Higher Ed: Medical Cannabis Courses Are Now Available at US Universities

Posted in Articles, BioEducation, Uncategorized

Back in the day when I was going to graduate school in Madison, WI,  there was no such thing as medical Cannabis (although there was plenty of weed to go around).  But, as the line in that old Dylan song goes “the times they are a changin”

Late last month, the University of California-Davis announced that it would be joining Humboldt State University in offering undergraduate students a course entitled Physiology of Cannabis.  FYI, Humboldt State has been offering courses in medical Cannabis since 2012 (not surprising since the school is located in prime Cannabis cultivation territory).

According to UC-Davis officials the semester-long, three credit course will be aimed at biology students and will cover the endocannabinoid system, the effects of cannabinoids on the human body and the therapeutic value of Cannabis.

Likewise, Sonoma State University announced that it will be offering a one day symposium on March 11, 2017  to members of the healthcare industry in the Bay area. The symposium is entitled Medical Cannabis: A Clinical and it is intended as a workforce development course.  Nurses, physicians and pharmacists can get continuing education credit for the course. Topics that will be covered include the history of cannabis, an introduction to cannabinoids and terpenes, dosing and administration of cannabinoids, legal implication and other medical-related issues. The university is also planning a three day course on Cannabis regulatory issues later in the month.

While these courses are available, there is currently no undergraduate degree program in Cannabis science/medicine offered by any US university or college. That said, don’t be surprised if this major becomes a reality in States where medical and recreational Cannabis are legal.

Until next time…

Good Luck, Good Job Hunting and Happy Trails

Trump, Drug Prices and Deregulation

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, BioJobBuzz

Donald Trump met with pharmaceutical leaders and their lobbyists yesterday. At the outset of the meeting he castigated executives for the high prices of prescriptions drugs in the US. Then, he mentioned that he thought that the regulations guiding new drug approvals by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are overly complex and are interfering with discovery and development of new life saving molecules for the American public.

While pharma execs may have cringed at the mention of high drug prices (Republicans never think that drug prices are too high), a majority were emboldened by the mention of loosening FDA regulations for new drug approvals. Drug makers have historically complained that overly aggressive FDA regulations drive up the costs associated with new drug development. What they fail to mention is that the regulations imposed by FDA on drug development are necessary to ensure drug efficacy and public safety.  And if you look at the overall track record of FDA for new drug approvals over the past 40 years the agency is clearly doing its jobs (less than 3% of approved drugs have been recalled from the market). Prior to implementation of modern FDA regulations and current good manufacturing practices (CGMP), the efficacy and safety of new drugs could not be accurately determined or guaranteed.

Now let’s talk about new drug discovery and development prices. Current estimates suggest that it takes  $1.0-2.0 billion to bring a new prescription drug to market. While the actual costs may vary, what the drug companies do not tell you is that included in those cost are the manufacturing, marketing and sales of the drug once it is approved. That said, the actual discovery and development of the drug is much less costly. Nevertheless, the high costs of discovery and development is the explanation that pharma executives give to justify high drug prices. Also, they frequently justify high prices because the high failure rate of new molecules i.e. we spend a lot of money on drugs that we want to advance but since so many of them fail we have to charge high prices for the ones that successfully garner regulatory approval.

While these arguments may be compelling let’s take the example of Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowing drug that has been on the market for about 20 years.  The graph below shows the sales history of Lipitor from 2003-2015.

