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[Editor’s Note: This post is a new foreword for my book, “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age.” It’s written by David Baltimore of Caltech, a Nobel laureate who has known Lee Hood for more than 40 years. This foreword is included in the hardcover and audiobook.]
By David Baltimore
Lee Hood is a legend. He has produced a raft of scientific accomplishments and that is only a part of the story. He has a perspective that gives each of his talks a distinctive quality: he is always looking ahead. Other visiting speakers may come to a university to display what they have accomplished. For Lee, that is old news. He comes to tell his audiences what he sees happening in the future. He regales us with how he is helping to create that future, giving hints of what is to come. He has been doing this for decades and I have heard various renditions of his futurism at scientific meetings, at university seminars, and in living rooms in Montana, where we both have gone together to enjoy outdoor activities. The remarkable thing about Lee’s predictions is how often they come to pass.
But even if his predictions are not fulfilled—and usually he promises more than is delivered—his talks have one remarkable consequence: the young people who come are transfixed. They realize that the enterprise they are preparing themselves for is a huge one with wide ramifications. They realize that the reality of the small advances that they struggle to make daily has another dimension. It is part of a greater struggle to understand living organisms, to deal with the imperfections of inheritance, and to counter disease. They see in Lee someone who has encompassed this larger vision and is consumed by making it the reality.
Lee studied and worked at Caltech, the university where I have been for the last twenty years. He had left years before I arrived, but his outsize personality and his drive left a huge legacy at Caltech. People remembered his many ideas, his large and ever-increasing laboratory, his leadership and his friendship. He had started at Caltech as an undergraduate, went off to medical school at Johns Hopkins, came back as a graduate student, went off to NIH for a short stint and then returned to Caltech as a faculty member for more than twenty years. His impact on immunology was enormous. For his graduate work he filled out the thoughts of his mentor, Bill Dreyer, and they presented strong evidence that antibody genes had both variable and constant regions joined into one molecule. How that might happen was a mystery solved by Susumu Tonegawa, who showed that joining DNA was a key mode of diversification for antibodies. In the mid-1970s, when Tonegawa’s work was published—and when recombinant DNA methods were developed—I was seduced to become an immunologist. That brought me in contact with Lee because we were both trying to understand the mechanisms that generated antibody diversity. We were really trying to work out the molecular biology of a process that had much earlier been recognized by Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet and Joshua Lederberg and enshrined as the clonal selection theory.
Lee attracted some remarkable trainees, notably Mark Davis. My equally remarkable trainees, including Fred Alt, and I found ourselves vying with the young hotshots under Lee’s direction. Looking back, we and others gave life to an understanding of how immune cells can use DNA rearrangement to generate an immune system.
For me, understanding this process was a driving force that lasted years. For Lee, it was a beginning of a career that quickly moved into other realms. In particular, Lee saw that the huge variety of antibodies that allow us to be protected against viruses, bacteria, and fungi represented a myriad of protein structures. Early on, he recognized that automated equipment and methods were essential if we were ever going to unravel the complexity of the system. This sounds simple, but was not a mainstream view at the time. The traditions of molecular biology had developed in an entirely different way. It was a field dominated by small laboratories, by simple experiments often read out overnight, by remarkable investigators who combined complex theory with their revealing experiments to create deep understanding, usually of single biological mechanisms. The idea of automation to speed up the process and ask an ever-widening set of biological questions was either anathema or repugnant to senior molecular biologists. It turned out that they were seeing the past and Lee was seeing the future. He brought into his orbit engineers, machine builders, and many others who helped him create a new way to do science. In particular, he showed us how to find, wholesale, the structures of proteins and DNA sequences, providing tools that matched the complexity of living processes and opening new ways of doing biology.
But that was only the beginning. Lee moved from Caltech to the University of Washington in the early 1990s because his vision of the future was broader and more complex than Caltech—a boutique university—could handle. Even the UW, a huge state university with basic research and a medical school, was not able to satisfy his voracious appetite for science. In early 2000, he left to form an independent institute, the Institute for Systems Biology. There he has evolved a view of medicine and science moving to a new paradigm of maintaining health enshrined as the four Ps of medicine: predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. He is involving people in their own health care. Wellness is his concern, not so much the treatment of disease.
Lee is a self-controlled person. Many find him hard to penetrate, hard to warm up to. But for me, Lee represents an important mode of doing science. Not only doing the obvious which we all do, not only doing the detailed investigation of systems that cry out for understanding, but constantly asking: “What do we need to get to the next level?”
