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The following multipart blog series was inspired by a conversation among a few friends about scientific communication, the current state of education in science and scientific integrity. To adequately cover such a broad topic, I’ve chosen to break it up into smaller, connected parts.


Shill. Nothing makes me angrier when discussing my work than someone accusing me of being a shill. According to Merriam-Webster, to shill is:


to talk about or describe someone or something in a favorable way because you are being paid to do it


Calling someone a shill questions the very integrity of the target. But worse, haphazardly calling a scientist a shill only because a corporation employs them demonstrates a lack of understanding of the scientific method. As scientists, we are trained from the beginning to go where the data take us. We are taught to determine the proper controls for an experiment so that we are able to interpret the results in a scientifically sound and consistent manner. When we are true to our scientific training, only data will influence our scientific conclusions. Money should play no part.


But, the pursuit of profits has resulted in unethical scientific behavior. The most well known example involves the dangers of cigarette smoking. A United States Federal Court found (pdf) that the industry “engaged in and executed – and continue to engage in and execute – a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public, including consumers of cigarettes….” It is unfair to let the unethical actions of a relatively few scientists impugn the credibility of all scientists. And yet, as industry scientists, we find ourselves in this predicament: how are laypersons supposed to grasp legitimate scientific findings in an environment lacking trust? How do we make the term “shill” irrelevant in scientific discourse? What factors contribute to the mistrust of corporate science and how might we start to address them?


A general mistrust of corporations by the general public.  In an age where corporations are viewed as putting profits over people, industry scientists suffer from guilt by association. While there may be little we can do about non-scientific areas where corporations get a bad name, we can effectively communicate the benefits of our science to the greater welfare of society. Successfully articulating the positive impacts of science can help insulate our work from peripheral, irrelevant issues.


The opaqueness of the commercial research environment. The necessity of a certain level of secrecy initially required to protect the value of commercially lucrative research also exacerbates the atmosphere of mistrust. Again, there appears to be little we can do as scientists to alleviate this condition. However, once intellectual property protection has been secured, we can push to communicate our discoveries, including the processes, as transparently as possible.


Legitimate acts of fraud by scientists. This is one thing scientists can directly influence. We must be unafraid to stand up against scientific fraud. As Justice Brandeis said, and I personally learned as a graduate student, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” The foundation of our credibility as scientists rests in the integrity of our data and conclusions. We must protect this at all costs, including advocating for strong whistleblower protections. I would suggest that self-policing in an environment lacking trust is insufficient. We need strong objective oversight of science by a technically literate public and government.


Changing the atmosphere of mistrust of corporate science requires adherence to the highest standards of scientific integrity, a scientifically literate public, and effective communication of science to our public stakeholders. These last two areas will be expanded upon in upcoming entries.


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Jeff Seale is a Science Fellow at Monsanto where he has worked for 18 years building world-class protein engineering platforms and developing the next generation of science leaders. Outside of work he enjoys watching his children's artistic and athletic endeavors, sailing with friends and working to end extreme global poverty with the ONE Campaign. (The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Monsanto.)



Steven Isaacman does not have a resume. He never had one, and he doesn’t plan to create one anytime soon. It’s not like he was born with money and never needed to work, it’s just that entrepreneurship is deep in his blood. So instead of polishing up a resume and looking for a job upon graduation with a PhD in chemistry from New York University, he set up his own shop in 2008, with an ambitious goal to help address real world problems.


Growing up on Long Island, Isaacman always knew he wanted to become an entrepreneur. His uncle, Arnie, was a successful cosmetic chemist and entrepreneur. And Isaacman wanted to be just like him. Plus, “I like to play by my own rules, and need the freedom to explore my own scientific hypotheses and ideas,” says Isaacman.


About half of startups fail within the first 5 years, according to the US Small Business Administration. But Isaacman’s PHD Biosciences (formerly Nanometics) survived, and is thriving.