As you can see the return on investment by Pfizer for Lipitor far exceeded the $1.0 billion development costs of the molecule. Also, the graph shows that Lipitor sales drastically fell off in 2012.  This is because Lipitor lost patent protection in 2011 and several generic competitors appeared on the market. Yet, despite the appearance of low cost generic alternatives, Lipitor sales were almost $2.0 billion in 2015.  Of course, you can argue that Lipitor is an extraordinary example and there are not that many $1.0 billion drugs out there. However, you would be wrong

Next, let’s consider how drug companies determine their retail price for the drugs that they sell. For those of you who may not know, the US government including its agencies, FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the largest provider of prescription drugs in the US) are not legally allowed to negotiate drug prices with their manufacturers. That right….you heard right. Instead, drug companies are required to tell FDA how much they plan to charge and then it is up to insurance companies/third party payers to determine whether or not they will reimburse patients costs for those drugs.  Put simply, the drug companies and insurers set drug prices in the US. This is in marked contrast with the rest of the world (possibly excluding New Zealand) where governments negotiate with drug companies to set drug prices that are affordable and consistent with the economic realities of their countries.

You may be asking what does all of this have to do with Trump and his news conference yesterday?

First, Trump essentially put drug companies on notice that he thinks US prescription drug prices are too high. Second, Trump also acknowledged that overly aggressive FDA regulations are responsible for the rise costs of prescription drugs in this country. Therefore, according to Trump, the best way to lower drug prices in the US is  to lower the regulatory requirements for new prescription drug development and approval. Theoretically, lowering regulatory requirements ought to help reduce drug discovery and manufacturing costs which, in turn, should translates into lower prescription drug costs. However, as previously mentioned, the government has no leverage over drug companies when it comes to drug prices. That said, less than mandatory price controls would have no noticeable or little effect on containing rising prescription drug prices in the US.

Ironically, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is lowering drug prices by holding drug manufacturers more accountable for the drugs that they develop and try to bring to market. To wit, based on certain provisions of the ACA (which have nothing to do with the retail insurance part of the Act) drug manufacturers must meet certain clinical and safety benchmarks before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services will reimburse its patients for approved prescription drugs. To that point, the ACA stipulates that the government will not reimburse patients for new prescription drugs unless they demonstrate quantifiable improvements to clinical efficacy or safety!  In other words, the government will not pay a higher price for new prescription drugs if its efficacy or safety is not markedly better than existing cheaper alternatives.  Not surprisingly, these regulations have forced drug makers to think more strategically and to only advance drug candidates that are superior to already existing drugs. 

So, what does this all mean?  First, if the ACA is repealed or modified it will weaken the ability of the federal government to prevent drug prices from rising.  Second, if FDA regulations are relaxed or reduced, it may lower drugmaker’s overhead costs but it will not necessarily lower drug prices (remember drug companies set drug prices and government cannot approve or not approve drugs based solely on price).  Third, before FDA modernized itself in the late 1930s the US drug supply was not safe and there were many drugs on that market that offered no clinical benefits). Consequently, deregulation may be good for drug companies but not necessarily good for the American public.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!! 

Publish or Perish: Dealing With the Pressure

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, Career Advice

The “publish or perish” principle of academia is certainly not a new one and is likely as old as scientific research itself. And, while persons who choose scientific research as a career are often motivated by curiosity and the desire to improve the human condition, they soon find out that academic research is highly competitive and oftentimes dominated by overly ambitious and egocentric individuals. I’m sure that most of you have been told that in order to excel your research must be published in the highest impact journal possible.  This, coupled with diminishing research funding can place enormous pressure on individual researchers to gain a competitive edge via less than ethical (and possibly illegal) behavior.

To that point, there was an article in this Sunday’s NY Times that described a postdoc who intentionally sabotaged the efforts of a rising star in a cancer research laboratory at the University of Michigan. While this is only one incident, I do not think that it is the only example of intentional sabotage taking place in academic research laboratories. In fact, this recent incident brings to mind a candid discussion that I had with a prominent academic researcher many years ago.  He confided to me and a colleague that he intentionally sabotaged a fellow postdoc’s work because he did not like his competitor and did not want him to get recognition for a discovery (BTW, this discovery led to a patent that made the researcher a very wealthy person).

There is no doubt that in present times, working in an academic lab can feel like working in a pressure cooker that is about to explode. That said, it is important to realize that you are not alone and that learning coping skills can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety about future career opportunities and employment.  However, there is never an instance, when cheating, fabricating data or intentionally sabotaging a competitor’s experiments is acceptable.  In fact, any researcher who behaves in this manner ought to be called out, censored and disciplined for their actions.

