Discovery, ho!

American Society for Cell Biology forges path to more strongly connect basic sciences and drug discovery

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SAN FRANCISCO—It's been a toughtime for pharmaceutical and biotech companies and their pipelines inrecent years. Patent cliffs, stiff generic competition, post-approvalpatient safety failures, high costs of research and development andmore have all combined to dry up some pipelines and make the pace ofprogress sluggish at times in terms of new therapeutic options.
As we've seen over the years, oneanswer for the pharma and biotech industries has been to turn toacademia and research institutes and sometimes forge novelpartnership models with them to help inject new energy, new ideas andnew targets and compound leads into the mix.

The American Society for Cell Biology(ASCB) has seen this, too, and will be addressing that dynamic in thesociety's 2012 annual meeting, to be held Dec. 15-19 at the MosconeCenter in San Francisco.

The ASCB is primarily a basic sciencegroup, focused on mechanisms of cell function and molecularinteractions and mechanisms, notes ASCB President Dr. Ron Vale, "butwith the annual society meeting, we're trying to really reach outin two directions to make our society and members more aware ofconnections between early-stage basic science and connections to drugdiscovery pathways."

In the world of drug discovery, henotes, there is an increasing need for biotechs and pharmas to beconnected with developments in the academic world.

"In particular these days, investmentin early-stage basic sciences is becoming more restricted in biotechand pharma as companies are looking at things that are a bit morecertain or tangible in terms of their investment of time and money,"Vale says. "In terms of the industry side, I think the kind ofresearch and work going on in our community is becoming increasinglyrelevant and important for looking at opportunities for new targets,understanding of existing pathways for drugs and development of drugscurrently in the pipelines."

Of course, the other issue aside fromrecognizing the need to get basic scientists and discoveryresearchers together is the issue of how to achieve that, Valeacknowledges. So, one thing ASCB is doing in this annual meeting isto create a sort of "meeting within the meeting"—a themed trackthat ASCB refers to as a "thread"—with a special emphasis ontopics related to cell biology and medicine.

"This is the first year we'retrying a thread on cell biology and medicine," says Vale, notingthat the intersection of cell biology and drug discovery was a keyconsideration in creating that thread. "We're really trying toidentify that theme as a meeting within a meeting so that someonefrom biotech or pharma could come into the meeting and see a clearseries of events related to the theme, feel they're getting usefulinformation from it and follow it throughout the meeting."

That theme will be strong from the verystart of the annual meeting at the keynote symposium, Vale notes, andwill trickle down through much of the programming and into even thesmaller and more intimate discussion-style activities during theevent.

"We'll be setting the tone andgetting things started off with a keynote by Art Levinson, who camefrom a basic science chemistry background but has been leadingGenentech for many years in various ways," Vale shares. "He willaddress issues that are both interesting and relevant to what we'retrying to do in getting these cultures of basic science and drugdiscovery to talk together more."

Vale's opinion is that ASCB as asociety—as well as its annual meeting—could be a fruitful meetingground to facilitate direct interaction between the people inacademia and industry who need to be more connected for the sake ofboth basic science and pharmaceutical development.

"This thread for the annual meetingin 2012 is not a one-off kind of thing. We're committed to thisthread—this theme—for next year at the annual meeting in NewOrleans—and, we hope, well into the future as well," Vale says."This is an area we're deeply committed to, and not just a thingwe're trying out to add something new. It's because we reallybelieve that this connection between basic science and discovery isdeeply important both for academia and industry and to the nature ofthe science that goes on at the ASCB meeting. Our deep connection tocellular mechanisms is poised well at the interface of basic scienceand the needs of drug discovery going forward."

Aside from Arthur Levinson'scontribution at the keynote presentation—which also will featureU.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu as a keynoter—the symposia,mini-symposia and other presentations that comprise the cell biologyand medicine thread will address the interplay between basic scienceand discovery with such topics as reproducibility of data and dataverification, cell biology and neurodegeneration, infectious disease,stem cells, protein folding mechanisms and more.

"We'll also have discussion tableswhere we'll have people in biotech talking in very informalsettings mostly to the academic community so that people from ourcommunity can better understand what it's like to work in theindustry and hopefully foster not just understanding but informcareer decisions for some of our members and students in the field,"Vale notes.
There is also a second "meetingwithin the meeting" thread, which is composed of presentations thatcover the intersection between the physical sciences and cellbiology. In some cases, presentations will straddle both threads.

ASCB is also offering presentations itis calling "tutorials" that will be held before themini-symposia. According to Vale, these tutorials are more focused onniche talks and will provide a big-picture view of what all themini-symposia are about.

