Friday, March 20, 2009

Genentech Future vision of Tech Business

Wednesday I was invited to a meeting at the Princeton Nassau Club to hear Todd Pierce VP CIT of Genentech talk about the "Future of Technology in Business". The company is considered to be the founder of the biotechnology industry , and the IT leader was talking about the future of tech at one of the most advanced biotech firms, I had to go.

He first started with a little history of the company. The company's goal was to develop a new generation of therapeutics created from genetically engineered copies of naturally occurring molecules. The first discovery was targeted at insulin growing needs, many millions of animals were slaughtered to meet the diabetic needs of patients, but it couldn't scale. Within a few short years, Genentech scientists proved it was possible to make medicines by splicing genes into fast-growing bacteria that produced therapeutic proteins. in 1978 Human insulin was cloned by Genentech scientists. The latest research developments provided a new way of looking at Alzheimer.

Mr. Pierce was very optimistic about these economic times we are in these days, he sees a bright future for innovation during these tough times. He noted that one of the founders Robert was unemployed at the time that he discovered a new scientific field called recombinant DNA tech. It was during that time that he saw opportunity to build a new business and partnered with Dr. Boyer and founded Genentech, with the first breakthrough just two years later. He wondered what new innovations would spring from the current crisis.

Today Genentech continues to use genetic engineering techniques and advanced technologies to develop medicines that address significant unmet needs and provide clinical benefits to millions of patients worldwide. Kleiner Perkins was an early VC and invested $100K to start Genentech and its worth something north of $360mil now, not a bad return since Roche is trying to buy the rest of the company that it doesn't already own.

Then he discussed the corporate culture at Genentech, the first idea was about the company becoming more efficient during these times. Like most companies, Genentech has many new research initiatives, a growing customer base, and many new partners - collaboration is key. To facilitate better efficiency without sacrificing creativity, they decided to use Google Apps. The entire organization moved to using Google calendar, and he shared the risk that his organization was faced moving the entire enterprise into using a mostly consumer web service. He said at one meeting they had over 150 change requests that were implemented by Google web team in only a few days. It was that kind of business efficiency and agility that allowed him to move all his 2.5mil MS Outlook meetings onto using Google apps. The company is also a big user of Wikis and crowd sourcing like I discussed in one of my earlier articles.

He also talked about the opportunities of mobile computing, using the iPhone as a specific example. Only one week after the phone was released he saw the opportunity for collaboration on the go, and worked with ATT to create a corporate plan so that Genentech could do corporate purchases. He also discussed this weeks new iPhone 3.0 demo from J&J of a diabetes application that would monitor glucose/sugar and transmit the patients data back to a website to help them better manage their blood levels.

Since Genentech is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment (read more about Avastin) I asked a question about how devices like iPhone could be used in personalized medicine a movement to more efficiently treat cancers, is Genentech using this kind of device to collect research data from the field?

IT has been a big enabler for the scientists and researchers, but now IT departments will be in the middle of patient care just as important to the treatment as the pills and doctors and hospitals, because the devices will be with the patient all the time. Monitoring vital stats, creating alerts for the patient, auto-scheduling dr. appointments when needed, and preparing the doctor ahead of time for his patients condition, etc.

It was a real enlightening meeting and I can't wait for what comes out of the labs at Genentech next.

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