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New SLAS Board Members Value Collaboration and Community as Keys to Scientific Success in an Increasingly Global Market

Building, nurturing and accessing a robust network of scientific colleagues is vital to success according to the three new members of the SLAS Board of Directors. Each has benefitted from powerful professional communities and now they're driven to give back by stepping into SLAS executive leadership roles.


Alastair Binnie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lawrenceville, NJ (USA); Richard M. Eglen, Corning Life Sciences, Corning, NY (USA); and Michael (Mike) Snowden, AstraZeneca, Essex, England (UK) began three-year terms on the SLAS Board of Directors on January 1, 2014.

As vice president of Research IT and Automation for Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Binnie leads a diverse organization responsible for a broad technology agenda supporting all research functions. This includes planning, delivering and supporting scientific IT platforms, laboratory automation, instrument support services, architecture and software engineering, and scientific computing infrastructure. He has more than 15 years of experience leading multi-disciplinary technology functions in pharmaceutical discovery and exploratory clinical research

Eglen is vice president and general manager at Corning Life Sciences. A pharmacologist by training, he possesses more than three decades of professional experience in technical and executive leadership roles in both drug discovery and technology discovery organizations. His current responsibilities include general management and setting the strategic direction at Corning Life Sciences.

Snowden is vice president of discovery sciences in Innovative Medicines and Early Development at AstraZeneca. A biochemist by trade, he possesses more than 25 years of experience across a wide array of technological and scientific disciplines related to pre-clinical drug discovery. Snowden has an impressive track record of expert matrix management as well as strategic business development.


Q: Why did you become a member of SLAS initially?

Binnie: I was an automation engineer in my first job in the pharmaceutical industry. It was exciting to discover a group of like-minded professionals, kindred spirits, in this international community. I liked the conference, I liked the journals and I liked being part of a broader community. In the work we do, you can end up feeling isolated and knowing only the people in your company.

Eglen: I joined the Society when I was with Roche in Palo Alto, CA, where, among other duties, I was responsible for coordinating high-throughput screening (HTS) technologies as head of the drug discovery organization. I was looking for an organization that offered a meaningful interface between technology providers and technology users in which to share experiences and best practices. I've been with it ever since – at least 15 years.

Snowden: When I was at Glaxo in the mid-'90s leading the high-throughput screening group, the SBS was definitely the meeting to go to. Industrial HTS was quite a small family at that time, and I needed a place to be continually educated about process and technology. I thought I understood the biology reasonably well, but I needed to know what was technologically new and possible and how that could be applied to the problems I was facing day-to-day.


Q: Why have you chosen to increase your involvement over the years, and what have you found most beneficial from your membership?

Binnie: I would say my involvement has gone up and down over the years. When I was a hands-on automation leader, I was probably more actively involved in the technology discussions. I was looking for a way to get more involved again that was more aligned with the kind of work I do now. This board position is an opportunity for me to re-engage.

Eglen: After a couple of years of being a member and going to meetings, I became involved in organizing workshops, regional meetings, committee work, journal advisory boards and ultimately involvement at the board level. The community was extremely relevant to the work I was doing in drug discovery. As I moved more into the technology environment, the Society became even more relevant. After 20-plus years at a pharmaceutical company, I moved to a company making HTS instrumentation and then as chief scientific officer in a reagent company. I then saw how useful the Society could also be on the side of the technology provider community. Throughout my career, therefore, the Society has been very, very relevant and that is why I've remained closely connected with it.

Snowden: I spent my whole career in preclinical science and as my role broadened, it has required me to know more about the breadth of the field. SLAS is the best way to keep up with the very best platform technologies that will drive future success in preclinical drug discovery.


Q: How has your work, and life, background prepared you to step into this new role as a board member?

Binnie: I've worked for many years as a technologist supporting scientists – to introduce new capabilities, to support existing capabilities and to integrate automation and IT in the laboratory to drive the productivity and quality of scientific work in drug discovery. It is a fulfilling mission for me and I have a broad network and working knowledge of the automation technology side as well as the IT/informatics side. Many SLAS members have hybrid roles – they are not the pure-play software developers or pure-play automation designers or pure-play molecular biologists. The old cliché about being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none does not apply to modern technological careers. You must have a diverse range of experiences and be comfortable, if not expert, in several different domains. That's where innovation happens. SLAS fosters that bringing together of different skills.

