer using finger pinpricks (instead of venous draws) were met with dismissal. Tremendous courage is displayed by former employees as well as the author, all of whom faced serious threats of financial and professional ruin at the hands of Theranos’s ultra-aggressive lawyers. What really amazed me was how many of Theranos’s investors failed to demand proof that the company’s technology actually worked. Some of them, including individuals (e.g. Betsy DeVos) and organizations (Safeway and Walgreens) lost tens of millions of dollars when this technological house of cards collapsed. The story also illustrates the danger in having a board of directors (made up almost entirely of political movers and shakers) who knew absolutely nothing about science and biotech. It’s a well-told cautionary tale for entrepreneurs, biotech investors, and those who seek employment at these types of companies.
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Photo: Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash


Don’t Get Theranosed: Detecting Bioscience BS

The biggest lesson I took away from the Theranos scandal was the shocking lack of due diligence from multiple quarters. It’s easy to see why the company’s celebrity Board of Directors didn’t see the scam unfolding. One wouldn’t expect non-scientists like George Schultz and Henry Kissinger to be asking technical questions at quarterly board meetings. But the representatives of Walgreens and Safeway, who entered into multi-million dollar deals with the company, should have exercised more caution. Were they, too, mesmerized by Elizabeth Holmes’s comely blonde hair, black turtleneck, and deeply resonant voice, or did an overzealous “fear of missing out” lead them astray?
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The Judgment of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin (1649)



Biomedical Ethics: Moral Dilemmas with Lives in the Balance

A couple of years ago I had coffee with a young woman with a strong interest in bioethics. She was looking at potential future career paths, with a possible focus on biotechnology. I shared with her my observation that I had never heard of a biotech company actually employing a dedicated bioethicist. The lack of these positions in the industry, however, doesn’t negate the fact that a wide variety of ideological dilemmas are currently front-and-center in the halls of biomedicine. These complex issues call out for the wisdom of King Solomon to help point us in the right direction. Here are just some of the challenges we currently face:
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Receiving Good Healthcare Is Now A Patient’s Responsibility

I ran into a few problems with my rental car on a recent family vacation. The “low tire air pressure” warning light came on twice in the first three days, and the car had absolutely no windshield washer fluid. Both problems were solved by visits to a gas station. When I got home I called Avis to complain, expecting an apology and perhaps a small adjustment on my bill. I got neither. Instead, I was told the problem was actually my fault. I was told I should have checked the tire pressure and the washer fluid levels before departing the rental car lot. When I explained that I don’t travel with a tire pressure gauge, and that I expected Avis to provide me with a car that had been checked over thoroughly, I was informed that the responsibility was mine. If I had concerns, I should have asked to have them checked before leaving the lot. Seriously? I actually attempted to do this during a subsequent rental, but my request to the lot attendant was simply met with a look of bewilderment.
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HPV Cancer Resources: My New Website for Parents, Patients, Partners, and Healthcare Providers


Today’s blog post is a little different. I wanted to share with you some exciting news about my new website: HPV Cancer Resources. I spent much of the summer putting together this new and very comprehensive website with the following goals in mind:

To spread awareness about HPV, a virus that causes six different types of cancer in people.

To educate parents about, and advocate for, the safe and effective HPV vaccine, which can prevent infection with the virus and thereby block the development of these cancers.

To refute misinformation about the safety and efficacy of the HPV (and other) vaccines by anti-vaccine groups that is, unfortunately, widespread on the Internet.

To share an organized collection of resources specifically curated for HPV cancer patients and their family members.

To provide basic information for all new cancer patients about the different types of scans and cancer treatments, how tumors are staged, how clinical trials work (and how to find one), and much more.

Those were my goals, but who did I design this website for?
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Autism in Dogs: People Embrace Conspiracy Theories, So Why Not Junk Science?


The headline in a recent NY Times article was both spellbinding and disturbing:

“No, Your Dog Can’t Get Autism From a Vaccine.”

