How to Learn Biotech

The best in scientific literature, books, essays, news, newsletters, government resources, podcasts, forums, analysts, and more!

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This is a roundup of top resources in biotech, pharma and healthcare.

My list excludes many great ways to learn about biotech: conferences, scientific degrees (and textbooks), talking with people (from professors to executives), or actually working in the space.

However, it’s the most detailed and now most widely-read set of materials you can access at any time, from anywhere in the world, mostly for free.

If I’ve missed a good source or you’d like to connect, feel free to email me.

Scientific Literature

PubMed is the bread-and-butter of biotech knowledge. If you feel daunted by the volume of content, try this real-time list of trending papers. Each week, I skim abstracts from the top 100 and read several in more depth.

bioRxiv and medRxiv are now the true cutting edge for new data: the latest results increasingly appear in preprints months before formal publication. I’m also signed up for updates from Nature, Science, Cell, PNAS and NEJM.

Sci-Hub is a piracy site that instantly pulls almost any scientific paper as a free PDF—and you shouldn’t use it because if you do Elsevier may sue me in its war to keep taxpayer-funded science from being taxpayer-accessible.

Government Resources

The FDA provides extensive documents on clinical and preclinical trials, drugs and medical devices, and new regulations and programs, as well as industry reports, advisory committee briefs, and open-source datasets.

The CFR is the code of federal regulations. Title 21, Chapter 1 covers pharma. It’s worth reading at least once in your life. As Cromwell said of the Tyndale Bible in Wolf Hall: “You read it, you’ll be surprised what’s not in it.”

The USPTO publishes patents 18 months after the initial IP filing date. Most are tedious, but it’s one of the better ways to follow emerging biotech. Google Patents provides the best tools to find and track relevant patents.

ClinicalTrials.gov is the best database of active or completed, publicly- or privately-funded trials in the world. Clinical Trials Register is the European equivalent and the WHO maintains its own additional listings.

The SEC requires companies to disclose key info—from Form D filings on new financings and S-1s before an IPO to 10-Ks/10-Qs/8-Ks by public corporations—all searchable in the free EDGAR database.

GovTrack is a topic-agnostic tool for tracking federal legislation, which I’ve customized to specifically follow congressional actions related to healthcare and biotech. Watch how bills evolve as they move (or don’t) towards a vote.

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is a reliable public-private partnership between the state of Massachusetts and the industry, with a range of useful resources especially for early-stage companies based in MA.

News, Newsletters & Podcasts

Sign up for the free Endpoints newsletter (~10 short articles in an email Mon-Fri ~11am EST) and the Early Edition (top headlines ~6am EST). Occasional features are for paid subscribers, but free access is sufficient.

Timmerman Report has paid-only articles for $149/year. Timmerman’s podcast The Long Run, however, is free and unique: hour-long interviews with key executives, venture capitalists and scientists from across biotech.

STAT has free newsletters and a free podcast, The Readout Loud. Most articles are paywalled, but much of the public content is valuable as well.

BioCentury hosts detailed articles and profiles, but it’s all pay-walled. There is also a good new (free) podcast, BioCentury This Week.

Anika Gupta, a rising star bioinformatician at Harvard, hosts The Data Pulse, an excellent new podcast covering biotech and data science.

FierceBiotech, FiercePharma and FierceHealthcare are good, free sites with newsletters, but fairly redundant if you already read Endpoints and STAT.

BioPharmCatalyst tracks each day’s top catalysts (clinical readouts, FDA approvals or CRLs, trial halts, etc.) and their effect on biotech stocks.

Vinay Prasad, a professor-oncologist at Oregon Health & Science University, hosts Plenary Session, a good free podcast that savages biopharma bullshit.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit with a free newsletter focused on health and healthcare issues in the US like the opioid crisis and insurance policy.

BioWorld and BioSpace offer a more global focus than most. BioPharma Dive has a free newsletter with occasional “deep dives” into each topic.

Exome is Xconomy’s free biotech section, which focuses on financial news like stock movements, upcoming IPOs and relevant government activity.

Asia-Pacific Biotech News is a magazine with free online healthcare and biotech news in China, Japan, Korea, India, and SE Asia. ChinaBio Today is the pay-walled site and free newsletter of the eponymous advisory firm.

PharmaExec publishes useful annual reports and insightful essays on a wide range of biotech issues, typically written by biopharma executives.

