Business director, RNAi
Name: Walter Tian
Position: Business director, RNAi — Qiagen
Background: Marketing manager, PerkinElmer — 1998-2003
MBA, Northeastern University — 1993
MS, immunology, Beijing Medical University — 1985
Medical degree, Beijing Medical University — 1982
This week, Qiagen announced the establishment of the high-throughput RNAi user forum, an initiative designed to help researchers design and run RNAi-based screening experiments.
The forum is being coordinated by a steering committee made up of scientists from both inside and outside Qiagen. This year's committee includes Spyro Mousses, director of the cancer drug development research unit at the Translational Genomics Research Institute; John Hogenesch, professor in the department of neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute; Natasha Caplen, head of the National Cancer Institute's gene silencing section; Carl Novina, an assistant professor of cancer immunology and AIDS at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Lucas Pelkmans, an assistant professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Recently, Walter Tian, RNAi business director at Qiagen, spoke with RNAi News about how he got involved with RNAi and the establishment of the forum.
How did you get into RNAi?
I've been doing business marketing for the last 10 years now, but I've always had a strong interest in new technologies — especially new screening platforms. About four years ago, I was visiting a friend of mine in San Francisco and we were catching up. She happened to mention that she was doing RNAi. That was the first time I had heard about RNAi — I thought she just mentioned RNA with a weird pronunciation. I [then] started reading the publications [about RNAi] and also started paying attention to companies that were involved in it developing reagents and tools.
About three years ago, Qiagen had this opening for a business director to come in and lead the overall business direction setting up new products and marketing strategies and sales support [in the RNAi field.] So that's how I got involved in siRNA technologies.
The latest development on that front for Qiagen is this high-throughput RNAi user forum then?
Yes. … As [with] any new technology, there is a lot of excitement and a lot of buzz, but we also observed that there is a lot of waste … in both time and money … and a lot of learning [needed] on the part of consumers. …
Over the last two years we have seen an increasing trend toward screening using RNAi: People started with smaller siRNA sets — kinase, phosphatase, cancer sets — then you could see companies, especially pharma companies, moving into druggable genome or even whole-genome screening. … With that trend, there are a lot of people who are new to this technology who are buying the product but have no idea how to set up a proper screen. Some end up either doing the wrong screen or using the wrong approach. So, there is a lot of waste and also false results produced.
We were thinking about what we could do [to address this issue]. Through our business, we have a lot of strong relationships with the leading experts in this field … [who] are really experienced in high-throughput screening and do genome-wide screens very frequently. Our idea was to form an open forum where anybody who is interested in doing [RNAi] screening can join, submit their questions, and ask experts [about] the proper practices [and] the proper approaches. That's the background of this high-throughput RNAi forum.
How is it structured so that people can submit questions?
The forum basically has two venues — this is still a very early stage. What we want to accomplish in 2006 are two conferences. One we want to hold in North America, and [that] will tentatively be in June in Boston. We'll have a whole-day conference focusing on this topic. We'll have experts from both academia and industry come in and give a presentation, talk about their applications, [and] talk about their own experiences and learnings. A good part of the day will be panel discussions where people can challenge, ask questions, and debate. Towards the end of the day there will be a reception so people can network with each other, again ask questions, and get to know the experts.
The second conference scheduled for this year is going to be in Europe. We're targeting the end of Q3 or beginning of Q4. [A venue] is still in the planning stage, but the format should be the same [as the US conference], but will involve many more European researchers in terms of speakers and attendees.
That's one platform for people to get information. The second platform is the Qiagen website. We've set up a website where people can submit their questions, then we'll digest those questions and submit them to experts both inside and outside Qiagen [so] we can provide the appropriate directions and answers to those people. [We'll also] document those questions to build a Q&A database that will be available to everybody who gets onto the website.
These are the initial programs and actions we're doing this year to promote information exchange, and I can see going into 2007 more activities — maybe regionalized conferences with more involved discussions.
There is also a lot of interest and activity in the RNAi field in Asia. Are there plans to penetrate that market with this kind of forum?
Yes. That's maybe for 2007 or 2008. We do have a pretty strong presence in Japan, for example, where there is a lot of RNAi activity going on.
We have a pretty good relationship with several pharma companies and smaller government-sponsored biotech companies [there]. As a matter of fact, one of the speakers for the Boston conference will be from Japan [and] he will be talking about a brand new technology for high-throughput screening. I can't say anything right now [about it] but it's pretty revolutionary the way they do screening — they don't do the standard microtiter plate screening.
Is this forum largely geared toward customers of Qiagen or is it also a way to bring in new people and show them what Qiagen has to offer?
It's more towards the latter — it's an education platform. It really doesn't make any sense for us to limit this only to Qiagen customers. We actually debated that approach but very quickly decided that that's not the direction we want to go. We want to make sure everybody has equal access whether they are using Qiagen products or not. As long as they're doing RNAi screening, they should have access to this.
It's open to anybody. That's not to say our first conference will be open to everybody — our seating capacity is limited at this point, so there will be some selectivity. But it will not be based on whether you are a Qiagen customer or not.
Are details available on the website now?
That's to come. We decided to update the website at least once every three to four weeks. The next update should be in two to three weeks where we'll roll out [details on] the first event in Boston.
So the website is up now?
Yes it is.
What's the address?