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Professionals Find a ‘Primer' on the Life Sciences Industry

Sun, 02/06/2011 - 10:33pm
San Diego Business Journal

Karin Lucas enjoys seeing the eyes of her students light up.

The San Diego classroom she leads meets only for one day each year, but the knowledge she imparts could make a difference for business professionals working and investing in San Diegos life sciences industry.

"Everyone gets an automatic ‘A, " said Lucas, with a laugh, referring to "Industry Knowledge for the Non-Scientist," a class she teaches under the auspices of the Biocom Institute, a nonprofit educational organization which is affiliated with Biocom, San Diegos largest trade association of life sciences companies.

Some of her students have confessed to flunking high school science, and, being new to biotech, they say that they often struggle to understand what scientists are discussing. In addition to business professionals stumped by scientific terms and processes, investors often find it challenging to entirely make sense of companies theyre interested in backing, said Lucas, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from UC San Diego.

As a scientist at Biogen Idec, she develops protein pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis. Previously, Lucas was a scientist and project director at Cardinal Health Inc., where she worked on the development of more than 25 products with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

"Science is almost like a foreign language to some people," said Lucas, whose mom was a schoolteacher, and who tutored fellow students when she was in graduate school. "The best thing I can do is enable students to go back to work and ask intelligent questions," she said.

Lectures and Discussions

Lucas said the class begins with an overview about the differences between the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and how the two have merged. She also introduces students to some general science background, such as DNA, proteins, cell function and genomics. The class wraps up with a discussion about drug discovery and development.

"Its very interactive and students love to ask questions," said Lucas. She, herself, always learns something new from students who come from diverse backgrounds. "Its fun and never boring," Lucas said.

Her teaching gigs have taken her to about 100 classrooms worldwide, including a two-hour presentation about biotech to a parliamentary group on the island of Borneo. Closer to home, she began teaching the class about seven years ago. Lucas boss is contracted educational provider Biotech Primer Inc., a Towson, Maryland-based company that provides products and services to help educate both the nonscience professional in the basics of biotech and the researcher in basic laboratory techniques and troubleshooting.

"There is strong demand for a class like this," said Kristie Grover, executive director of the Biocom Institute.

"But its more than just business people gaining vocabulary skills," Grover said. She said Lucas provides a context on why the life sciences industry is important to the San Diego economy, and they discuss the role played by universities, institutes and investors.

"If you cant fully understand the fundamentals of what scientists and researchers are doing, you cant evaluate whether its a good technology with a possible market value or worthy of venture capital," she said.

Resource for Vendors

For vendors wanting to gain knowledge about the life sciences industry, the class also serves a purpose.

Jon Kern, a senior account sales manager for El Cajon-based Phillips Plastics Corp., took the class last year. He is looking to expand his companys role in the medical device and pharmaceutical arenas and was looking for a better perspective of his customers needs. Phillips does custom injection molding for a number of local companies.

From a business perspective, "what the class did was give me a basic level of understanding to go out and credibly talk about programs and products with potential customers," said Kern. He also enjoyed the networking opportunities.

The Feb. 15 program is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Biocom office, which is located at 4510 Executive Drive, Plaza One, in San Diego. The fee is $500 for Biocom members; $545 for nonmembers. A reference guide with all the slides presented in the class, background scientific information, statistics and a glossary of terms are provided.

The class usually reaches capacity.

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