There was a time when graduate students entering life science PhD programs set their career goals on an academic research position at a university, a view consistent with the most common advice from mentors and advisors. However, over the past 20 years or so, the number of such jobs has fallen far short of newly minted PhD’s. A recent article in Science reported that the number of new PhD’s entering the private sector was equal to those entering academia for the first time last year. Meanwhile the number of tenure track positions held by PhD’s dropped 10% since 1997 to 23%. All of this leaves mentors pondering what advice to give to new students regarding their most likely career choices as well as what is the proper number of students to accept into PhD programs given these career realities.
My experience starting Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals in 2014, after a long career in academic research, has shown me that another increasingly attractive career choice, for both new and old PhD’s, is to take an entrepreneurial approach to scientific research. While this necessitates focusing on research leading directly to commercially viable products, it is just as rewarding in terms of contributing to overall human health as the more abstract biomedical research found in academia. And, as an added bonus, it is increases the probability that research discoveries become new treatments for patients since it facilitates transfer of academic research discoveries into commercially viable therapeutic opportunities.
To advance this idea, the Endocrine Society, at my urging, held a discussion event at their 2018 annual meeting that was attended by more than thirty members, whose interests included promoting an “entrepreneurial” track and programming at the annual meeting, with the goal of helping members achieve their entrepreneurial goals. This interest led Endo to hold a symposium at the 2019 meeting in March in which three entrepreneurs at different stages of development described their experience, including my experience with Fairbanks. This presentation described how one might get started by using financing from the SBIR program at NIH.
This success has led to suggestions that the Endocrine Society test new programming at next year’s meeting in San Francisco focused specifically on entrepreneurs. Potential ideas have included a pitch competition (similar to ABC’s “Shark Tank”), a networking session with potential partners inside and outside of pharma, SBIR grant proposal training, and practicing how to speak with potential investors. Stay tuned or check with ENDO2020 in the fall of 2019 to see what programming is actually planned, and if your research is in an endocrine field, apply to participate in the competition. If this new programming is successful it might foster other professional societies to help their members enter this career track.
I founded Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals to develop potential novel diabetes therapies based on my National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research over a period of 35 years. Fairbanks is currently funded by a Phase II SBIR grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases (NIDDK) at NIH.
NIH is the most important agency of the federal government dedicated to funding biomedical research that leads to better health for Americans. Since this research is often lengthy and labor intensive, consistent funding that keeps up with inflation is essential for a vibrant research effort that maximizes the benefit of NIH-funded research.
On March 5th, 2019, I joined two other Massachusetts-based biomedical researchers to visit our congressional representatives as part of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)’s Capitol Hill Day to discuss how critical this funding is for health.
We first met with staff from Representatives Joe Kennedy and Katherine Clark, who were already familiar with, and big supporters of both the NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF). In our meetings we discussed funding increases for NIH and NSF and the specific opportunities and needs based on FASEB analysis.
We also visited the office of Representative Lori Trahan, whose district includes Concord, MA, where Fairbanks is located. Meeting with her staff members we explained our request that Representative Trahan support the recommended budget increases for NIH and NSF. I mentioned that our SBIR grant has helped us create three jobs in Massachusetts while allowing us to further evaluate our diabetes therapy. We were assured of strong support from the entire Massachusetts House delegation.
Our final visits were with staff from the offices of Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.. At each office we found the same unwavering support for biomedical and basic science research funded by both NIH and NSF. We were impressed by and appreciative of the expertise on biomedical topics and specifically diseases like diabetes displayed by the staff we met. They were also sympathetic to the need for the continued level support necessary to attract the next generation of scientists into research as well as to continue progress on longer term research efforts.
The opportunity to speak with the Massachusetts delegation about the benefits of biomedical research was both enjoyable and productive. I look forward to continuing this discussion in the home districts over the coming year.
With a Phase II SBIR award in hand, Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals CEO Alan Schneyer and team are moving quickly to execute the project plan and achieve the goals of the grant. At a kickoff meeting at the Baystate Research Facility in Springfield, MA, Fairbanks team members worked on planning activities and enjoyed a celebratory lunch that was joined by their scientific and technical colleagues working in the BRF.
