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Fed up with Big Pharma


Michael Liebman is too modest to let it be put in print exactly how many job offers he was juggling this fall, but he will say that for scientists like him who have a clinical perspective on genomics, “it’s clear that the market opportunity is very, very great.” So plentiful are the options, in fact, that Liebman’s not limiting himself to just one new position.

A physical chemist by training with a passion for disease research, Liebman resigned this summer after serving nine months as global director of bioinformatics at Roche Bioscience in Palo Alto. Prior to his stint there, Liebman was head of bioinformatics for Wyeth Ayerst in Radnor, Pa,, for two years. Before that, he directed bioinformatics and genomics at Vysis/Amoco for seven years.

It seems he’s had enough of big pharma. “I’m interested in the process of treating disease,” he says. The pharmaceutical industry, he asserts, is more interested in designing drugs.

Known on the genome-industry conference circuit as a provocative speaker with strong opinions and colorful Save the Children ties, Liebman has long been a proponent of integrating clinical data into early-stage genomic research efforts in order to target treatments for individual patients. “I’m committed to the integration of diagnostics and therapeutics, and I don’t find that the pharmaceutical industry has really bought into that model yet,” he says.

He has more hope for academia. At the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, he will balance three titles: Abramson Investigator, Director of Computational Biology, and Professor of Cancer Biology. Aside from enabling him to pursue his research interests, Liebman says the university will give him the freedom to consult on the side for companies working in areas “where I’d like to see development.”

By carphone on the drive home from one such gig that he already lined up, Liebman explains: “These are areas where new technologies can be developed that can take advantage of or help with my research.”

In addition, Liebman has agreed to serve as chief scientific officer for a brand-new joint venture between Motorola’s global software group and Medical Science Associates. Genmatics’ business plan was still a secret at GT press time, but Liebman hinted that the company would use clinical data to help refine the application of genomic data.

Asked how many hours a day he expects to work to keep on top of it all, 53-year old Liebman responds, “Same as before. Twenty-five.”

— Adrienne Burke


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