Autism in dogs? Not a big concern of mine (or even a little one). The fact that someone chose to write about it tells us that some people have actually been worried about this. Is Google being inundated with queries about what autism spectrum disorders might look like in dogs? Maybe these folks developed concerns when their dogs started peeing or slobbering days or weeks after getting their rabies or Bordetella shots. Wait, isn’t that normal behavior for most dogs? Of course it is. What would the symptoms of autism look like in dogs, and how would you diagnose it? Loss of their stick-fetching and squirrel-chasing urges? No longer wanting to be petted? Ignoring that freshly cooked strip of bacon you lovingly placed in front of their noses?
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We’ve Got Very Effective Disease Treatments. Too Bad They’re Not Being Used


“I want a new drug, one that does what it should, one that won’t make me feel too bad, one that won’t make me feel too good.” Huey Lewis and the News

Many people were desperately searching for a new drug in April of 1984 when “
I Want A New Drug” reached number one on the Billboard charts. In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, the world was looking for anything that could stop a rapidly spreading, poorly understood disease. It was a cruel diagnosis that, at the time, was tantamount to a death sentence. Drugs capable of successfully combating HIV were eventually discovered, but that hasn’t ended the AIDS crisis. Getting these powerful and expensive medicines in the hands of people who need them has turned out to be an equally daunting challenge.
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Biopharma Haiku Round 5


This is my fifth published collection of biopharma haiku. You can access my previous collections on my Previous Op-Ed Articles page. I hope you enjoy them!

Elizabeth Holmes
Next nanotainer: prison
Crook, plain and simple

Holmes and Balwani
Deceitful duo facing
20 years hard time

No due diligence
Theranos fooled investors
Too good to be true

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Bias and Self-Delusion Are A Problem In Both Politics and Science


Coarse adjectives get tossed around the political arena as politicians and pundits try to score points with their supporters. This person is a moron, that one’s an idiot, and so and so is such an imbecile. These three adjectives are nowadays used as interchangeable insults, but what most people don’t understand is that these words used to have distinct scientific definitions in the (now discredited) field of eugenics. Eugenics, which was purported over a century ago to be a legitimate science, was later recognized as nothing more than a house of racial and ethnic bias constructed on a shaky foundation of non-rigorously collected “data” that didn’t stand up to careful scrutiny. “Data” were found and adjusted to fit this theory, rather than gathering up facts and then building a concept around them. Bias often lurks at the core of the thought process used by both politicians and scientists. Before going further, let me be crystal clear about one thing: while both groups suffer from biased thinking, it manifests itself in completely different ways.
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Artificial Intelligence? I'd Settle For The Real Thing!

It’s great when societies take on new initiatives and challenges. Back in the early 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy declared in a speech to the nation, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….” Examples these days of other difficult technical challenges might include developing self-driving cars, and figuring out ways to enable artificial intelligence to help solve many of our most pressing technical problems. Having said that, working on hard things shouldn’t give us a pass on failing to do easy things properly. Or to put it another way, artificial intelligence shouldn’t give us a pass on using real intelligence. The simple stuff really and truly matters.

As John W. Gardner put it, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
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The HPV Vaccine: Preventing Cancer Beats Treating It


You don’t have to be an oncologist to know that fighting cancer is tough. Nearly 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and about 600,000 will die from the disease. But here’s some good news: overall U.S. cancer deaths have been in a steep decline for over 25 years. Much of this reduction is tied to a decline in smoking, along with early detection of some cancers (e.g. colon), and more effective cancer therapies. While treatments against some particular types of cancer have advanced greatly, it’s still a disease no one wants to face. Fighting an opponent that you can never be really sure you’ve defeated challenges both the physical strength and mental fortitude of those who’ve been diagnosed. I know because I’ve been there.

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Data Irreproducibility: The "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse” of Scientific Research


Waste, fraud, and abuse. We’ve heard the phrase a million times. Politicians tell us the key to making things better in our society is to simply eliminate this unholy trio of troubles. They never bother to detail specifically what they’re referring to, for attempting to do so might set their lips ablaze. Their declarations always elicit feelings of déjà vu. Where, precisely, is the waste located, and how much of it is there? Who, exactly, are the specific groups or individuals that have committed fraud? What types of abuse are we talking about? Is the problem really widespread, or limited to just a few cases? If you’ve really identified the root cause of these problems, what’s it going to take to eliminate them? And since this expression is uttered so frequently, why haven’t these problems been fixed by now? Sadly, this meaningless catchphrase is trotted out whenever the speaker has no real solutions to offer but pretends to have deep insights that are never actually enunciated.

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