Sometimes he appears to be superficial, but he is always on to something, always striving to create the future. Actually, it is often others who find their way to the next rung of the ladder of biological understanding, but they are hearing Lee and responding to his inspiring message. He is the pied piper. I believe that the advancements of science are created by the intersection of people who have different styles, different visions, different strengths. To this amalgam, Lee had contributed a special set of capabilities, ones that are in short supply. Our science would be less powerful, less explanatory if it were not for Lee’s insights and his determination.
Lee’s life story provides rich subject material for a biography. His experience reveals much to us about the character of those who drive progress, and science itself. Luke Timmerman has captured Lee’s complexity and laid it out for the world to appreciate. Enjoy your encounter with this deep personality carried along by a fine biographer.
Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology
California Institute of Technology
Yes, ‘Hood’ is now an audiobook! Click here to listen to a sample. Also available on Kindle or as a hardcover directly from me.
[Editor’s Note: Steve Holtzman, CEO of Decibel Therapeutics, delivered these remarks in a speech today at the March for Science Boston. This article is free and shareable.]
Thank you to the organizers of today’s rally and to all of you gathered here today to raise your voices in solidarity and in support of the scientific enterprise.
Over the last 30 years, it has been my privilege to work in the biotechnology industry.
Biotechnology owes its existence to advances in fundamental, basic science. Our industry’s role in society is to transform the revolution in the life sciences into innovative new medicines to address unmet human needs and to save and improve the quality of human life worldwide.
Today, we find ourselves in a time when science and its practitioners are under siege.
An assault on science is an assault on the future of the biotechnology industry. We can only continue to harvest basic science and convert it into new medicines if it is renewed and nurtured. Hence, pragmatically, it is in our industry’s self-interest to advocate for support of the basic sciences.
However, that is NOT my main point in speaking to you today. The leadership of the biotechnology industry has a much deeper set of reasons to raise our voices in opposition to anti-science rhetoric and policies.
Modern scientific inquiry is founded on grounding principles among which is the belief that the quality of the data, not the economic, political, religious, or physical power of their proponent, should determine their authority. We share a conception of standards of evidence and argumentation for the existence of a fact. This conception of scientific inquiry does not admit of so much as the concept of an alternative fact, much less the existence of one.
Perhaps not so obviously however, intrinsically bound up with this conception of rational, scientific discourse, are the ideals of equality of participation and justice. As citizens, we all have an obligation to contribute to the conditions that enable the creation of a community of open discourse involving everyone with something to contribute — regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religious belief, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation. Excluding any voice from that community on such a basis is repugnant to the rationality that undergirds the scientific endeavor. It is the moral equivalent of excluding data that potentially contravene conventional belief. That community of open, reasoned discourse is essential to the quest for truth as best we can know it, whether in science or society.
These scientific and societal ideals are threads woven together in a glorious tapestry.
Pull out one thread and the whole begins to unravel.
Conversely, anti-science views, such as those espoused by some on creationism, vaccination, and climate change, are equally bound up with expressions of misogyny, racism, religious intolerance, and other shameful bigotries.
Anti-science rests on the authority of the powerful, not open rational discourse, to carry the day. Bigotry is about the systematic exclusion from the discourse of a subset of those with rationally and respectfully held competing views.
This, too, is a tapestry of intertwined threads. Do not think it possible to approve, or even quietly disapprove of but countenance, one without thereby endorsing the other.
Thus, the modern biotechnology enterprise is an industry with noble origins not just in science but also in the advancement of the social preconditions necessary for an open society and polity to flourish. These dual ideals are the bedrock on which biotechnology is built. They compel us as an industry to lift our voice in unwavering support: for the advancement of science, yes, but also for the freedom of all with something to contribute to participate in the discourse. Without both, our quest to transform basic research into meaningful new medicines will wither and die.
Thank you for standing with us today, together raising our voice in solidarity and support of these intertwined ideals: of rational scientific inquiry and of social justice.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the Timmerman Report Anniversary Party last week at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and those who volunteered and cheered Monday at the Boston Marathon.
This was the third year in a row I’ve visited Boston in mid-April to run a TR subscriber party and run the marathon. It’s fast becoming a favorite TR tradition. It’s also a great way to mix business and pleasure (or pain).
Enjoy a few of the photos from the party, taken by my lovely wife Tracy Cutchlow, plus a couple shots from the iconic race.
