Welcome to 2011 — and our ninth year of publication. This milestone is both rewarding and a bit daunting. We want to drive discussions rather than just reveal their results. Venturing into new territories can require more than a simple roadmap. Think of bioengineers as experienced “cooks” who have reached a confidence level allowing them to combine recipes and create new “menus” from existing processes. Same ingredients, different combinations — with tasty new chemistries. But what do you call the results?
In BPI’s first couple years, we published an occasional series of “Defining Moments” on our final page. Advisors and authors often expressed frustration at misapplied terms: e.g., bioassays and assays, bioanalysis and analysis. Beyond simple differences in perspective are two important reasons to get all this “right.” Have you ever compared the results of seemingly similar industry surveys and wondered why their numbers were so confusingly different? One reason may be operative definitions in the biotechnology industry. Are small/synthetic molecules being included (and why)? How are we defining what a vaccine is these days? Surveys (our own included) would do well to offer their own definitions of key terms and audiences first. But that can be difficult — especially with self-selected responses.
Another reason (also why good translation services are worth the price): Back in the early 1990s, I recall hearing that two groups of researchers had for several years been working on the same thing in separate countries and publishing their results in different academic journals. But because they’d defined it two different ways, and given the small circulations of many journals, it took time for them to realize they could combine efforts. What opportunities might have be lost? What could foil a patent application in such cases?
As we venture into new territories, terminology may appear to be the same although applications can be all over the map. Begin with cell culture technologies, add stem cells to the mix, stir, and voila! Factor some ethical and political controversies into your “recipe.” More definitions. Experienced “chefs” are combining drugs (for conjugates) or drugs and devices (combination/convergence therapies) and adding “companion” diagnostics. Some products are “cell therapies,” others may be tissue therapies with cells attached to delivery devices (combination again) but marketed as therapeutic vaccines! Dendreon’s Provenge is a good example: a dendritic cell therapy that functions as a therapeutic cancer vaccine.
As always, I welcome (and want!) your insights. If we occasionally present a definition that you don’t agree with, we’ll happily revisit it. Recall these words from JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door…. If you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” To all explorers, we wish safe and productive journeys into the new year’s myriad territories — and beyond.