We are living in uncertain times in which hypocrisy, lies and alternate facts are acceptable to large numbers of people. As scientists, we are responsible for facts and  ”the truth.” Any deviation from this obligation is unacceptable. In the end, people always look to scientists and researchers for answers, solutions and hints of the truth. It is important that we do not succumb to today’s economic and political pressures and continue to be the purveyors of facts and “the truth.”

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

Want to Keep Your Job and Get a PhD in the Trump Era? Unionize!!!!!!

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump is anti-union and his recent cabinet pick for Secretary of Labor is clearly not a friend of working people.  Put simply, Trump is on the side of big business and employers. And if he and his billionaire friends can squeeze more work out of employees for lesser pay, then he and his administration gladly propose legislation to accomplish those goals. Also, don’t be shocked when Trump cuts the budgets of federal agencies that offer research grants, fellowships and teaching assistantships to American colleges and Universities.

It’s no secret that graduate students and postdocs are overworked and underpaid and long term career prospects continue to dwindle.  Further, during the course of my career advising graduate students and postdocs about job opportunities, I have heard too many horror stories about PIs who refuse to let their students or postdoc do anything outside of their laboratories to enhance careers or job opportunities.

While the public and private union movement is dying in the US, unions still offer exploited workers to negotiate their fates, working conditions, pay and benefits with employers.  Sadly, we in the academic community have been taught to be anti-union because of the high costs associated with union labor. Ironically, that is the point….why  should graduate students and postdocs not be fairly compensated for the long hours that they work?  Sure, you can say that graduate students will get a degree and postdocs need the experience to get a job but, while a degree and a postdoc in the past meant a good paying job in the end, no such guarantees exist today.  Basically, you are on your own!

Last week, graduate students at Columbia University overwhelmingly voted to unionize. According to a newspaper article in the NY Times:

The union will be the first to represent graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that students who work as teaching and research assistants have a federal right to unionize.

 

The vote to unionize was 1,602 to 623, according to the United Automobile Workers, which will now represent some 3,500 Columbia graduate students.

While the vote to unionize will undoubtedly upsets PIs, Deans and University Presidents, it is in the best career interests and lifestyles of graduate students and research assistants. For example, unions typically negotiate the salaries for 40 hour work weeks. We all know that postdocs and graduate students work more than 40 hours weekly. Therefore, any time over 40 hours ought to be overtime pay, or to avoid overtime hourly pay, base salaries have to be set a certain levels (according to Federal salary guidelines ) which are substantially more than what graduate students and postdocs are currently paid. Also, unions negotiate with employers about vacation times, benefits (health and life insurance,401K plans etc) and establish guidelines that protect employees from being abused by employers and create rules that guide whether or not an employee can be fired “for cause” (not simply because your employer does not like you).

As I previously mentioned, research budgets and public unions will likely be under constant attack during the Trump regime.  Because of this, it is time that everyone begins to think about ways in which they can protect their jobs and keep their career aspirations alive. I know it won’t be easy but as someone once said “desperate times require desperate measures” (or something like that).

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Unionizing!!!!!!

Is A PhD Degree Worth It?

Posted in BioEducation

There is no longer any question that it is becoming increasingly difficult for PhD life scientists to find jobs. Further, there is no longer any doubt that the academic system responsible for the current glut of PhD life scientists on the market is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it is important to point out that the decision the get a PhD degree is a very personal one and, in most cases, is not based on the prospect of future long term employment.  In fact, most graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that I have talked to over the past 10 years, don’t think about the need to find a job until they learn that their funding is running out.  The point  is, that just because you have a PhD degree it does not entitle you to a job. Further, looking for a job takes commitment, time and a lot of work and unfortunately some PhD scientists mistakenly  think that the “jobs will/should come to them.”  Put simply, if you aren’t willing to put in the work to find a job, which may mean additional training or a possible career change, then you have nobody to blame but yourself.