The SBIR grant, entitled “Development Of Novel Diabetes Therapies Based On Neutralizing FSTL3 Activity”, provides a total of $1.8M in funding for two years of research. The immediate focus of this research is to test the lead compound in animal models of diabetes for safety and effectiveness. The remaining goals are to identify the mechanism(s) involved in its beneficial effects and engineering the compound to be a more effective therapeutic in humans.
Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has been awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $1.83M from the National Institutes of Health.The Phase II SBIR is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.
Fairbanks was awarded the SBIR grant for its proposal “Development Of Novel Diabetes Therapies Based On Neutralizing FSTL3 Activity” following up from the demonstration of feasibility duringits Phase I SBIR grant awarded in 2016. The Phase II award started in June 2018 and will run for two years.During this time Fairbanks will test its lead antibody in vitro and in two mouse models of diabetes for efficacy in treating diabetes.Another arm of the study will analyze whether this antibody treatment induces regeneration of beta cells through transdifferentiation from alpha cells.
It is anticipated that Fairbanks will be in a position to begin human testing around 2020.With preliminary results obtained as a result of pursuing SBIR funding, Fairbanks is currently in discussion with potential partners to help develop this therapy for human use.
The Endocrine Society held its Annual Meeting in Chicago March 17-20th, 2018. A major focus of endocrinology involves metabolism and diabetes and Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals CEO Alan Schneyer presented the progress achieved by Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals in developing a new diabetes therapy in a poster on Monday March 19th.
In the poster he described the scientific basis for the therapeutic strategy of neutralizing FSTL3, development of antibodies that can achieve this goal, and initial testing showing promise on diabetic mouse islets.
In recognition of its strength and uniqueness, the poster was selected for a new activity where top posters are presented orally to an assembled group of scientists during the poster session. The response to this therapeutic was positive and encouraging and we look forward to continuing the development program with in vivo studies in the near future.
As an SBIR awardee, Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals receives assistance with corporate and product development provided by National Institutes of Health. As part of this NIH-funded assistance, Foresight Science & Technology has produced an independent technology niche analysis of Fairbanks.
The service includes a market analysis. Foresight estimates that the global market for diabetes treatment is currently over $30 billion and it is expected to exceed $50 billion in the US alone by 2025. Their report said this could drive revenues of over $3.8 billion within five years.
To evaluate Fairbanks’ technology, Foresight contacted a number of clinical and research experts involved with both type 1 and 2 diabetes, including Dr. Alvin Powers, Dr. Thomas Blevins of Texas Diabetes and Endocrinology and Dr. Phil Zeitler of the Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
As summarized in the report, these experts thought that
“that there is absolutely a need for a treatment for beta cell regeneration. It would have wide spread utility.”
“there is definitely a need for a product that will lead to beta cell regeneration and natural insulin production.”
“it could be very important” because “the problem with current products on the market are only partially successful. They do not really get at the pathophysiology.”
These comments from the Foresight report indicate that Fairbanks’ technology will be a novel and effective treatment and potential cure for both type 1 and 2 diabetes. Moreover there is likely to be both patient and doctor acceptance of this new treatment that would reduce or prevent much of the long-term morbidity that consumes so many health care dollars.
Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals was selected as a finalist to compete in the RESI Boston 2017 Innovation Challenge. On September 26, Fairbanks Co-Founder and CEO Alan Schneyer presented a poster at RESI, met with potential investors and funding agencies, and networked with angel investors.
The response so far has been very encouraging and has led to a number of follow up conversations.
1. Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals was a runner-up in the MilliporeSigma Golden Ticket competition and received an in-kind award from MilliporeSigma. We thank the judges and organizers and look forward to more competitions this year.
2. Fairbanks was selected to participate in the Innovation Challenge at RESI Boston by judges at Life Science Nation. We will be presenting a poster and meeting with potential investors at the meeting in Boston on September 26th. We look forward to the opportunity to meet investors and Pharma representatives and describe our therapeutic development plan and progress.