I attended the 105th annually meeting of the American Association of Immunologists last weekend. I came away from the meeting with great appreciation of the work being done in the field, how stories are crafted, the way questions are approached and answered, and of course by the people whose creativity and persistence must be admired. It was a great mix of industry research, polished grad student / postdoc stories, and typical trainee projects.
I attended great sessions on tumor immunology and microenvironment, new CAR-T approaches, technological innovations for immunology, neuroimmunology, and went to some keynotes by Arthur Weiss, Carl June, and Jeffrey Bluestone among others.
Great talks by Greg Delgoffe, Nikhil Joshi, Ming Li, Jonathan Kipnis, and Katrin Andreasson were highlights. These presentations were great not only because the stories were interesting, but because of the enthusiasm and polish of the speakers. It is essential not only to become a great orator, but also know how to present information logically, with relevance, and without losing the central thread.
Walking through the poster sessions was also quite inspiring and informative. An MSTP student from Icahn taught me that live immune cells could be collected from urine and used as a biomarker for prostate cancer. I got an introduction to spatial transcriptomics from two students from Fei Chen’s lab. I saw great posters from Kymera, Mozart Therapeutics, 10X Genomics, and many other companies. The industry booths and promotional content were a nice reminder of how far the industry has come from early days.
Overall, the conference was a richly educational experience that exposed me to many new ideas, true to its purpose. Directionally, it confirms my priors that lack of in person human interaction bad. Portland, where it was held, was not my cup of tea, but the trip was overall a great time.
I’ve been thinking through what the ideal training experience is for someone interested in eventually doing drug discovery. My sense is that with so many tools, new tools, and more tools, the rate limiting factor is not further development or application of tools. This is commoditized, and anyone really can do it. What is your moat? I’d like to be fluent in understanding the technical limitations of different techniques. But I think where the true magic happens is being able to connect information and develop working theories of how things work. Crafting stories. This is where my unique experiences in the clinic, immunology, bioengineering, and my ability to see threads across fields is an unfair competitive advantage.
One of the papers I was quite inspired by was “Multimodal profiling of lung granulomas in macaques reveals cellular correlates of tuberculosis control” published in Immunity by Alex Shalek’s group.
Eventually what I want to do is publish a paper essentially spanning the entire drug discovery process. Call it: “A Cure for X”. I want to come up with the best way to cure a disease using a story we tell from basic biology to clinic, addressing it with the most up to date models and treatment modalities.
I’ve had conversations with a lot of people who say biology is the next frontier, that they are so excited about its potential. Then you ask them about specifics and its the same boilerplate junk about liquid biopsies and medical imaging preventing every disease, generating drugs with AI, and synthetic materials, food, and energy being on the cusp. Is there a way to leave these conversations without being rude? It’s frustrating when the topic immediately changes when you start asking questions or pointing out counterexamples. Biology is fascinating and likewise I agree that there is significant potential — that is why I am committing to a PhD! However, I find myself consistently disappointed talking to people who aren’t in the trenches actively working on problems. Everything else just sounds like virtue signaling. Calling out things as understudied or saying that we need to devote more resources here or there just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ll get over it.
Meanwhile, I’m going to raise a fund and start investing in seed stage companies. Finance is about arbitrage and I’ve reached the point where I see a considerable opportunity to compete with investors who present arbitrage opportunities. Once you start seeing people less knowledgeable than you doing something there should be no reason why you shouldn’t try yourself.