PharmaIntelligence covers a range of regulatory, patent, clinical, consumer and commercial topics, with a useful newsletter called Pink Sheet.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) is one of the oldest biotech publications and provides broad coverage, from bio to software.

Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) hosts news and features (free) alongside a magazine (paid) from the American Chemical Society.

Essays

In The Pipeline, written by Derek Lowe and hosted by Science, is a wide-ranging blog covering everything from in-depth med chem to sober critiques of over-hyped companies peddling AI in pharma.

LifeSciVC is the blog of Atlas partner Bruce Booth, whose writing focuses on analyses of the venture industry and highlights from the Atlas portfolio. He also regularly invites biotech executives to write ‘From the Trenches’ essays.

Drug Truths is a series of essays by John LaMattina, ex-president of R&D at Pfizer. He writes on a variety of pharma and regulatory topics, now split up between his old blog and his new platform as a Forbes contributor.

Laura Deming, founder of Longevity Fund, summarized her field as of 2018 in A Beginner’s Guide to Longevity Research, which I edited.

PlengeGen, by Celgene VP and former Harvard professor Robert Plenge, focuses on drug discovery research, human genetics and emergent tech.

The Curious Wavefunction is a short series of “musings on science, history, philosophy and literature” by Ash Jogalekar, primarily on chemistry and AI.

Books

The investor Andrew Goodwin, who also runs the BiotechDueDiligence site, maintains an extensive list of biotech-related books.

My favorites from his list include: Bad Blood (John Carreyrou), The Billion Dollar Molecule and The Antidote (Barry Werth), Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech (Sally Smith Hughes), The Biotech Trader Handbook (T. Ayers Pelz), Life at the Speed of Light and A Life Decoded (Craig Venter), Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (Brenda Maddox), The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene (Siddhartha Mukherjee), and Regenesis (George Church).

Others I recommend: Science Business (Gary Pisano), Complications and Being Mortal (Atul Gawande), Designs on Nature (Sheila Jasanoff), The Great American Drug Deal and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to a Biotech Startup (Peter Kolchinsky), Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese), The Case Against Perfection (Michael Sandel), and Medicine, Science and Merck (Roy Vagelos and Louis Galambos).

A few acclaimed books I haven’t read yet: Hood (Luke Timmerman), Deep Medicine (Eric Topol), I Contain Multitudes (Ed Yong), The Forever Fix (Ricki Lewis), Science Lessons (Gordon Binder), She Has Her Mother’s Laugh (Carl Zimmer), The 8th Day of Creation (Horace Freeland Judson), and Bad Medicine (Milton Silverman, Mia Lydecker and Philip Lee).

Other

Twitter is a diverse source of real-time news and research from the biotech community. You can start with the people who I follow @nbhorwitz.

CafePharma is the reddit of the biopharma industry, with a solid roundup of news from several outlets, plus a lively anonymous forum haunted by biotech gossipers, disaffected pharma salespeople, and suspicious MNPI.

Top analysts such as Umer Raffat, Jeffrey Porges, Alethia Young, Michael Yee, and Brian Skorney provide detailed research on biopharma companies. You must be a client to get on their lists — technically.

BioMedTracker, UpToDate and GlobalData are expensive subscription services with enhanced search capabilities for companies and technologies.

PhRMA, BIO, California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), and MassBio are industry advocates (lobbyists) with extensive, typically biased resources.

What Not to Read

If you’ve never heard of the journal that published the paper you’re reading and the data seems weak—low n-values, high p-values—it may be garbage.

SeekingAlpha regularly posts mediocre or inaccurate intel on biotech stocks and has been at the center of multiple biotech pump-and-dump schemes.

Biopharma press releases. Worth following for real-time updates, but caveat lector until you see the content corroborated and critiqued.

Popular press. Like industry PR, it can be helpful context, but any outlet not specifically known for credibility (WSJ, NYT, WaPo) will be prone to errors.

Conclusion

I hope you found new sources of biotech wisdom here. Know any great resources that I didn’t include? Let me know!

Happy learning. —NBH

Biotech VC. Director or Observer on the boards of six RA Capital companies. Former CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. My writing does not represent RA Capital.

Biotech VC. Director or Observer on the boards of six RA Capital companies. Former CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. My writing does not represent RA Capital.

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