It wasn’t easy in the beginning, though. To support his business, and himself, Isaacman moonlighted as an adjunct faculty and a consultant while building his business. But as luck would have it, he soon generated a stream of revenue by licensing his first invention after graduate school to Grant Industries, Inc., a private company develops and manufactures specialty chemicals. Today, the product, a photoluminescent polymer composite that converts invisible UV light to visible blue light, and thus makes the skin appear brighter and younger, remains a popular product and continues to be sold globally. As a result, PHD Biosciences has been profitable since the first year.


A winning strategy

Since then, Isaacman has successfully raised funding to support his research endeavors. But to remain control of his company, Isaacman eyes mainly non-dilutive funding. In the past 6 years, he and his team have won 13 non-dilutive awards, totaling about $7.1 million, from government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and non-profit organizations such as the Avon foundation for Woman, the New York State Center for Advanced Technology, and the American Chemical Society. The prestigious and highly competitive awards have not only provided cash flow to the young company but also validated the merits of the company’s innovations.


Isaacman attributes his winnings to “good science.” But the outstanding grant writing and presentation skills he has diligently acquired over the years have proved invaluable as well.


“I relied heavily on mentorship and networking to learn how to write SBIR and other grants,” says Isaacman. “I owe a lot of my early success to mentors like Dr. Jim Canary (Isaacman’s PhD supervisor from NYU) and Dr. Seetharama Acharya (from Einstein) who took me under their wings, and taught me about grant writing. I also took advantage of every city program available, which helped me hone my grant writing skills.”


A creative mind

Like many successful professionals, Isaacman believes a strong drive, determination, and networking are key to one’s success. He also stresses the critical role that creativity can play.


“In science, you run into so many people who are smarter than you, but not so many who are more creative,” says Isaacman.


To keep track of his creative ideas, Isaacman keeps a notebook with him at all times. One example of his creativity is figuring out new ways to solve old problems.


“All members of the core team of PHD Biosciences are PHD chemists,” explains Isaacman. “We approach biological problems as chemists – and many times, it is our ignorance to the underlying biological/biochemical mechanism that allows us to develop creative solutions to solve problems.”


A diversified portfolio

Isaacman has a long list of ideas. But he and his team currently focus on just 3 key areas: small molecule therapeutics for sickle cell disease, small molecule enzyme inhibitors as anti-cancer therapeutics, and long-wear sunscreens for skin cancer prevention.


All of the innovations in the 3 areas have won non-dilutive funding, and each has a real potential to address real world health issues.



As it’s often the case in pharmaceutical discovery, Isaacman discovered his potential solution for sickle cell disease by “accident.” And it all started with making a better self tanner for his uncle Arnie. The quest eventually led him to apply his discovery, a methodology to catalyze the Maillard reaction, to sickle cell disease. As of today, NIH has awarded Isaacman more than $3 million to develop the product.

If Isaacmans discovery of his innovation for sickle disease was born of good fortune, the product for breast cancer was a result of a strategic collaboration.

At PHD Biosciences, we pour through university intellectual property portfolios and try to find technologies that we can develop. This is how we found our breast cancer technology, which originated in the laboratory of Professor Vern Schramm at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine,says Isaacman, who is also a Visiting Scholar at Einstein

The long-wear sunscreens were, however, developed out of necessity. Having grown up around his cosmetic chemist uncle Arnie and having worked at the global cosmetic giant Estee Lauder during a college internship, Isaacman noticed that the industry was in desperate need of innovation. So he leveraged available cutting-edge academic discoveries and set out to develop long-wear sunscreens. With the productspotential to prevent skin cancer and their foreseeable commercial success, Isaacman successfully seized NCIs support through Phase I and Phase II SBIR awards.

While working on the NCI funded sunscreen project, Isaacman and his brother, Dr. Mike Isaacman, recognized a major shortfall of commercially available sunscreens.

Topical sunscreen formulas are challenging to apply to the harder-to-reach areas of the back and shoulders, notes Isaacman. To address the issue, the two brothers (known as the PHD Brothers) created the Never Miss A Spot wand technology, an extendable applicator allowing the consumer to self-apply the sunscreen on any area of the body.

