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Vol. LXIV, No. 1
January 6, 2012

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NIAID Fellows Learn the Finance Behind Science

Arthritis patient Dr. Janet Stearns Wyatt (l) presents the NIAMS Coalition’s Congressional Champion Award to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).
The Price Is Right contestant Zain Bengali celebrates his win, flanked by (from l) Jorge Mendez, Subbian Panayampalli and Zhilong Yang.

For those old enough to remember when the only daytime TV choices were soap operas and game shows, you’ll recall a spry Bob Barker welcoming viewers to The Price Is Right and inviting contestants to “Come on down.”

In a return to that era, NIAID’s Office of Training and Diversity (OTD) brought the game to Bethesda as part of a seminar for institute fellows on the many costs and associated challenges in running a biomedical research lab. “We want our fellows to leave NIAID understanding the economics behind the laboratory, particularly in this fiscal climate,” said Dr. Wendy Fibison, associate director of OTD.

Bob Barker, alias Dr. David Robinson of NIDCD, welcomed the contestants—NIAID research fellows Zain Bengali, Nozomi Sakakibara and Zhilong Yang, all from the Laboratory of Viral Diseases (LVD), and Ryan Rego from Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana—to the OTD Price Is Right game. The contestants, coached by the audience, bid on laboratory equipment, services and supplies.

The game was a warm-up to discussions about appropriations and financial planning. Gary Mays, associate director, Strategic Planning and Financial Management, NIAID, stressed the value in understanding basic financial principles as the researchers “consider the money required to do the research and the payback to the public.” He explained how NIAID plans for coming shortages, taking into account the workforce and the many supplies and services necessary to maintain the scientific integrity and innovation of intramural research.

NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz (c) joins orthopaedic
Bob Barker, a.k.a. Dr. David Robinson of NIDCD, welcomes contestants to the NIAID Office of Training and Diversity’s The Price Is Right game.

Dr. Philip Murphy, chief, Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, explained how he stretches the dollar to accommodate fiscal shortfalls. Through the discussion it became clear that Murphy tackles his budget as he does his science—with skills, knowledge and, most importantly, innovative thinking. To reduce costs, he explained, you have to make choices such as hiring two postbacs instead of one postdoc or leveraging the research by working with a collaborator.

Murphy’s approach in the lab is unique because he makes his fellows financially accountable as well. Each fellow is given a budget—their “mantra” as he calls it—and must make ends meet. Mentored along the way by Murphy, the fellows consider whether what they are doing in the lab makes sense from a financial perspective.

James Knighton, president of AvidBiotics Corp., also spoke, explaining that many biotech companies fail, often because leaders don’t understand the business. His start-up company raised $1 million then applied for a government-funded SBIR-1 grant. Since that time the company has been awarded six grants from NIAID that supported the progress of its platform technologies toward clinical testing. The company intends to commercialize its proprietary protein-based antibacterial technology, which can be targeted against specific bacterial pathogens. In industry, says Knighton, “commercialization in a timely manner” is imperative for success.

Considered one of the more boring aspects of a career in science, financial considerations proved pleasantly surprising to the fellows. Dr. Jameela Khan of LVD called the seminar “amazing,” adding, “I got more information in these 2 hours than at any biotechnology conference I’ve attended.” NIHRecord Icon

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