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    (Podcast) This is ZAGENO - The Best of 2020

    By ZAGENO - 8 minutes read

    Throughout 2020, ZAGENO's podcast has brought our community amazing insights from a diverse set of thought leaders - from business authors and university professors to chief scientific officers and venture capitalists. As we begin to consider the year that was 2020 and what lies ahead we've revisited these conversations and assembled a compilation that has inspired us, and hope will inspire you, as well.

    One of our earliest conversations with serial entrepreneur, Stan Lapidus occurred just as COVID 19 lockdowns were taking effect. 

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    My last question is a topical one because this interview is taking place amidst the social distancing of COVID-19. The first question is what are your general impressions and how do you believe innovation could play a role in our path forward?

    Speed matters. Speed matters in saving lives and speed matters in avoiding destruction of the civil society that it's taken us so long to build. As one looks at companies, which are actually the companies where the forefront of these, they all say speed matters, regulatory process matters, conducting good science rapidly matters, and this really places an emphasis on the kind of things that ZAGENO is doing to help speed the process along. Nothing I've said about the speed of purchasing is changed by coronavirus except it's made more acute.

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    Our podcast with ZAGENO chairman, Joe Von Rickenbach, provided an upbeat perspective on the long term financial impact of COVID-19, which came from a place of personal experience.

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    We've talked a lot about the unexpected occurrences that happen in life and can really scare people. There's a lot of anxiety that has come from this and that perhaps will be with us for some time to come. Do you remain optimistic about the years to come?

    I am, actually.

    I think one of the biggest takeaways from the crisis discussions is when you're in the crisis you basically believe this will ever end. It's going to be absolutely terrible, this is the big one, this one is different… And the truth is, as a society, we have come through worse. Think about World War II or the Spanish Flu, where millions of people died. And yes, it's a hundred years ago but it was no less bad for the people living then.

    I always quote Warren Buffett. His fundamental mantra basically is never bet against America. So, basically, we will come through this. Not only do I believe that we will come through it, as bad as it may seem right at the moment, I think we will lead the world, eventually, yet again.

    I have a lot of confidence in that but I'm willing to bet on that actually, literally. I'm literally willing to invest. I am investing.

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    The interview we conducted with professor Nick Vyas from the University of Southern California was one of the year's most popular because of his ability to broaden and simplify the complexities of the global supply chain. 

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    My final question addresses the people that we call our customers. These are chief scientists, lab managers as well as procurement and finance teams. What advice would you provide these people who are returning to their small biotech or even their big pharma organization and will face the challenge to restock the supply for their research?

    So, I think that one of the lessons that we, as a civilization, have learned from COVID-19 is that there is a supply chain in everything and when that supply chain is disrupted it impacts our lives, it impacts our livelihood. 

    Everything we do, we move from point A to B underpins by having an efficient supply chain. 

    So, I think my advice would be to not take supply chain as a secondary discipline. Yes, the science is important. Yes, the research is important. Yes, the end product - pharmaceutical products are very important, profit obviously is important, market share is important, but what drives and creates all of this is the movement of goods and services, which is the supply chain.

    And today we're at the stage where we're generating so much data, we're moving so fast, we're adapting so fast. Our behavior has changed as a society and as humans. And how do we cater to all of those things? In my view, it is truly by planning, being very strategic, and being very heavily invested into the supply chain that can repeat the success. 

    So, adopt, embrace, and innovate. If we can do that, I think this advice truly becomes agnostic. Then not only can it work in bio-science, life sciences, and pharma, but it can work in any discipline, across the globe.

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    Our podcasts featuring investor, Paul Melchiorri and management consultant, Brian Shanahan took on some similarities as each reflected on the hardship caused by the pandemic juxtaposed with the opportunity that can come from it.

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    Paul, what's clear to me from this conversation is that, despite the economic conditions you faced over the course of your career, you always remain eternally optimistic. Can you share with our listeners those things that keep you so positive? 

    It's hard because people are really going through very struggling times and when you see the pain, the suffering, it's just heartbreaking and it's real. And so you can't not be human to be negatively impacted by it. 

    However, I think there's two ways you can react. You can drown in your sorrows, and feel bad for yourself and or your families or whichever. Or, you look at this and say, let me look at the positives; let me look at how I can take advantage of these opportunities that are ahead of us and go make opportunities happen. 

    I think that if you look at any of these historically bad situations the strong come out of it stronger and much better off. Look in the mirror and say, which one are you going to be? Are you going to be one that willows at this and just gives up or let me take advantage of this opportunity and come out of it stronger? Hopefully the latter; that's the way I look at these things; I look at them as opportunities and I think the people that come out of it with the right attitude will most likely come out of it stronger. 

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    You have invited me to join a group of yours called COVID Positives. So my final question, Brian is what makes you optimistic?

    Every new day is a new opportunity to do something better.

    I think this is an important message, this year especially, because us humans, we're tribal animals in the same sense as our family, our football team, but equally where we go to work.  For so many people who've been working from home and feeling isolated, that's been a massive problem.