Eglen: I believe the SLAS board is a natural fit for my scientific experiences. On the business side, I've been responsible for larger and larger organizations with significant revenue and profit responsibilities so I have developed broad management skills that built upon my scientific skills. I have also been responsible for about 300 peer-reviewed papers in my career, and so have a good understanding of research and development. All of this – in combination – is quite useful experience for service at the SLAS board level.

Snowden: I'm a seasoned preclinical drug hunter, and I've been involved in new small molecule discovery since 2000. I remain passionate about the role of great preclinical science in enhancing success in the clinic. My enthusiasm for the biology and the technology of preclinical science together with my experience in running most of the hit ID platforms we understand today at my new company (AstraZeneca) will hopefully serve me well during my role with the board.


Q: As a newly elected board member, how do you see yourself contributing to the SLAS mission and strategic plan?

Binnie: I would like to help drive more engagement from the scientific IT community, also known as the informatics community. In any institution that has both laboratory automation and screening sciences going on, there are people working with the data, developing tools, sorting the data, managing the data – whole layers of informatics tools. The value we get as an industry from automation and screening science stands and falls on how well we manage the data and how well we implement informatics solutions. IT professionals don't always see themselves as part of a broader community like scientists do. I'd like to help SLAS drive that engagement. I am also very interested in assisting where I can as SLAS responds to the evolving landscape for scientific publishing, keeping quality at the highest level. This is a space that is ripe for innovation.

Eglen: I am a lifelong life scientist, having worked in drug discovery, and technology discovery and its applications, as well as working for technology providers. I am used to managing large teams and multi-functional groups – from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies – that are involved with diagnostic testing, genomics, HTS, drug profiling, as well as parallel industries such as forensic science. I would like to help guide the global growth of life sciences and technology with SLAS as the place to keep up with fast-moving technologies and help put them into perspective.

Snowden: I was told once that early phase drug discovery is not rocket science – it is much harder! This certainly describes the past decade in pharma. However I do believe that with the integration of perspectives and capabilities from big pharma, biotech, academics and government, we can regain the productivity we once enjoyed. This integrative view is essential to bringing new drugs to patients and I hope to drive this holistic approach between disparate geographies and institutional backgrounds during my time on the SLAS board.


Q: What is most exciting to you about serving on the SLAS Board of Directors?

Binnie: First, there is the renewed opportunity to network with people I'd met in the past, as well as to make new connections. Then, in addition to bringing more IT professionals into the fold, I'm very excited about the opportunity that SLAS has for internationalizing the laboratory technology community. We can help accelerate the progress of science and the globalization of laboratory technology.

Eglen: One is quite personal – I really like this group! It's a good organization and I know many of the people in the membership as well as at the governance level. In addition to that, I really believe in the role the Society can play to further automation and technologies used in life sciences and want to help steer it in that strategic direction. Also, I have always liked the way the organization can look at things from a global perspective; with a global stance, you can see the true impact of technologies.

Snowden: My passion is to get the open innovation network working properly and have intellectual property help us instead of hinder us in early phase drug discovery. AstraZeneca has been involved in an unprecedented amount of open innovation this year and last and is involved in groundbreaking work that really shares in the risks and the benefits of our endeavors. We have to try to drive those win-win relationships but we need to do it in a much more agile way than we have managed previously by blending disparate individual perspectives into a balanced approach toward a common goal. I believe we are heading into what will be the most productive 10 years of preclinical science.


Q: Where do you see SLAS making the greatest impact in the next two years? The next five years?

Binnie: I feel I'm not yet close enough to talk about short-term impact, but believe there are lots of opportunities to work with other non-profits on software and data standards that can be embraced by the vendor community as well as the scientific community. In the longer term, I see SLAS making the biggest impact as an accelerant in the globalization of laboratory technology.

Eglen: The global aspect will be big in the next two years. Add to this the fact that we are at a real intersection of automation, chemistry and reagent technology; the era of big 'biology'/big 'life sciences' will be driven by reagent and technology systems that are used in high-throughput and robotic automation. The Society is at the nexus of all those technologies. Overlay that with global outreach, and the Society is in for exciting times.

Longer term, there are interesting technology trends that the Society will be in a good position to look at – nanotechnology and microfluidics, for example, are starting to go mainstream. Bioinformatics on big data is becoming routine. Another example lies in biology – stem cells and primary cells that are useful in drug discovery. Looking globally, you can see that life sciences is going to be very, very strong in the Asia Pacific region.