Recognizing the potential value of the technology in sun care, skin care, as well as over-the-counter medical products, the two brothers launched a joint business venture called PHD Skin Care ( With an aim to help reduce the worldwide incidence of skin cancer, the company recently launched a line of products on the television shopping network HSN with  resounding success. The products are currently available only in the US, Nicaragua, and the UK. But the brothers are actively working towards commercializing their products throughout the globe. Their goal is to build the new venture into a globally sustainable brand.


A noble goal

Isaacman’s ultimate goal is to develop technologies to help treat diseases with unmet medical needs. And he is almost there. Three of PHD Bioscience’s small molecule technologies are in the final stages of preclinical development and expected to be in clinical trials in the next 12 months.


“There is a real opportunity for us to help a huge number of people through our innovations, and I would love to see that happen in the next few years,” says Isaacman.


  • Learn from successful entrepreneurs
  • Find a mentor who can teach you
  • Learn to learn from your failure because no results are still results
  • Immerse yourself into the environment where you can learn from those who have been there before
  • Network and get comfortable with marketing and selling yourself and your idea




Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.



"Glass is nature's safest container" proclaims an ad that ran in my local newspaper, The Midland Daily News. Chicken with Broken Glass, one of our family recipes immediately sprang to mind. Broken glass clearly is a safety risk, certainly not suitable as an ingredient for a chicken dish, unless you are the Addams family.  It is a family joke.  Chicken with Broken Glass got that name the first time it was ever served to me. It was the night before I defended my dissertation. My wife, at that time my girlfriend, volunteered to make dinner. Her selection was a chicken dish that requires fruit jelly.  She drop kicked a grocery bag on her approach to the apartment, breaking the glass jelly jar.  My wife, at the time my girlfriend and not the beneficiary of my life insurance, decided that the jelly was still appropriate for use in the recipe.


The facts, up to this point, are not in dispute. The rest of the story has two versions, with one element of dispute.  I recall seeing and picking a consequential piece of glass from the dish. The finding of the glass prompted her to tell me the story of the broken jar and the decision to use the jelly. My wife recalls I found no glass.  She recalls telling me about the broken jar only after I had enjoyed the meal.  The jar split along a single fracture, allowing safe salvage of the contents, according to her version.  Truth cannot be determined almost 30 years after the event. The only two people present recall the events differently.


My wife and I are both well-educated.  We are reasonably intelligent people. We also have been exposed to the concepts of "safe" and safety for our entire lives. We would, as most of you would, say that we know what safe and safety mean.  I would not have used the jelly from the broken jar, judging it to be unsafe. Given exactly the same data and having very similar level of education, my wife saw the situation differently.  In her view, the data support her interpretation: I did survive the meal unscathed.  For her, that is proof that the dish was safe.


We discovered almost 30 years ago that we disagreed on what safe meant.  That disagreement continues to this day.  It shows that two people trained to let data inform their actions can interpret the same data in different ways, leading to different conclusions.  Two similarly educated people confronted with the same circumstances act in different ways due to different interpretations of a word a concept weve both known our entire lives.  A concept that everyone understands.


Based on the data I have and my interpretation of safe, the ad in The Midland Daily News is mistaken. Glass, due to its physical properties and tendency to break leaving sharp edges, is not "Nature's safest container".  Others must agree with me.  Glass bottles are a thing of the past at stadiums due to safety concerns, replaced by unbreakable plastic and metal containers.  The ad in The Midland Daily News goes on to say glass is the most sustainable container too.


The Midland Daily News is the newspaper in the home town of the corporate headquarters of one of the largest plastics companies in the world.  Dow Chemical is headquartered there and is one of the largest polyethylene producers globally.  Linear low-density polyethylene makes up a large part of the Dow portfolio, containing both conventional Ziegler-Natta resins and the modern single-site metallocene and post-metallocene polymers.  LLDPE is a prime resin for films, making exceptionally strong, puncture resistant films.  Most people don't ponder things like plastic bags, whether for bread, trash or newspaper delivery.  If you do take a moment to recall these bags from your youth, you must be impressed with how thin and strong the bags of today are relative to those of memory. The resins in today's films allow more to be done with less, reducing the amount of plastic used for each bag while offering superior performance.  This is certainly one of the reasons that plastic packaging has become such a large part of our lives.  More and more, bags are replacing boxes, jars, bottles and cans.  The grocery shelves are being transformed.