In 1974, shortly after I was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received a congratulatory letter from my soon-to-be PhD adviser. In the letter he made a comment about “the blood, sweat and tears” that are required to earn a PhD degree.  At the time, I was a youthful, ambitious 21 year-old, who thought he could do anything and I had no idea what he was talking about!  Seven painful and often tearful years later, I finally understood what he meant by those words; because I had lived them!  I  have no doubt that many who are reading this post have had similar experiences. However, earning your  PhD degree is only the very beginning of your journey. And, like it or not,  the only thing that a PhD guarantees is that others will call you “doctor”and that you can add the letters “PhD” after your name!

For the past several months I have been following a question on a LinkedIn group that asked: “If you had to do it all over again, would you have still chosen to get your PhD degree”. For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES!  And, like the first time, that decision would not have been based on the notion that there would or should be a job waiting for me at the end of my training.  My decision was a personal one based on my “love of microbiology” not the guarantee of future employment.

So,  to those of you who feel like the system has let you down and that you have been abused, I feel your pain but offer the following. If you wanted a guaranteed job at the end of your training than you ought to have considered a career in medicine, nursing, law, engineering, physical therapy, carpentry, plumbing or any other profession where a license is required to practice. These professionals offer a “service” to people and, in exchange for services rendered, they get paid for their efforts.  Like it or not, laboratory research is a not a service or fee-based industry and consequently has minimal short term personal value to people. And, not surprisingly, the demand for PhD life scientists, well trained or not, is not high.

In closing, nobody said getting a PhD degree was going to be easy. And, as somebody once said to me, “if getting a PhD degree was easy, then everybody would have one!”  That said, be proud that you earned your degree; but the hard work has only just begun!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

Live From Shanghai, China: The 1st Sino-British Cell Death and Disease Symposium

Posted in BioEducation

Recent progress in cell death, stem cell biology and cancer research has created a new paradigm of research direction, shifting from pure analytical approaches toward a more translational one with animals and patients. The purpose of The 1st Cell Death and Disease Symposium to be held in Shanghai,China onMay 8-9 2013 is to create a forum for the interaction among scientists from China and other parts of the world. It will also provide a platform for development of collaboration.

This year’s symposium is the 4th installment of a series of Sino-British workshops and symposia on cell death. Presenters include scientists from China, England and Australia. Unlike previous conferences, this one will stream live on the Internet for those who are interested in real time viewing.  Vcasts of the symposium will also be available upon conclusion of the event.  For more information about the conference, presenters and agenda please click here

Live streaming in China is still very much in its formative stage. Therefore, those of you who are interested in paid access to a live video stream for the meeting or paid access to vcasts, please contact me via .  Please indicate in the subject line of the message if you are interested in the live stream or the vcasts.

Please note that registering for the conference online does not grant access to live or archived vcasts. This is a special feature offered by BioInsights, Inc in association with the conference organizers.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

Life Sciences Job Market Outlook: Is the Future Brighter?

Posted in BioEducation, BioJobBuzz

According to a report published in Nature last week, 72% of drug makers surveyed (respondents included company executives and recruiters) intend to boost their research capacity in the next 12 months by hiring scientists, creating partnerships or improving infrastructure.  Further, additional survey results suggested that jobs will grow by 30% among US medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists by 2020.  While I have not read the entire report, it seems to me that asking company executives (responsible for company growth and maintaining stock share price) and recruiters (who make a living finding difficult to find employees for drug companies) may not provide survey readers with  accurate information that one could use for trend analysis.

Nevertheless, despite the rosy proclamations made in the report, there are a few caveats. First, the 30% increase in hiring by 2020 includes mainly medical scientists (clinical personnel), biophysicists (how many biophysicists are there anyway) and biochemists (are there any really left?).  What about all the molecular biologists, bioinformatics and genomics scientists, physiologists, pharmacologists etc etc?