For those of you on the West Coast, never fear. There will be another TR Anniversary Party on May 9 at Adaptive Biotechnologies, 1551 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle. Charlotte Hubbert of the Gates Foundation and Thong Le of Accelerator will talk investment trends. Three interesting startups — M3 Biotechnology, Nohla Therapeutics, and a stealth spinout to be named later from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — will make quick pitches. Personally signed copies of “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” will also be available for purchase. The event is free, but you have to RSVP to save a spot.
Now, on to the photos:
More than 175 people are RSVPd for the TR 2nd Anniversary Party at 4:30 pm Thursday at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Kendall Square. This fun, free networking event is fast becoming a favorite tradition at Timmerman Report.
There’s still a little room left, but space is limited and registration will close by 3 pm ET Wednesday, Apr. 12. So if you plan to stop by, now’s the time to save a spot. No walk-ins will be allowed.
Also, be aware of some program updates:
The start time is moving back a half-hour to 4:30 pm. Special guests Phil Sharp and Abbie Celniker will be on hand to discuss impressions of the Hood biography and women’s leadership issues, respectively. Hear briefly from an MIT grad student and newly minted MIT PhD with startup ideas, and from TR contributing writer Leora Schiff on the value she sees in an independent, subscriber-supported biotech publication. There will also be an opportunity to purchase signed copies of “Hood”, and to get a FREE signed copy when purchasing a new group license to Timmerman Report.
Most of all, this is a great opportunity to get out and network with your biotech community peers and do it while supporting independent biotech media.
See the detailed program below. Don’t miss it!
4:30 pm-6:30 pm
300 Third Street
4:30 pm-5:15 pm: NETWORKING
5:15 pm: Host Welcome. (Alnylam) (2 mins)
5:17 pm: Luke Timmerman welcome. (2 mins)
5:19 pm: Discussion of “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age” with Phil Sharp (15 mins)
5:35 pm: Interview with Abbie Celniker on advancing women in biotech leadership (15 mins)
5:50 pm: Introducing TR contributor Leora Schiff (3 mins)
5:53 pm: Startup pitches (6 mins). Naveen Mehta & Daniel Dadon
5:59 pm: Luke Timmerman Final Thank Yous (1 min). Reminder of Hood book signing, opportunity to subscribe/ purchase group sharing licenses to Timmerman Report. FREE signed Hood book ($33 value) for new small group subscribers. FREE Timmerman Report New Balance workout T-shirt ($35 value) PLUS signed Hood book for larger groups.
6 pm: NETWORKING
6:30 pm: END
Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Timmerman Report started two years ago. It’s time to thank subscribers, and throw a couple free community parties – one in the East, one in the West.
The Boston party will be on Apr. 13, and Seattle’s will be May 9. Check them out:
Celebrate the TR 2nd Anniversary party 4-6 pm Apr. 13 at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals! Network with Boston biotech community peers, and join TR founder Luke Timmerman for this free event. Phil Sharp, Institute Professor at MIT, will discuss Timmerman’s biography of automated DNA sequencing pioneer Lee Hood. Abbie Celniker, partner at Third Rock Ventures and chair of MassBio, will discuss day-to-day constructive things that are happening to advance women in biotech leadership. Signed copies of Timmerman’s new book, “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age,” which Forbes calls a “must read,” will be available for purchase. Plus, enjoy some beautiful photos from Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. The event is free, and subscribers are welcome to bring friends, but please RSVP here for Boston on Apr. 13.
Come celebrate the TR’s 2nd Anniversary on May 9 at Adaptive Biotechnologies! Network with Seattle biotech community peers, and join TR founder Luke Timmerman for this free event. Special guests Charlotte Hubbert, a partner with Gates Foundation Venture Capital, and Thong Le, CEO of Accelerator, will discuss the opportunities they see in the investment landscape. Executives of some of Seattle’s most interesting biotech startups will give quick 3-minute updates on what they’re doing. Signed copies of Timmerman’s new book, “Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age,” which Forbes calls a “must read,” will be available for purchase. See some beautiful photos from Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. The event is free, and subscribers are welcome to bring friends, but please RSVP here for Seattle on May 9.
The East and West Coast anniversary parties are a tradition at TR. Helping people form connections in the community is one of the ways I can thank people for supporting my mission for quality independent biotech journalism.
I look forward to seeing you there and hearing about your latest adventures in biotech.
I am available to speak about biotech trends at public and private biotech events. See me for details.