Podcaster’s Manifesto: Conceiving the Idea

Lessons learned from building Hopkins Biotech Podcast — based out of Johns Hopkins Medicine — which launched on May 25, 2020 (Memorial Day) in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A compelling enough idea gives you a running start.

Why Biotech?

Biotech has been a passion of mine since long before the Hopkins Biotech Podcast had initially crept into my mind, due in part to its rich and profound history. From 1770 to 2019, the global life expectancy has more than doubled from 24.8 years to 76.8 years as the human race learned how to tame infectious diseases with antibiotics & vaccines, HIV/AIDS with antiretrovirals, cancers with chemotherapies & targeted agents, cardiovascular disease with cholesterol-lowering statins & antihypertensives, and diabetes with insulin replacement. The nascent pharmaceutical industry expanded rapidly in the 20th century, built around the idea of deploying synthetic organic chemistry to either (1) optimize the chemical structures of serendipitously discovered, disease-modifying natural products (ex. penicillins) or (2) to reproduce biochemical compounds that had been isolated directly from the human body (ex. epinephrine).

  • First bispecific antibody in 2014, Blincyto (Amgen)
  • First antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) in 2016, Eteplirsen (Sarepta)
  • First CAR-T in 2017, Kymriah (Novartis)
  • First in vivo gene therapy in 2017, Luxturna (Roche/Spark)
  • First RNAi therapy in 2018, Onpattro (Alnylam)
  • First mRNA therapy in 2021, Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) or mRNA-1273 (Moderna) — Note: both have FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status at the time of writing this but it seems inevitable that they will ultimately gain full FDA approval, given the global rollout of these COVID-19 vaccines.
New modality approvals in the U.S., Europe and Japan since 2010. Source: Biocentury.

First, Solve a Problem

Where did the idea of a biotech podcast come from? Paradoxically, the motivation to start Hopkins Biotech Podcast did not stem purely from a desire to start a podcast. I was a regular listener of several podcasts, but I had virtually no formal media & entertainment background. Branding? Social media marketing? Website design? These were all foreign to me. Rather, it was driven by a need to solve three key problems that I had noticed or experienced as a PhD student:

  • Lack of Visibility into the Biotech Industry: Even for PhD students & postdocs who are actively exploring industry careers, there are limited options to learn about them. What do industry scientists do on a daily basis? What types of roles do industry scientists play? What companies are out there and what do they do? What are the most pressing medical diseases that the biotech industry is trying to alleviate? What are the hot technologies that the biotech industry is closely involved in developing? The answer to these questions are rarely, if ever, addressed in an academic research setting. In fact, these questions may not even become apparent until the time comes to apply for industry jobs and, by then, the time left until graduation may be too sparse to track down satisfying answers.
  • Limited Access to In-person Seminars: These wonderful seminars were precious opportunities to learn about the biotech/pharma industry directly from the people working there and, perhaps, even do some of that fabled “networking” that I’d always heard about. However, they typically required PhD students & postdocs to leave the lab for 1–1.5 hours, a luxury that presented itself more rarely than I would have liked. I would often find myself enraptured by the synopsis of an upcoming seminar, only to realize that the time conflicted with a critical experiment, meeting, or deep work session.

Analyst at Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures (JHTV) | Founder & Director of Hopkins Biotech Podcast | PhD Candidate at Johns Hopkins Medicine

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