    There's also many opportunities out there. This is a time to innovate because lots of people who lost their jobs, lost their businesses, had to refocus their businesses -  innovation is required in these times, and it's very difficult to innovate and then act on that innovation if you can't think in a positive way.

    So, it's very important to have a positive outlook on life, or else you're never going to try anything new, and if you never try anything new, nothing will ever get better.

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    For business author, Adam Morgan, the idea of COVID-19 as an impediment for business led him to describe a chief tenet that has framed his guidance for readers and clients alike.

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    You speak about challenging something and not someone and that fascinates me. Today, our research scientists, those that are our customers, have this very big challenge about this thing, COVID-19. And it leads me to ask, is there something in your toolbox of ideas that you rely on in crisis situations, like this... perhaps conditions that can be created for success?

    I think that the answer is embrace the constraint.

    • What is the key constraint that COVID is giving us? 
    • Is it about our ability to go and talk to our customers? 
    • Is it about our ability to innovate in the right kind of ways? 
    • Is it our ability to distribute? 

    Don't know what it is, but look that constraint in the eye and then put a very significant ambition against it and use that as the framing question for how to move forward.

    And then the second part... the twin, in terms of the solution that links into that, is something I was taught by a man who was the chief technical officer of a big bakery in the UK. And he had this very simple idea, which I really liked.  He said, "when we're trying to solve very difficult problems, I don't allow anybody in my team having this conversation to use the words ""we can't do that, because"... they have to start a sentence, "we can do that, if"... "we can do that, if.""

    And it sounds such a simple thought, that it's easy to walk past. But I find it one of the most profound insights and observations that I've come across in my working life, actually. Because if you think about it, making people start the sentence "we can, if" does three key things.

    The first is it keeps all the energy of the conversation in this team around, how do we find a solution to this propelling question, rather than allowing the energy to drift into, is this a question which can be solved? You don't allow that to be addressed. You've fix all of it and how we can find it. 

    Secondly, of course, it does force you to look laterally. One of the reasons that people don't look laterally, by and large, is because they think that the leadership is going to suppress that or not approve that. And that tends to be not the case. By and large, a lot of those things get suppressed not because leadership says no, but because you're double guessing what will be bought more than what will not be bought. So, it allows you to offer lateral solutions without fear of being rejected. 

    Then third is it keeps optimism and curiosity alive in the conversation. So much of the evidence around tenacity and grit demonstrates that actually the more optimism you can bake into your team, as a leader - at the beginning, and keep in that team, as a leader, at the beginning - the more chance you will have of navigating certainly the internal road bumps and kind of corporate antibodies that come your way and getting your solution out of the door as undiluted and as intense and as robust and dynamic and exciting as you need it to be. 

    For me, in this particular world, thinking about how one uses COVID as a beneficial constraint that will stimulate breakthrough for us, framing it as a propelling question, and then using a "can if" approach to answer it...I would be starting there. 

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    Dr. Richard Wooster, chief scientific officer at Translate Bio, spoke to us about the collaboration he’s witnessed among the wider scientific community, which left us feeling optimistic about the future.

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    These conversations that we have on this podcast of late have obviously focused on these doom and gloom scenarios, which can be so off-putting but it is our reality. So, I like to end these conversations on an up note And so our final question to you Richard is what makes you optimistic?

    What has made me optimistic is really that people want to be good. I think people want to be helpful. People want to be collaborative and that sort of fundamental human nature I think which is coming out through the pandemic - that spirit of collaboration, bringing together expertise, I think has been heightened during the pandemic and I think that's what makes me optimistic that continuing that for the future.

    And for us as we think more specifically - Translate Bio - is how we can take mRNA from the stage it is today, in terms of therapeutics and vaccines, and seeing, and hoping, and believing that this will be a powerful path to generate medicines for patients and it becoming a mainstay within the therapeutic arsenal that we will have in the future for vaccines, whether it's for COVID-19 or whether it's for other infectious diseases. And so I do feel very optimistic about the future and what it's going to bring for us.

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    As we conclude this compilation podcast, we share the thoughts and insights of ZAGENO’s co-founder and CEO. Dr. Florian Wegener.

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    As we wrap-up, I had a final question. This has been a turbulent year with trials and tribulations. So Florian, what keeps you focused? What keeps you optimistic?

    This has been a very tough year for everyone; lots of interpersonal challenges and, in the bigger picture, a question about where will we take mankind? What are we doing? How will we live together - not only in a pandemic but how will we culturally live together in the future, after the pandemic?

    So, we're not negative about the future. It's the opposite. I think we are proving that health is the highest good for mankind. We also understood that society and living together is a fundamental value for everything we do.

    Having said that, what we at ZAGENO are doing makes me very proud. 

    We accelerate research and we help very smart people doing their work faster and more efficiently, and hopefully can contribute to their success, which ultimately will allow society to live together in a safer way again.

    So, I'm actually very thankful about this year with many challenges that led to a better understanding of what is important in everyone's life. Why should we live up to certain values and maybe even, the feeling of, we overcame it.

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    We’ve enjoyed bringing these conversations to you, and look forward to bringing you more insights in the year to come.


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