BioScience is not about the Science

VC G. Steven Burrill opened the second day of the 5th annual Bioscience Conference at Worthington Friday with a presentation on trends in Life Sciences industries.  He covered some big broad ideas:

  • Human healthcare from innovation to delivery
  • Nutraceuticals/wellness
  • Agbio/food
  • Industrial/energy
  • Bio-cleantech
  • Enabling Tech, including nanotechnology

Excellent coverage on the front page of the Worthington Daily Globe continued in this morning’s edition:

Burrill sees significant innovation within 10 years

[Steve] Burrill, a California-based venture capitalist whose company has nearly $1 billion under management, has been involved in the biosciences for 40 years — and was introduced Friday morning as “one of the original architects of the industry.”  he used a bulk of his nearly 80-minute presentation to describe what he calls a “sea change” in the biosciences.

“Worthington, and this part of the world, is not as isolated as you might think when it comes to value opportunity,” Burrill said. “This is a sea change that’s historic in the world … it will be more pervasive than the Depression was. … But we will come out of this a stronger country and a stronger industry.”

If I had a nickel for every pundit predicting “sea change” I could fill an aquarium.  Even though that’s the name of his $450 book, Mr. G. Steven Burrill seems to put his money where his mouth is, which is why I got up at 6am for a commute to hear him speak.  I even took notes.  The Daily Globe reporter took better notes.  Maybe Ryan had more coffee than I did Friday morning.

Burrill acknowledged “the economy is pretty messy, and it’s only going to get messier,” adding that “to some extent, capitalism has failed, if only temporarily.” He sees the economic downturn as lasting three to five years.

“The important thing to take from my speech is not where we are now, but where we’re going to be,” he said.

Yes, Burrill did say that he thinks capitalism has failed, along with other nice fluffy Obamaisms.  Seems like he’s done pretty well with it.  Suppose I expect some such double-talk from the Left Coast.  Actually, most of the morning speakers after him were left-of-center to extreme environmental evangelists, which is why I left early.  Anyway, other than his pimping for BHO & Nancy Pelosi, he made some good points.

Government organizations around the world, whether they have to do with patents or regulations, are barriers to the market, Burrill added, but the biggest spark for new businesses and innovation comes through capital.

Here Burrill comes back to his midwestern roots.  Many regulators, as well as existing life science practitioners, are primarily interested in preventing—avoiding risk.  Successful investors are the opposite, primarily interested in potential—seeking sensible risk. 

Changes to global financial systems have fundamentally changed the risk-reward system, in many ways he points out are unfavorable to innovation.  The largest pharmaceuticals companies have lost ~20% of their market capital over the last five years and the IPO market for biotechnology has evaporated.  Gotta work through that and it’s going to take awhile.

In examining the current marketplace, Burrill said technologies, an aging population, governments and policy makers, and economic imperatives are economic drivers. He also predicted a radical shift in how health care is delivered as a result of some of those conditions.

I don’t buy the Canadian-style single-payer healthcare system, yet I’ve become increasingly frustrated with what we do have here, so my ears perked up for this bit.  Burrill noted that what we call “healthcare” is really Sickcare—like we have for thousands of years, we go see somebody only when we get sick.  The future of health care is a Wellness Care, he says, a patient-centered delivery system:

  • Entry into the system at a Doc-in-a-Box consumer distribution center using genetic screening and intelligent diagnostic systems, staffed by nurse practitioners.
  • Specialized delivery will have Doctors concentrating on long-term risk assessment
  • Home diagnostics/monitoring systems will give constant feedback to maintain wellness

I was glad to see Burrill point out the disconnect between 3rd party payers, service providers and consumers.  I also had no idea there was such a large failure rate for many medicines.  He sees big new markets emerging to treat Alzheimer’s/memory loss, obesity/diabetes/metabolic disease, anti-aging, antibiotics to counter antibiotic resistence, and prevenative medicine.

Still, I’m not sure technological systems are going to change that much that soon.  I’m just not keen about having my genetic records stuck on a chip or some laptop that any hacker can get into as easy as my Paypal account.  There’s some trust issues there that Burrill and a state legislator dismissed flippantly in Q&A afterward.  I may blog my life away, but I am concerned with personal privacy and keeping Big Brother where he/she doesn’t belong.


In shifting today’s healthcare system into what he deemed a wellness care system, the biopharmaceutical industry will be re-invented, he added. Countries such as China, India and Brazil will likely be leading the way, but places such as Worthington shouldn’t see themselves as isolated in any way.

“We’re global from day one. … It used to be that globality happened when you got to a certain scale, but that’s not the case any longer,” he said.

About this point in the presentation, I think Burrill realized he was going to be running over his allotted hour (he should have been allotted more time).  I hope this point came through.  When I was working economic development directly, I always emphasised with entrepreneurs the importance of a well-crafted business plan.  You start simple with clear objectives and build you business over time.  Today, you can’t necessarily do that.  Disease knows no borders and markets don’t create themselves.  Entrepreneurs must be thinking about competing globally from the word Go.

