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Friday, September 15, 2006

Help Wanted

A lot of laboratory jobs that are offered require you to perform things that haven't been succesfully performed on a regular basis within the business. They want the technician to do what the PhD population has yet to clearly define. For example:

The successful candidate will function as part of an interdisciplinary team to characterize and validate proteins and monoclonal antibodies for the XXXXX pipeline.

What does "characterize and validate" mean? It probably means that you will have to go into the laboratory and provide charts and graphs that demonstrate that a protein or antibody interacts with the molecules that they are suppose to and that it results in certain endpoints. So what the company is asking you to do is to come in and close the deal. They've come up with some proteins that they have managed to build a company around or at least an R&D program. You'd think they would have characterized and validated these before they sold someone on investing on it. Let's see how they interpret characterize and validate.

Strong experience with development and implementation of a variety of mammalian cell based assays such as proliferation, soft agar and apoptosis is required.

They have already determined that the proteins will be affecting cell proliferation. That's why they want you to run these assays. But how many times will you need to do it? If they have developed the proteins shouldn't the assays also be developed? The only help they need is someone who knows how to operate a pipette. Apoptosis assays can be purchased. What experience do you need other than the ability to run new assays as they go on the market?

Extensive experience with mammalian cell culture, transfections, use of retroviruses, gene knock down tools and basic protein analysis required.

Okay, if you've got cell based assay experience, you've done some cell culture. Transfections are not rocket science. Retroviruses? Gene knock down tool probably means siRNA. Basic protein analysis is as difficult as any of the other assays. Again, they need only a person who has used a pipette before.

Experience with monoclonal antibody characterization using cell biology tools and use of fluorescence microscope strongly preferred.

How does experience with monoclonal antibody characterization differ from basic protein analysis? Does this differ from the other requirements such as mammalian cell culture and apoptosis assays? One would assume that the monoclonal antibody binds to a known target and it has been well characterized. What this company wants is someone who will come in and produce all of the charts and graphs necessary to make thier antibody drugs work. The problem is that it is up to the antibodies to do the work. The assays and other techniques should already be known. All the company needs is a lab tech. Train the tech on the specific assays and wait for the data to come. But here is the problem. They don't know what the charts and graphs will look like. They don't know the form of the evidence that will make their antibody drug a success. They want a 40 thousand dollar a year science geek, without a PhD to come in and close the deal with nature.

Corporate scientists do not design experiments. They hire lab techs and vaguely direct the research by insisting on certain assays and other methods. What you will not find is a chart that needs to be filled in. For example, if I wanted someone to run a "basic protein analysis" BCA to determine a protein concentration I would require the protocol be followed exactly, duplicate standards and various dilutions of the unknown to ensure that one of the values falls within the linear range of the standards. I would not have to ask if the standards were prepared in duplicate or just ran in duplicate because I would be designing the experiment that I am asking someone else to run. Biotech companies do not design experiments in this manner. They design job descriptions and sit back and wait for the technician to do everything else for them.

Pipelines thoughout the business are empty. They may have some spiders and rats creeping around in the rusty water of the pipes but they are not pumping out what they were meant to pump out. Useful drugs require experimental design. This does not mean designing a job description.

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