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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Biotech Inc.

I took my latest lab tour after a 2 hour interview for a 5 week temp job. It was a small space with all of the usual things. Hoods, gel apparatus's, incubators, shakers, PCR machines... It was merely a satellite branch of Biotech Inc. Sometimes I think biotech is all one big secret corporation (Biotech Inc.) whose mission is to collect money from gamblers (biotech investors). Each branch has a twist to the usual story. They cure disease with big brain ideas that no one really understands. The idea needs money to work. In reality, Biotech Inc. needs money. Invitrogen, GE Healthcare, BioRad, Pall, Millipore and companies like these have made a fortune off selling to Biotech Inc. As a result each lab looks the same. The tour I took yesterday was short. I'd seen it all before.

Rumor has it that this particular company is looking to sell itself off for a quick profit for investors. I was interviewing for a 5 week job at the bottom, once again. I was informed of the temporary status of the job half way through the interview. During the lab tour I knew I was looking at an entire group of temps. They had more benefits and longer contracts than an admitted temp, but they didn't have long to go. The company is looking to be sold. If they can't pull it off they will shut it down. Either way, the laboratory staff had short futures with a small company.

Big Pharma has tired of wasting their time and energy trying to develop drugs. Big Pharma has made the claim that the small biotechs will become their feeding ground. They will let the innovation take place on someone elses dime and snatch up the winners. The Biotech Inc. lab space that previously had taken up real estate in Pfizer and Merck is fading away. The Biotech Inc. space moved to small dangerously desperate companies. Like a dishonest post-doc who needs data to fall in his/her favor in order to advance his/her career, the desperate small biotech gets the kind of results that go over well in a meeting. Easily understandable stories that put dollar signs in wealthy peoples eyes are what people want.

A fair amount of money had to be spent on the company work space. Besides the Biotech Inc. lab, there was a nice reception/office/cubicle space. All of the colors matched on the carpet, walls and tile. It was a nice theme. The management comes from The University. They have higher degrees in science than the lab staff so they get to spend some time developing color schemes and picking out carpet. This job could not be done by people earning the same as the lab staff. The difference in salary is an indication in importance of daily work. Although The University tends to teach things that would be most useful in the lab, the money from the investment pool can be used to hire the best biotech architects and interior design experts. In the end it looks as though the high ranking members of Biotech Inc. have really done a good job. You can look at the end result.

The end result of the laboratory work is a different story. The laboratory looks the same before and after major accomplishments. Each worker has the same white lab coat supplied by the same white lab coat company. Their Invitrogen DNA preparation kits look the same stacked up in their Thermo 4 degree refrigerator. Their Eppendorf pipettes look the same. The chemical cabinet, the hood, the tips, the gel boxes all look the same. But these tools of the trade are powerful when used properly. The laboratory staff can create molecules. They can alter a molecules shape, size and chemistry. But ultimately, it is the decisions of those who pick out the carpet and wall colors who decide what to do with the products created in the laboratory.

Biotech Inc. is not just a collection of Cargo Cults. There are many useful people in the corporation. You have to break it down to components and people are the indivisible component that separates the Cults from the companies.

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