For me, Burrill’s most relevant point for this audience came near the end.  I’ll summarize:

When we look at the link between human health and agbio systems: 
It’s not about the science, it’s about the political, social, economic and environmental issues

We have the technology for the most part.  We have the science and the scientists.  It’s up to us to create the political, social, economic and environmental community where entrepreneurs can bring the science and technology to life.

It took me longer to write this up than for him to give the presentation, so thanks for sticking with me to the end.  You can see an interview with Mr. Burrill about many of the same ideas on the Burrill & Company website here.  Think he’s even wearing the same pink tie.

(Cross-posted to

Linking Ag and Human Health Bioscience

Interesting first day of the 5th annual Bioscience Conference at Worthington Thursday.  Dale Wahlstrom of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota opened the session, discussing the Alliance’s vision for the Life Sciencs industry in Minnesota, developed with Deloitte Consulting.  The vision focuses on five general industries in Minnesota:

  • Medical Devices
  • Biologics/Biopharma
  • Animal Health
  • Food
  • Renewable Energy

This year’s Bioscience Conference highlighted Animal Health and Renewable Energy.  There was great coverage on the front page of the local daily newspaper of the afternoon sessions on animal health:

Use of antibiotics in livestock debated at Bioscience Conference

WORTHINGTON — Scrutiny over antibiotic use in the livestock industry continues to make headlines across the United States and around the world, making it a timely topic at the 2009 Bioscience Conference Thursday afternoon in Worthington.

 The animal health track at the conference gave visitors five perspectives on the use of antibiotics, from the impact it has on animals and humans, to food safety and the environment….

A couple of the presenters spoke of the time and money it takes to get an antibiotic approved for use in the livestock industry. Often, a decade or more of research is needed and tens of millions of dollars are spent before an antibiotic ends up on the market….

Worthington (MN) Daily Globe 3 April 2009

Couple of interesting points here regarding opportunities and challenges.  I’ve worked with a number of counties on local water management planning, and the issue of nutrient management always comes up.  Satish Gupta, professor of soil, water and climate at UMN, has conducted research at Lamberton Ag Experiment station in Southwest Minnesota.  The Globe reports:

Increased concentration of soil-applied manure…shows an increased uptake of antibiotics by the plants. Gupta said while antibiotic levels in plants appears minimal, there are some implications on organic vegetable growers who use manure as fertilizer.

In addition to the concerns of antibiotic levels in plants, Gupta said producers will need to be mindful of applying manure on erodible soils.

“If you have erosion of the soil, you’re going to want to control it because the soil can be carrying antibiotics,” he said.

Dr. Robert Elde, Dean of the UMN College of Biological Sciences finished up the first day with details of projects supported by the U’s Initiative for Renewable Energy & the Environment

I attended the second track on renewable energy, with sessions on wind & solar power, ethanol & biodiesel, and future biomass feedstocks.  Today the conference wrap-up aimed to bring the two tracks together.  More on that later.

(Cross-posted at

Bioscience Conference

 bioscience 09 logo

Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation‘s 5th annual bio-sciences conference will be held 2-3 April, 2009, on the Minnesota West campus. Worthington, Minnesota, is home to a number of firms working in animal health and bio-sciences. This year, Southwest Regional Development Commission, is a co-sponsor of the conference as well.

On Thursday, the conference features 2 tracks on Renewable Energy—wind & solar, bio-fuel, bio-mass feed stocks—and Animal Health (impacts of antibiotics on livestock production). Sessions will feature speakers from the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, universities, energy developers, veterinarians, and others involved and interested in the industry.

The keynote speaker Friday morning is G. Steven Burrill, CEO of San Francisco, CA, based life sciences firm Burill & Company. The conference will close with a speech by Minnesota’s Will Steger, Arctic Explorer and global warming advocate, after presentations by the Worthington Middle School Science Club.


(cross-posted from new blog site for )

Rural Broadband At A Glance, 2009 Edition

Household Broadband Use By Income 2007

USDA today issued a short Bulletin looking at rural internet usage:

Three-quarters of U.S. residents used the Internet to access information, education, and services in 2007. Broadband Internet access is becoming essential for both businesses and households; many compare its evolution to other technologies now considered common necessities—such as cars, electricity, televisions, microwave ovens, and cell phones. Although rural residents enjoy widespread access to the Internet, they are less likely to have high-speed, or broadband, Internet access than their urban counterparts. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the difference in access may lie in the higher cost and limited availability of broadband Internet in rural areas. As a result, rural residents depend more on Internet use outside of the home, in places like the library, school, and work, where broadband Internet access is available.