"The idea is for students and peoplefrom biotech and pharma who aren't as familiar with the cellbiology science have an interactive forum and also be able to stepback and get an overall view of what the mini-symposia talks will beabout. That's new this year," he says. "In addition, we'retrying to make some of the symposia 'frontier symposia' so thatthe speakers for them can not only present the work they've done,but also share where they see the field going in the future. Thereare interesting problems, challenges and opportunities to be shared,especially for young scientists and giving them ideas for the pathsahead of them."


Sequestration is coming

BETHESDA, Md.—The American Societyfor Cell Biology (ASCB) reminds its members and others that"sequestration is right around the corner" and offers the viewthat its arrival "will have devastating effects" on the U.S.National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. AsASCB notes, during summer 2011, legislation passed by the U.S.Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama to resolve thefederal debt limit crisis included the creation of a "supercommittee" to identify at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to federalspending over 10 years. Because that committee could not reach anagreement, a provision of the legislation is set to kick in Jan. 2,2013, that will mandate $1.2 trillion in cuts across all portions ofthe federal budget, except veterans' programs. Given thatsequestration is a law, the ASCB says, "Now the debate inWashington, D.C., is focused on ways to stop it, delay it or reducethe impact. Congress needs to hear from you about what these cutswill do to your research," the organization urges, encouragingpeople to begin by visiting the

Keeping it local

BETHESDA, Md.—ASCB reports that in2013, it will again fund young scientists to organize one-day localmeetings. Such meetings must involve two or more institutions (withinthe United States or international ones), and topics can range frombasic science to career development, "as long as there is clearrelevance to the broadly defined field of cell biology." Applicantsalready must be members of the ASCB or must become members to beconsidered. Describing the application process as "simple," thesociety says applicants must provide CVs of all organizers, adescription of the meeting and sessions and a proposed budget of upto $1,500. "A larger budget that is suitably justified may beawarded in exceptional cases," ASCB notes, "depending on theavailability of funds." The next application deadline for localmeetings is April 1, 2013. Meetings may be held anytime within oneyear of funding approval.

We Are Research 2012

BETHESDA, Md.—During the first weekof October, ASCB members and others across the United States tooktime to participate in the ASCB's We Are Research campaign. Someposted pictures of the members of their lab to put a face on science,the society notes, while others made two-minute videos explainingtheir research. Some advocates sent letters to their representativesexplaining the importance of federally funded basic research, ASCBadds, while one group has invited an experienced science advocate tospeak to its postdoc association. "Like research, science advocacyis a year-round job," ASCB notes. "Like research, advocacy cantake place across the United States, not just in Washington, D.C. Butunlike research, advocacy takes only as much time as you have togive."


Overview: ASCB annual meeting 2012

The ASCB annual meeting is intended forscientists and students in academia, industry, government and highereducation. More than 100 scientific sessions and 3,000 posterpresentations are planned so as to cover a variety of scientificareas within the discipline and appeal to the diverse interests ofthe international cell biology community.

Some meeting highlights:
  • Keynote symposium by U.S.Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Arthur D. Levinson, chair ofGenentech Inc. and Apple Inc.
  • Two threads(meetings-within-the-meeting): "Cell Biology and Medicine" and"Cell Biology and the Physical Sciences"
  • Frontier symposia will synthesizecurrent, exciting progress in the field
  • Science discussion tables—interactwith senior scientists in an intimate setting
  • Posters, mentorship, networking,career development and education programs

ASCB mission statement

The American Society for CellBiology is an inclusive, international community of biologistsstudying the cell, the fundamental unit of life. We are dedicated toadvancing scientific discovery, advocating sound research policies,improving education, promoting professional development andincreasing diversity in the scientific workforce.

Upcoming ASCB annual meetings

2013 Annual Meeting
Dec 14-18, 2013
New Orleans

2014 Annual Meeting
Dec. 6-10, 2014

2015 Annual Meeting
Dec 12-16, 2015
San Diego

On the air

The ASCB has formed a partnership withthe global television production company WebsEdge to launch a newprogram called ASCB TV at the 2012 annual meeting in San Francisco,in an effort "to raise the visibility of the field of cell biology,as well as to highlight collaborations between diverse institutionsincluding research institutions, universities and private-sectororganizations, as well as governmental bodies at all levels."

Each daily program will have twofeatures: "Thought Leadership" and "Conference News." ThoughtLeadership pieces will be five-minute sponsored film segmentshighlighting programs, case studies and best practices from thefield, the society says, while Conference News is a daily program ofconference highlights, featuring behind-the-scenes interviews,coverage of conference events and reactions to the day from attendingdelegates.

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