Plastic has a compelling value proposition.    It does the same job while consuming fewer resources in a safer way.  Plastic does not fracture like glass.  It does not yield sharp fragments when it fails. Safety and sustainability form the value proposition.  Fewer resources are used across the life cycle in production, transportation, use, and disposal, whether in landfill, incineration or recycle.  Plastic packaging is not an evil plot hatched on the world, it is a result of the market being driven to provide materials in the safest and most resource efficient way.  It provides the lowest cost to serve, the direct result of resource efficiency.


Chicken with Broken Glass illustrates that reasonably intelligent folks can disagree on safety, a concept they have known since childhood.  Sustainability and sustainable are relatively new concepts. They are also concepts that require more work to understand.  Safety is frequently about a moment in time, like when a desperado breaks a bottle to make a weapon in an old western movie.  We can see the sharp edges and based on that moment in time determine that the broken glass is not safe.  We don’t have to know anything about how the bottle was made or how it was used prior to being broken to determine it is not safe.


Sustainability is harder. Sustainability requires understanding the life cycle.  We have to know where something came from, how it was manufactured, how it was used and where it goes at end-of-life in order to understand the sustainability.  It is not easy. It is no wonder that the discourse on sustainability can be so fractious.  Ambiguous meanings and a requirement that life cycles be examined make for great difficulties.  Safety should be much easier and we don't even agree on that.


Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011. He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.

The US now has an energy surplus that will likely be sustained for years, if not decades. The same development is also taking place outside the US.  And we can expect the issue of fossil fuel surpluses to be further highlighted at December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.  Already the G7 group of the world’s richest nations have committed to achieving “the decarbonisation of the global economy”, whilst Saudi Arabia (the world’s leading oil producer) accepts that “it will no longer need fossil fuels”. 

Fosil Fuel Graph.jpg


US developments in the 3 major fossil fuel-based energy sources highlight the sea-change now underway:


  • Coal has been under major environmental pressure in recent years, and at the same time its competitive position has been undermined by increased supplies of natural gas due to shale gas developments.  As a result, recent estimates suggest that 500 million tonnes of annual production is owned by companies in financial distress.  Coal still provides over a third of US power, and this position is likely to continue over the next decade.  But companies in financial distress tend to have little pricing power, and so we can expect to see coal prices remain close to their $3 - $4.50mn Btu cost of production.
  • Gas is the new fuel on the market, at least in its current volumes.  The problem is that much of the new production was supposed to be exported. Companies currently have licences to export 9bn cu/d of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), roughly an eighth of current US production of 72.4bn cu/d.  But as the Energy Institute reports, strong competition in Europe and Japan means local prices for new business are in the $7-9mn Btu range.  These might appear attractive for prospective US exporters, given the US gas price of around $3mn Btu, but this advantage is outweighed by the $6mn Btu cost of  liquefaction and transport.  Equally challenging is the fact that global growth in LNG demand was just 2.4% last year, making it even harder for all the planned new capacity to find a home.
  • Oil is the 3rd major component of the energy mix.  Its prices have halved over the past year, and the International Energy Agency reports that there is currently a 2mbd surplus of production over demand.  The result has been record levels of US and European inventories, and increased price volatility as producers and consumers struggle to determine a market-clearing price for the product.  It doesn’t take much imagination to suggest that prices may fall still further, back to their historical levels around $30/bbl, where oil would have roughly the same energy value as gas and coal (on the historical 10x natural gas price formula). This, of course, would create even more intense competition in the US domestic market.


Unsurprisingly, the US petrochemical industry suffers from exactly the same competitive dynamics as its upstream suppliers.  It has made windfall profits in the past few years, but these are already declining now that oil prices have tumbled.  And despite this advantage, US production of ethylene and its major derivatives has remained below the peak levels seen in 2004-7.


