GET 2010 Pioneers Photo Blog.bmpAs sequencing technologies become faster, cheaper, and more accessible, the number of individuals with personal genome sequences will increase from about a dozen today to hundreds—possibly thousands—in a year.
2010 is the last year you could reasonably assemble all the people who have a personal genome sequence in one place to talk about why they took this pioneering step and how they think personal genomics will impact society. It would be like, decades ago, you assembled the first 12 people to own personal computers to talk about how they think personal computing will change society.
That’s just what happened yesterday when the majority of people with a personal genome sequence came together at the GET Conference 2010, an event to support the work of the Personal Genomes Project. Led by Harvard Medical School Genetics Professor and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics George Church, the PGP recruits volunteers to share their genome sequence with researchers and the public. The vision: advance the understanding of genetic and environmental contributions to human traits to improve the ability to diagnose, treat and prevent illness.
Before I continue, I should point out that we’ve been looking forward to the GET Conference here at the agency for a few months while we volunteered some expertise to the event. (Needless to say we’re firm supporters of the cause…)
Assembling these great minds in one place to discuss an issue profoundly changing our understanding of who we are and how our bodies work created an engaging atmosphere of open intellectual exchange (Think: the Algonquin Roundtable of genomics…)
It’s impossible to recap all of the day’s discussions, but a few key takeaways that resonated with me:
• The cost of genomic sequencing is decreasing faster than the cost of storing the HUGE volumes of data they create. Solving this problem is going to require exascale computing so expect to see more interaction between life sciences and IT as Microsoft, Google, Oracle and others dip more than a toe in these waters. Listen to Illumina CEO Jay Flatley discuss the improvements in sequencing technology from the conference here.
• In addition to data storage, the other significant cost barrier is in interpreting and analyzing the data. Sequencing a genome is one thing, but understanding what it means is something altogether different—that’s where the PGP endeavors to make some significant contributions. George Church talks about the project here.
• Don’t overlook the personal and historical context of the human genome. Professor Gates described his feelings when he subtracted his personal genome from that of his father’s and was left with half of his mother’s sequence (chronicled in his Faces of America PBS series). Just as people had to understand how to “read” a photograph, people need to understand how to “read” a personal genome. With the proper interpretation, it not only provides insight that can influence medical decisions today, but also helps us complete the genealogical record of who we are and where we came from.
• While we may be years away from having our personal genomes incorporated into our medical records, at the end of the day, personal genomics is about improving medical understanding to help patients get better. Third Rock Ventures Mikhail Shapiro talks about genomics and personalized medicine.
So would you do it? Would you disclose your personal blue print to advance the future of medicine? As one GET panelist pointed out: it was only a few years ago that most consumers hesitated to put their credit card numbers online to make a purchase….
Biotech companies have been slow to take advantage of blogging to communicate with their core audiences, but it's my impression that this situation is finally changing. Some of the interest I've been seeing among entrepreneurial life sciences companies is driven by an understanding of how blogging supports search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. There are more benefits to blogging than SEO, though, so here are five points I'd put forward to encourage B2B biotechnology companies to blog.
1. Blogging provides an avenue for creating and participating in discussions about ideas, issues, products and technologies that matter to you.
Of course this won't take the place of writing journal papers or participating in meetings. But when it comes to talking about news that matters to your company, blogs can be a fast and efficient way to offer your perspective to people you'd like to reach, such as potential partners and employees. When you have information you want to share and a news release feels wrong, your company blog can be a good way to get the word out. If you'd like an example, check out the GenomeQuest blog.
2. Blogging may help you reach B2B buyers.
B2B marketing and selling is often not a straightforward proposition because there may be several people involved in the purchasing decision and it would likely be tough for you to email, call, send stuff to or otherwise touch all of them. Blogging gives biotech companies another way to influence a potential customer's view of your company.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to consider Forrester Research data from a survey of B2B information technology buyers ("The Social Technographics of Business Buyers" by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young). In a post titled "B2B buyers have very high social participation," their colleague Josh Bernoff summarizes: "91% of these technology decision-makers were Spectators .... This means you can count on the fact that your buyers are reading blogs, watching user generated video, and participating in other social media. Note that 69% of them said they were using this technology for business purposes."
I don't know the precise number for biotech buyers and am not sure that anyone does, but think it's reasonable to assume that a high percentage of potential customers, particularly for things like lab products and services, look for information online. Your thoughtful blog entries may help convince those people that they've come to the right place.
3. Blogging and attracting links can improve your company's SEO or ranking in organic (i.e., unpaid) search engine results.
If your biotech company is publishing information about topics that people are searching on, is doing so with some frequency, and the blog is a part of your company website and not hosted somewhere else, blogging should help your company appear more prominently in search results over time. It's important to keep the "over time" part firmly in mind and not get too antsy--SEO works pretty slowly. Think "many months."
4. Blogging can help you communicate with journalists.
PRWeek and PR Newswire recently surveyed 1,300 U.S. journalists to find out how they're using social media. (The results of the survey were published earlier this month.) One basic conclusion is that reporters are open to using blogs to support their research--46 percent "sometimes or always use blogs for research purposes." Reporters don't view corporate blogs as the be-all and end-all, but they're one information source consulted.
Beyond research preferences, understand that a broad trend in corporate communications is toward creating content that you might, in the past, have expected to see from a reporter. Publications that cover life sciences are, like many media outlets, running with thin staffs due to reduced ad revenues and resulting layoffs. They aren't able to cover all the topics that they once did, so if there's an issue that's important to your company, you may need to write about it yourself. A blog can be a great outlet for publishing this type of content.
Finally, don't forget that reporters are people, too. They use search engines as much as anyone to research topics of interest. A blog that's being regularly updated and that may have other people linking to it is more likely than a static website to be discovered by a search engine.
5. Blogging forms the cornerstone of broader social media involvement.
Large pharmaceutical companies are using social media. Judging from the angst in some quarters that stems from the absence of FDA guidance on social media, though, you'd think it was the third rail of pharmaceutical communications. But big companies are in fact using it and even the FDA is on Twitter, so it's certainly not necessary for entrepreneurial and mid-sized biotechs to sit on the sidelines.
A blog is a great way to dip your toe into social media because it gives you a place to write long or write short, as well as a destination for readers of your Twitter posts who don't think that your 140 characters were enough. When you get tired of writing, post short videos.
In sum, blogging can help B2B biotech companies be found by and connect with prospects. It is the direction that corporate communications is heading and may help you make a favorable impression on journalists. I'd suggest that if you thought blogging wasn't right for biotech, it's time to reconsider.