Snowden: In the short term, I see SLAS helping to advance the current debate about reductionist vs. phenotypic screening to a logical and scientific conclusion. We need to understand which screening paradigm to use and when, and SLAS can help there. We can enable a culture that supports win-win collaborations that can share risk and enhance success irrespective of organizational background, especially in the high-risk high-value areas.

Longer term, I see us making great contributions to more agile, open source, risk sharing strategic alliances between institutions and scientists across the globe. SLAS is a gigantic and very able network and we can lead in integrating the components of drug discovery and help people to work together. In my experience, innovation happens at the edge of disciplines. It's when people of different disciplines get together that disruptive science happens.


Q: What would you tell someone who is considering becoming a member of SLAS?

Binnie: Assuming their work is within the scope of SLAS, I would tell them they need to understand how the outside world is tackling the problems they are working on. You need to put yourself out there and network with your peers. How else do you know what constitutes excellent work unless you have a benchmark for what is going on outside? SLAS is a great way to do that. Observe the opportunities, broad diversity and richness available. SLAS is a very good example of human endeavor with a tremendously rich set of technical skill sets and scientific disciplines – automation engineering, electrical mechanical engineering, instrument design and material science.

Eglen: This is the only organization I know of where there is a true marriage between high-quality biologists, high-quality engineers and high-quality chemists who come together on a single application of technology as used in drug discovery. It really is a multi-disciplinary forum where you can quickly get up to speed with the technologies. The pace at which technology is now moving is very, very rapid and the Society is a nice showcase for these changes. More informally, SLAS is where you can network with colleagues in parallel markets and industries to uncover user experiences and best practices.

Snowden: Pay up and attend! Being active in SLAS is the best career development activity you can invest in. You can learn faster and smarter from its members than you could ever do from the literature. Leverage the network, be inquisitive and have fun!


Q: When not involved in work/SLAS activities, how do you like to spend your time?

Binnie: I have three kids – 11, 14 and 16 – so I am busy with them. Also, I garden a lot, play guitar quite badly, draw quite well, camp with the family, read (fiction and technology non-fiction), cook and support Arsenal Football Club. I have an amateur artistic side – I attend a life drawing studio in Princeton, and I collect paintings and sculptures, mainly by my friends. Along with my engineering degrees, I have a degree in industrial design from the Royal College of Art in London; I believe that good engineering and good design are really the same thing, and in some abstract way this background has helped me with engineering and process design projects over the years. My wife, Zoë Brookes, runs Stone Soup Circus in Princeton. If you are in the area and see kids riding unicycles or walking on stilts, those are likely her students.

Eglen: I am married and have two grown children who live in California. I have been a fly fisherman for many years but it is still a work in progress. Also, I am restoring a muscle car, a 1971 El Camino SS, that I have been working on with my son for many years. My wife calls it the money pit. The car was out in California and when I lived out there, we worked on it together. Now he's a student and a muscle car is not the cheapest of cars to run so we had it shipped out to my garage in Massachusetts (see photograph of its recent arrival in the Massachusetts snow!). Admittedly, my carbon footprint with a 1971 El Camino is pretty big. It is definitely more of a hobby than a form of transportation!

Snowden: I have two teenage children so I don't have much of my own time. Rather boringly, I do spend what little time I have reading and exploring other areas of science not directly linked to my day job including popular particle physics. I do some coding for fun and am working on my first app for a local swimming club to record a swimmer's development. On a more personal note I have been trying to lose weight for about 20 years. I do cycle but unfortunately my pharmacological ability to sequester calories has always exceeded my capacity to burn them. More positively I had the chance of a private viewing of Alexander Fleming's laboratory in London (see photo), which was very emotional as his story was one I remember from my school days and one that fueled my interest in pharma.


Q: Is there anything else you would like the SLAS ELN readership to know about you?

Binnie: That I have an incredibly strong commitment to community building. Generally speaking, technologists and scientists tend to mentally block this need but groups like SLAS provide an important emotional outlet. At BMS, I have been a leader in setting up an active internal community. Without community, one's professional life is much less rich.

Eglen: This is a Society I've been involved with for many years and I have a range of experience both as a technology provider and as a technology user. Hopefully I can represent both at the board level.

Snowden: I'm incredibly inquisitive about all aspects of science in drug discovery and remain very positive about the future of drug discovery. If you see me at SLAS2014, please introduce yourself and chat. Tell me your perspective and what you are working on and looking for from SLAS.

January 17, 2014