The problem is highlighted in the chart, based on American Chemistry Council data. US ethylene, PVC, styrene and ethylene glycol production peaked back in 2004, and polyethylene production in 2007. US ethylene derivative exports have also been in decline in recent years, as global demand growth slows and former importers such as China expand their own production.  It is very hard to see how the new production from the planned $145bn of new ethylene capacity will find a home.


This is all part of the move into the New Normal world.  Companies and investors are slowly having to come to terms with the fact that access to cheap feedstocks no longer guarantees competitive advantage. Instead, successful companies in the future will be those that are demand-led.


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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (, trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars. 


领英网的创始人Reid Hoffman和他的好伙伴,硅谷风险投资的先驱Peter Thiel这个月来到了上海。而我很幸运的参加了他们俩的一个讨论会。他们聊到在斯坦福大学的相识和早期同时作为“Paypal黑帮”成员的经历,还谈到了离开Paypal后如何追寻各自的事业:Reid创立了领英网,而Peter成功的投资了包括脸书在内的许多硅谷最有价值的公司。我被他们的创业精神以及风险投资如何能够帮助打造科技行业所深深触动。会后,我不停的问自己中国的风险投资在哪?他们又是如何运作的呢?

十年前,当我还是一个大学生的时候,我从来都没有听说过风险投资这个词。后来到了美国,偶然中听说了风险投资这回事,开始觉得资本市场和创业十分有趣。为了深入了解,还在 学校的商学院选修了几门入门课。回想起来,在离开中国去美国读研究生院的时候,中国至少还是有一个风险投资机构的,那就是中国政府。2000年左右,政府开始大力发展房地产,主动给许多私营房地产企业提供廉价的土地和运营资金。而另外一个我所知道的政府大力投资的领域就是医药和生物科技领域。十年前,中国政府 意识到继续依靠廉价劳动力和低端制造业来推动经济增长的方式不可持续。从那时起,政府开始向大学、科研机构和新建的转化研究中心大力投资,希望能够提升产业链同时开发出一 些重磅药物。这两个投资的结果好坏参半。虽然政府从早期房地产的投资中得到了成百上千倍的回报,但中国现在的经济正面临着房地产泡沫破灭的危险。另一方面,早期进入公共研 究机构的投资只产生了一大堆花哨却无产业价值的研究论文。


传统意义上的风险投资是高度专业的小众人群在圆桌会议上做出决策。与之相比,一个大政府作为风投来源四处投资的画面显得不是那么专业。大家也许会想,中国的私人资本风投有 没有成长的趋势,未来有没有的出路?我觉得答案是肯定的。最近,我收到了一些评估需要融资的生物科技初创公司产品和估值的请求。这些请求大多来自一些为私人投资者工作的朋 友。这些投资者大多都是早年在房地产疯长的时期大赚了一笔。随着房地产市场的冷却,他们开始四处寻找更好的资本回报。很多这样的风险投资者正在加速进入制药和生物科技行业 。我猜这就是我为什么收到了这么多请求的原因吧。

如果说这些投资者是中国私人风险投资向国际看齐的婴儿学步,私人药企就代表了一个生物科技里较为成熟的风险投资。一个朋友最近换工作到了一家国内制药企业并且建立了产品引 进部门。这家公司是中国最大的仿制药厂之一,现在想扩大创新药的业务领域。要做创新药,就需要一个在不同研发阶段的试验药物的产品线。该公司的策略就是投资小生物制药公司 进行共同开发和购买其他公司的早期研发产品。我朋友的工作就是寻找和评估这些产品和项目,这也是他加入这家公司的原因。这家公司看起来充满雄心壮志,同时在国内和国际市场 寻找目标产品来满足他们成长需求。

如果投资能够双向进行事情就更加有趣了 - 那就是国际市场的风险资本也向中国生物科技公司投资。确实,礼来中国风投,一个礼来内部负责大中国区的风险投资部门,刚刚从国内一家在苏州的生物科技公司那花大价钱购买了 两个临床试验阶段的产品。