Second and perhaps most revealing, survey respondents noted that the types of scientists that they want to hire are those who 1) “can develop and manage external partnerships” (translation: business development, marketing, brand managers etc); 2) “know about regulatory science”  and 3) “can manage and analyze big data sets and outcomes research.”  I don’t know about you, but I did not learn any of the above mentioned desirable skills while working on my PhD degree.

Finally, one of the report authors opined that early career scientists looking for employment opportunities need to “think about the entire value chain  that leads to the development of a drug or medical device.”  Really?  First, what is a value chain and second who is going to teach graduate students and postdocs how drugs and devices are developed when nobody at their institution knows how to develop drugs and devices since they work in academia and not industry?  Interestingly, I know many pharmaceutical and biotechnology company employees who don’t really understand the complete drug/device development process because things are done in silos at most drug and devices companies.

The point that I am trying to make, is that nobody can predict what the job market for life sciences professionals will be in 2020.  The best advice that I can give is to develop a career plan, remain flexible and have at least two or three contingency in place!

Until next time,

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

 

The “Thing” About Graduate Students and Postdocs

Posted in BioEducation, Uncategorized

During my daily perusal of stuff on LinkedIn, I came upon a promo link to a video report by Dan Rather entitled “PhDon’t!” that was shown on March 5, 2013on Axs.tv.  Not surprisingly, the video promo talks about the surplus of PhD-trained scientists and how fiercely competitive the current life sciences job market is for these talented and well trained individuals. Further, a female scientist in the promo declares that “the life sciences graduate training system is broken and in the long run it will do a great deal of harm to biomedical research in the US.

While you can see a promo of the show on YouTube, you cannot see the entire video unless you fork over $3 to download it from iTunes!  This begs the question: Is it worth spending $3 to hear Dan Rather tell most graduate students and postdocs what they already know?  Nevertheless, I bet that a large number of graduate students and postdocs will pay the download fee anyway. This is because the old adage “misery loves company” is true!  Nobody wants to suffer alone and there is comfort in knowing that many others are suffering just like you!  Although this may make you feel better emotionally, it does little to help to correct or solve the problem.

I agree with the scientist in the promo who said that the “system is broken.”  Everyone already knows that it is broken but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. And, the only folks who are going to be able to change the system are graduate students and postdocs. If you think that university administrators or tenured faculty members are going to fix the system, then you are either delusional or visiting medical marijuana clinics too frequently.

The point I am trying to make is that graduate students and postdocs love to complain about the system but do very little to try and change it.  Sure, every major university now has a graduate student or postdoctoral association and many schools have even formally created Offices of Graduate and Postdoctoral Training. And, there is even a National Postdoctoral Association.  But, what have these organizations done over the past five years to improve the likelihood of finding a job upon completion of your training?  To that point, how many more seminars, conferences, meetings etc are you going to attend to hear about alternate careers, resume writing and job interviewing techniques before you realize that it is not you but the system that must change?

There is no doubt that change can be difficult and extremely risky. But, at this point, what do most life sciences graduate students and postdocs really have to lose?  The choice is simple: continue to complain, feel helpless and accept your plight or come together and fiercely work to change the system (one institution at a time if necessary) to improve the likelihood of employment and a successful scientific career.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting

 

Graduate School vs. Law School Training: Is There Much of A Difference?

Posted in BioEducation

For the past eight years, I have been writing about problems with the current life science graduate training paradigm. Although I knew that these problems were not unique to the life sciences, I was amazed to read an article in today’s NY Times entitled “A Call for Drastic Changes in Educating New Lawyers.”  For example, (in the following quote from the article) if you replace the words “legal academy” with the phrase “life sciences graduate training programs” you will understand my amazement.

“While a few schools are freezing tuition and others are increasing hands-on learning, critics are increasingly saying that the legal academy cannot solve its own problems, partly because of the vested interests of tenured professors tied to an antiquated system. Effective solutions, they insist, will have to be imposed from the outside.”

