Simon Goodman: Turku has a promising set-up for drug discovery

InFLAMES Visiting Professor Simon Goodman sees that Turku and InFLAMES have tremendous potential in drug discovery and diagnostics. Excellent bioscientists, human biobank and outstanding imaging capabilities are a few of the advantages he mentions. Goodman had also important message to young researchers about commercial tool-antibodies.

The set-up in Turku helps to convert ideas into a drugs and diagnostics, Simon Goodman believes.

– The proximity of the clinical center, the human biobank, to world-class clinical and cellular imaging possibilities, top-flight biotechnology and the start-up clusters in biology and electronics within a few steps of one-another is certainly unusual – more like Boston than “general Europe”, Goodman says.

On his stay in Turku Goodman saw many promising things, especially in the biotechnology field, but in other areas too. 

–  I found the imaging capabilities both preclinical and clinical magnificent. That is certainly a huge advantage for early and late clinical development.

Goodman knows Turku from his previous visits and because of his work in integrins and extracellular matrix, where Finland in general and Turku specifically have a notable history.

 – Johanna Ivaska certainly doesn’t need my praise, because the work the team is doing is widely recognized as world-class and at the leading edge. It was great to be able to spend some time with her group, especially in such a successful week for them.

Antibodies; be careful

Goodman works for the international non-profit organization the Antibody Society, specializing in validation of antibodies. The problems of poorly validated antibodies was something Professor Goodman wanted to inform especially younger InFLAMES-researchers.

 – Poorly validated antibodies are a serious burden on the bioscience, even right at leading edge of science. It slows research, leads workers down blind alleys, and wastes lots of money and time. I hope your young scientists will be even more cautious in their future use of commercial tool-antibodies. I will keep repeating this message until the problem is solved. I think the cluster in Turku suggests several areas for productive collaboration here.

Open minds towards pharma industry

Simon Goodman has decades of experience in drug development within the pharmaceutical industry on which he gave overview on his introductory lecture.

– I met many enthusiastic and devoted young researchers and although I didn’t have many discussions about the pharmaceutical industry, there certainly was no hint that anyone thought that business was a bad thing or to be avoided. The local biotechs I visited were good so there is industrial awareness about the possibility of spin-offs.  As always, there is the issue of funding for such very early ventures. 

Basic researchers don’t need to have the pharmaceutical industry in their prime focus, Goodman says.  He believes it would be distracting, unless they are on a Drug discovery or Biotechnology course where they are directly involved with quasi- industrial issues. 

–  But I think it is valuable for biosciences students and researchers to be aware of sort of things that the industry can do and is doing now.  I think the last 18 months of COVID have highlighted this, and we as bio-scientists are in a unique position to appreciate and evaluate that impact from the scientific side, which enhances our appreciation of the impact of the industry on society. 

 To help people is attractive

Professor Goodman worked with Merck from 1993 to 2017, most recently leading an immunohistology group in Oncology preclinical pharmaceutical research. During this time, he was developing and validating antibodies for clinical biomarker analysis.

Prior to that, he was preclinical scientist of a drug development team developing treatment of glioblastomas. This followed 15 years as head of a cell-biology laboratory in Merck, where he was involved in drug discovery. This was not career he had planned as a young scientist.

– My idea of what the industry physically did was cloudy, and not especially positive. But when I got there it turned out to be diversified and interesting.  I was lucky to join a company interested in the molecules which I was fascinated by, the integrins and dedicated to producing ethical products. 

Although he turned away from cutting-edge biological science, Goodman says he was fully exposed to cutting-edge pharmaceutical and clinical-translation science. What he soon learned was that the intensity and ”novelty” of the science wasn’t any less, but the issues and challenges were different, non-academic, he would say. 

– And my team, on behalf of the company, was trying to convert basic research into something that to cure disease.  I felt that I had been living on an island in academia, and had now hit an, for me, unimagined continent.  I think it was the fact that my science was being applied to something that might potentially help people that was very attractive.