也许所有这些从国际视角上看来都不是那么新鲜。风险投资在美国已经是一个成熟的产业,跨国药企的内部风投在全世界内寻找好项目也有好几十年的历史了。但是,如果说十年前一 个在中国最好大学里的大学生从来没有听说过风险投资,这种变化是巨大的。我对未来几十年里风险投资和创业的互相促进,共同发展感到无比兴奋。我想见证这个正在被创造的历史 。我最好别眨眼睛。


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Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin, and his pal, Peter Thiel, one of the Silicon Valley’s pioneer venture capitalists, visited Shanghai this month. I was fortunate enough to attend a forum with them where they discussed how they met at Stanford University, and their early careers as members of “PayPal Mafia”.  They also talked about their individual pursuits: Reid created Linkedin, and Peter invested in many of Silicon Valley’s successful companies such as Facebook.  During the discussion, I was deeply touched by their entrepreneurial spirits and how venture capital can help shape the technology industry.  After the forum, I could not get the question out of my mind – Where is China’s venture capital and how it is functioning?


I had never even heard of the phrase venture capital when I was a college student ten years ago.  It was not until the first a couple years in the United States that I caught this phrase somewhere by accident.  I found financial market and business venture so intriguing that I even took some courses in the business school to learn more.  Thinking back, there was at least one source of venture capital in China when I left the country to pursue my graduate degree—the government.  Around the year 2000, the Chinese government started to heavily invest in real estate, providing cheap land and seed money to private companies.  Another big investment by the government that I know of was in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector.  About ten years ago, the government realized its strategy for economic growth relying on cheap labor and low end manufacturing was unsustainable. Since then, it has invested billions of dollars annually in many universities and academic institutes and has built many new translational science centers in hopes of boosting industry and generating some blockbuster products.  The investment results have been mixed. Although extremely large returns have been realized from early investments in real estate, the country is in risk of a bust from the current bubble.  On the other hand, the investment into public research institutes resulted in no more than a blossom of fancy publications.


Compared to traditional venture capital deals, where a group of highly specialized people make decisions in round table meetings, the picture of a big government functioning as a source of venture capital might not look very typical. Some might wonder if there is a trend or hope for a growing Chinese private venture capital scene?  Fortunately, I tend to think yes.  Recently, I received requests to evaluate data packages for many biotech startups that are looking for financing.  The requests are mainly through friends who work for private investors.  The stories are all similar.  These private investors made a fortune during the real estate mania in the past decades.  As the market is cooling down, they are looking elsewhere for a return on their capital.  Many of these venture capitalists are delving into the uncharted waters of the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. I guess this is why I have received so many requests.


If these investors are China’s baby steps into the world of private venture capital, private pharmaceutical companies represent a more mature form of biotech venture capital.  A friend recently landed a new job in a domestic pharmaceutical company and initiated a new department of in-licensing.  The company is one of China’s top generic drug makers and wants to expand their business into innovative medicine.  To do this, they need a pipeline of experimental drugs in different stages.  The strategy they are taking is to invest in small biotechs for co-development or to license early stage products from other companies.  My friend’s job is searching for and evaluating projects and products, and this is why he joined this company.  The company is ambitious, looking at both domestic and international market to satisfy their appetite for growth.


Things become more interesting when investment goes both directions. That is, international venture capitalists also invest in China’s biotech companies. Indeed, Lilly Ventures in China, an internal venture capital branch of Eli Lilly that oversees their business here in China, just in-licensed two clinical stage products for Eli Lilly from a Suzhou based domestic biotech company.


This may not sound new by international standards.  Private venture capital is already a mature business in the United States and multinational pharmaceutical companies’ internal venture capital groups have been scouting new medicines for decades.  However, considering that ten years ago a college student at one of China’s leading universities had never heard of venture capital, the change in China is huge.  I am excited to witness how business venture creation and venture capital will foster each other in the decades to come. I want to witness the history in the making. I better not blink.



Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.