Another quote from the article is also apt:

“There is almost universal agreement that the current system is broken”

The point that the article is trying to make is that the old legal training paradigm is anachronistic. And for the legal profession to continue to exist (and thrive), educational changes are necessary. While some of you may be thinking, “who cares about lawyers:” do not think that people are not saying “who cares about PhDs.”  Further, those of you who may have experienced legal challenges (for example I was sued for defamation two years ago by a nefarious and odious illicit dog breeder), you know that finding a good lawyer is of paramount importance. Like good lawyers, good PhD-trained scientists are essential to maintain societal homeostasis.

In any event, the article points out that law students, like life sciences graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, are not receiving necessary experiential training that is required to land jobs in today’s highly competitive global job market.  Like the current situation in the life sciences, many tenured law professors have little connection to or understanding of the real world practices of the law (substitution pharmaceutical, biotech and related industries). Consequently, it is impossible for them to train their students and postdocs for industrial jobs despite the best intentions of many of them. Put simply, good science does not always translate into employment!

As I have stated numerous times before, the current life sciences training paradigm is broken. Further, those of you who may be considering law as an alternative career option, please be advised that the “grass may not be greener on the other side of the fence.” To wit, many law school graduates are unemployed and saddled with enormous loan debt.  However, that said, there is a growing need for intellectual property and patent law attorneys. But, before you decide to go down that career path, I highly recommend that you read a few patents (if you can get through them without falling asleep then patent law may be for you) and talk with patent attorneys about their experiences.  It is always best to know what you are getting yourself into before taking your next career step!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!

Optimizing a LinkedIn Profile to Land a Job

Posted in BioEducation

Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and niche career development communities like BioCrowd are being used to identify job candidates by hiring managers, employers and professional recruiters. For those of you who may not have been paying attention, LinkedIn is the largest professional social networking site on the web today. Most companies allow their employees to post profiles on LinkedIn and many do not block access to the site during working hours. Like it or not, this means that if you are looking for a job you would be a fool not to have a complete and up-to-date profile on LinkedIn!

However, while you may think that your LinkedIn profile is sufficient to help a recruiter or hiring manager find you among the other 129 million or so LinkedIn members, it probably is not. This is because, in order to be found, your LinkedIn profile (much like your CV/resume) must contain key words that identify you as a person who possesses the right qualifications and skill sets after the hiring manager or recruiter searches the LinkedIn database using those words! This begs the question: what are the keywords to use in my LinkedIn profile so that I can be found?

The best way to identify keywords is to read as many job posting as you can with titles similar to the ones that you are interested in landing. Typically, they can be found in the qualifications and skills set requirements displayed in the ad. Many times these may be buzz words or jargon unique to your field of study. The point here is to identify the key words and then to artfully and judiciously incorporate them into your LinkedIn profile. But, most BioJobBlog readers will ask (because you are scientists) how do I know if the keywords I chose are the correct ones?

Ian Levine, who runs CareerBrander.com, offers a clever test (described below):

  1. Go to the peoples tab @ LinkedIn and hit advanced search.
  2. Now enter a keyword or keywords associated with your targeted position. Ex: regulatory affairs
  3. Now enter a geography zip code and a distance quotient.
  4. Then select an industry or multiple industries that apply to you. (Understand the broader you make your search the lower your ranking will be).
  5. Hit search. Can you find yourself in the first few pages of the LinkedIn results?

If your name appears at or near the top of the search page results (with the words that were used in the search highlighted) then your LinkedIn profile is optimized and you will likely be found. If your name is not near the top (or on the list) then you have some work to do. Not surprisingly, one way to optimize your profile is to visit the profiles of those whose names do appear on the top of the search list for the type of job that you want!

While it may take some time to fully optimize your LinkedIn profile, it will be time well spent! At present, over 80 percent of hiring managers and close to 100% of recruiters use social media platforms at some point in the hiring process.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!