This is a well-written little document that might be a good handout for local elected officials and economic development boards.  It presents detailed national information in a few easy charts without getting overly technical.  USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has more resources on rural telecommunications also.

The bulletin is based on  FCC data, USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey and and June Agricultural Survey, Pew Internet & American Life Project, and additional state-level data.

This report draws on the research of ERS’s Resource and Rural Economics Division. Data in this analysis are drawn from the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 survey and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).

It does not directly reference the recently released US Census of Agriculture 2007 data for on-farm broadband use.  However, as I understand it, Census of Ag was used for the Ag Resource Management Survey so the numbers are in there.

In Praise of Raptors

Fellow Illini alumn Michael Fumento delivers a pithy defense of the F-22 Raptor combat aircraft in the Defense News this week.

The Russia bear has awakened from hibernation to rebuild its lost empire. China continues its inexorable military expansion. Iran desperately wants The Bomb, while North Korea revels in unpredictability. Yes, Virginia, we really do have potential enemies with weapons other than AKs and IEDs. We desperately need far more F-22 Raptors — preferably to prevent wars but if need be to win them.

Fumento is a veteran and has reported extensively from Iraq the last few years.  I never thought I’d see him agree with Teddy Kennedy, well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.


Tell us about your broadband access

Screenshot of SW MN

Screenshot of SW MN

Two broadband ISPs serve my home in a small town in Southwest Minnesota, Frontier Communications and Mediacom, apparently at Broadband Tier 2 with potential residential download speeds of 1.5 to 3 Mbps and uploads (1st Generation Data) at 200 kbps to 768 kbps .  So says a new project here in Minnesota.

Connect Minnesota, a non-profit subsidiary of Connected Nation, is releasing results of their broadband mapping project.  As I gushed in January, I learned about the project from Blandin on Broadband, who explains that “The maps are being created to help the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force make recommendations to the Legislature regarding a vision for broadband access in Minnesota.”

The idea was Connected Nation (CN) contacted ISPs (internet service providers) who provided them with broadband service maps, which this firm then tested from their office in Texas.  They also asked people to test their own connections, which info was supposed to keep the ISPs honest.  I clocked our cablemodem-linked network at the office at 7286 kbps d/l 512k u/l.

Connect Minnesota has posted PDF & gif maps showing infrastructure, availability and speed on the ground, as well as an interactive map here.  The screenshot above is from the interactive map (which is a bit clunky & times out relatively quickly IMHO).  They have an address finder so you can easily pinpoint your home location and inventoried service providers, although it is unclear which providers provide which speeds.

It’s nice in theory but I wonder how much the ISP info really got tested.  CN did move their testing from Texas to Chicago after some criticism tho the biggest holes in the donut are Outstate Minnesota.  Come out on the Buffalo Ridge and try your gee-whiz gizmos.  A quick lookup for a co-worker who lives out in the country looks like they mapped the Frontier service area, not necessarily where DSL actually works.  It would be nice to have different types of service providers—Cable, DSL, wireless—as separate layers but I expect they were trying to keep it simple.  The interface should be relatively easy for non-GIS types to navigate and provides some good information for consumers and policymakers.

Minnesota’s Broadband Taskforce is meeting today to look over the report for themselves, which I expect Blandin on Broadband will fill us in on ASAP.  Myself, I’ll have to try the site at home and see if it loads at all for anybody still on dial-up 🙂 .

A Chicken in every pot, Broadband in every home.

Saw this @NYTimes twitterfeed related to an earlier post on broadband in the stimulus packages. Yes, I admit it, I subscribed to the New York Times feed.  I don’t like the Yankees, I don’t like TIME magazine, and I don’t read the Yankee Times, not even the Sunday Times.  I even hold it against other unrelated newspapers that use the word ‘Times’ in their names.   But I’ll follow links like a puppy chasing a bone.

“This also seems to be a rather sound policy choice because, as I look at it, the noise about a broadband gap is hooey. With new cable modem technology becoming available, 19 out of 20 American homes eventually will be able to have Internet service that is faster than any available now anywhere in the world. And that’s without one new cable being laid.”

Does Broadband Need a Stimulus?

Is that broadband for 19 of 20 they say?  Blandin Foundation is tracking a broadband mapping project that the State of Minnesota is contracting to complete.  Results are due out 2 Feb 09.  It will be interesting to see how ubiquitous broadband really is here, right now.  It may be more interesting to see if people trust the results.

I am all for choices and competition.  Yet I have some major trust issues with the incumbent local exchange carriers (and I use the term loosely to include entrenched cable as well as telephone-based corporations).  Just because they HAVE the technology, doesn’t mean they will offer it broadly or equitably.  This is one reason I get really excited about projects like services provided by the City of Windom, Minnesota.

Did I mention I have some trust issues here?

The first post in this NYT series addressed the imminent DTV changover. Digital Television. yawn. Don’t get me started on the wasteland of television.

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