The Junior Investment Banker’s Guide To Learning Medicine And Re-Learning Science

I have not written much about biotech lately, but a recent grad asked for some advice (about to move to the HC team at an IB.) I passed these along:

First, a few tips re science/medical data:1) look at the name of the disease — is it highly specific? (“TRK-fusion positive tumor”) or a random label (“Alzheimer’s Disease”). The more specific the understanding of the disease — especially on a genetic level — the more likely that things will work.

2) related to #1 — over time you’ll get a feel for how reliable the measurements that make up the data readouts are. Specific easily reproducible numbers (weight, % survival) are much more reliable than arbitrarily made up “scores.”

Neurology and psychiatry are minefields for data — nature did such a good job protecting our central nervous systems that they are extremely difficult to study.

For devices: they are almost all a combination of an energy source and a delivery system. To understand them quickly break it down into the two and figure out how novel one or the other is.

Back to data: if you are given raw numbers, convert them to %’s. If you get %, find out the # of people in the trial and convert it to numbers. If they both look impressive — great. If one does not believe the one that is least impressive. My Columbia students know this one well.

Brings us to statistics — to me the single most important skill for really understanding innovation in healthcare A could of good resources, one general and one specific to healthcare / biology:

Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics (easy to read)…

Harvey Motulsky’s Intuitive Biostatistics (denser and not so intuitive at times — free download below)

Intuitive Biostatistics A Nonmathematical Guide to Statistical Thinking 4th Edition by Motulsky(1)(1)

Intuitive Biostatistics A Nonmathematical Guide to Statistical Thinking 4th Edition by Motulsky(1)(1)

For basic science, you may want to read small amounts regularly rather than try to learn the vocabulary all at once.


The single best science resource that I use is Derek Lowe’s blog “In The Pipeline” in Science.

In the Pipeline Derek Lowe’s commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry. An editorially independent blog from the publishers of Science Translational Medicine.

Derek is brilliant, and while some of the pieces are really dense and seem jargon-y at the start, they quickly become very accessible as the vocabulary sinks in.

Biology: I would not spend too much time on basic bio, instead learning it in the context of applied biology ie medicine and biotechnology. The background science will sink in within the context of the stories and case studies. Some good sources:

Anything Atul Gawande writes is great (his column in The New Yorker is a must read.) My two personal favorites for getting up to speed on healthcare and science:……

A little more dense, but very readable, are Siddartha Mukherjee’s books on cancer and genetics. Thankfully PBS’ Nova made both into really good documentaries.

There is a lot of good science combined with an excellent overview of the drug industry in Thomas Hager’s Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine…

Not as much science, but Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book American Sickness gives a really good (and depressing) overview of the US healthcare system.…

Two more business of biotech books that are really good: Peter Kolchinsky (PM for RA Capital) The Great American Drug Deal (You can read much of it on his Medium posts)

If you end up doing a lot of biotech, there is a good book on biotech forecasting and modeling, Frank David’s “Pharmagellan Guide To Biotech Forecasting And Valuation”…

(Self promotion disclosure: I wrote the foreword.)

Another really good resource for the biotech industry and the science behind it is The Timmerman Report (subscription, but well worth it) — Your Edge In Biotech

Bruce Booth, a partner at Atlas Venture, writes an excellent blog about drug development and science: Bruce is an ex-McKinsey guy so there is usually a good data set with each article.

Ed Yong is The Atlantic’s best science writer (they have many (The Atlantic probably has the best top to bottom science writing of any general publication)

Carl Zimmer’s book on heredity is a great genetics primer. @carlzimmer

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer: 9781101984611 | Books

If I had to predict the hottest area in healthcare banking in the coming decade it would be immunology. Matt Richter, a New York Times writer, wrote a good overview:…

Finally, everyone in the industry reads @statnews (lets me point out for the thousandth time that @adamfeuerstein @damiangarde and @megtirrell were all guest speakers in my class.)

So welcome to the club! There is no more interesting area of the economy than healthcare. We now have the computing power to tackle biology, which makes this the most timely field of study this century.

And we heal the sick and relieve suffering, making it the most timeless.

bio fund manager, Columbia prof, ex-reproductive endocrinologist, roadie for @PriyaMayadas

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