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How Special are Special Interest Groups? Find Out at SLAS2013

In politics, "special interest groups" carries a negative connotation as candidates accuse their opponents of being in the back pocket of this or that special interest group. But for a professional society, special interest groups, or SIGs, garner quite the opposite reaction.


This is definitely the case with SLAS. Special Interest Group activity has been building throughout 2012 as groups organize their individual agendas for SLAS2013, January 12-16, Orlando.

Fourteen SLAS Special Interest Groups will host meetings during the Second Annual SLAS Conference and Exhibition. SIG membership is open and free to all SLAS members. SIG meetings at SLAS2013 are open to all conference participants.

• Academic Drug Discovery (Andrew Napper, chair)

• ADMET (David M. Stresser, chair)

• Automation Quality Control (John Thomas Bradshaw, chair)

• Drug Repurposing (Roger Bosse and Mathieu Archand, co-chairs)

• Informatics (Viral Vyas, chair)

• Labware Leachables (Lynn Rasmussen, chair)

• Microplate Standards (Amer El-Hage and Michael Shanler, co-chairs)

• Phenotypic Drug Discovery (Jonathan Lee, chair)

• Sample Management (Tim Dawes and Richard Kuo, co-chairs)

• Screen Design and Assay Technology (Kenda Evans, chair)

• Standards Initiatives (Burkhard Schaefer, chair)

• Stem Cells (Marcie Glicksman and Sitta Sittampalam, co-chairs)

• Technology Transfer and CRO/CMO Project Management (Liming Shi, chair)

• Women Professionals in Science and Technology (Robyn Rourick, chair)

Volunteer leaders design the meeting focus and format to best match the interests of the individual groups. Several have planned guest speakers; others have opted for open discussion. Most are a combination of presentation, question-and-answer and the energized sharing of ideas when professionals with similar interests get together. SIG meeting abstracts and speaker information can be found in the SLAS2013 Event Scheduler.

Participants Spoke and SLAS Listened

Evaluations from SLAS2012 attendees in San Diego carried a common theme – SIG participants value the time spent together in small groups of like-minded individuals and desire the opportunity to attend more than just one SIG meeting. In response, the SLAS2013 planning team built the SLAS2013 program to include three unique timeslots for Special Interest Group meetings – times that do not conflict with SLAS2013 scientific sessions or the exhibition.

Special Interest Group meetings at SLAS2013 will be held:

Tuesday, January 15, 8:00-8:45 a.m.

Wednesday, January 16, 8:00-9:15 a.m.

Wednesday, January 16, 11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Meeting of the Minds

"In our fast-paced, electronic-driven world today, in-person Special Interest Group meetings provide a valued venue to explore shared issues and think collectively about mutual challenges," notes SLAS President Dave Dorsett.

Andrew Napper heads the High-Throughput Screening and Drug Discovery Lab at the Nemours Center for Childhood Cancer Research in Wilmington, DE, and is chair of the SLAS Academic Drug Discovery SIG. This SIG's meeting is slated for Wednesday, January 16, beginning at 11:45 a.m.

"Meeting face to face with colleagues and having open dialog on the challenges of chemical probe and lead discovery in universities and not-for-profit research centers is an excellent way to maximize efforts and improve outcomes," Napper says. "People attend the SLAS conference seeking ways to work innovatively and effectively. SLAS provides a great forum to share ideas with an open mind."

Napper says the SLAS Academic Drug Discovery SIG meeting features a panel discussion to address widely publicized doubts regarding the reliability of findings reported by labs outside the for-profit pharmaceutical industry, followed by a demonstration of BARD, a data mining tool designed to facilitate extraction of useful information from screening and hit-to-lead data residing in PubChem and other databases.

"This format provides a forum for discussion of ways to maximize the value of academic drug discovery efforts, followed by a practical demonstration of a tool that will help to achieve this goal," he adds. "Participants in the SIG panel discussion – from both academia and industry – should come away with a greater understanding of the challenges faced in academic drug discovery and with strategies to promote successful collaboration with industry. The BARD demonstration introduces audience members to this versatile tool for mining the vast amounts of data residing in PubChem and other screening databases."

SLAS Drug Repurposing SIG co-chairs Roger Bosse, global product line leader at PerkinElmer, Montreal, Canada and Mathieu Arcand, scientist, also with PerkinElmer in Montreal, plan to focus on a single topic during their session, Performing Drug Repositioning using Phenotypic Assay Solutions. The SLAS Drug Repurposing SIG meeting also is Wednesday, January 16, beginning at 11:45 a.m.

"Phenotypic assays aim to measure functional and morphological changes occurring in cells, tissues and whole organisms," the co-chairs report. "Growing evidence indicates that using phenotypic assays favors the discovery of first-in-class therapeutic molecules compared to target-based approaches. In fact, results generated from phenotypic assays show enhanced translational therapeutic impact for given disease states. During this SLAS2013 SIG meeting, highly regarded scientists share their views on how phenotypic assays can be combined to repurpose drugs with enhanced biological relevance and translational impact."

It's likely that many participants of the newest SLAS Special Interest Group, SLAS Phenotypic Drug Discovery, will find the Drug Repurposing SIG event of interest. The PDD SIG meets earlier, 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, and plans an open forum for the global research community to share, discuss and, yes, maybe even debate the resurgence of phenotypic drug discovery. Jonathan Lee, senior research advisor at Eli Lilly Research Labs in Indianapolis, IN, is the SLAS Phenotypic Drug Discovery SIG chair.

"We opted for an open discussion at our SLAS2013 SIG meeting versus a formal program due to the extremely high engagement among SLAS Phenotypic Drug Discovery SIG members," Lee reflects. "We just formed the SIG in May. Our LinkedIn subgroup is over 400 members strong and we regularly discuss and debate issues, share links to relevant material and ask questions of one another. There is an eagerness to share thoughts and ideas."

In recognition of the interest surfacing regarding phenotypic drug discovery, SLAS has planned two additional means of sharing knowledge in this area. The Journal of Biomolecular Screening will publish a special issue on Phenotypic Drug Discovery in 2013 with Lee and Ellen L. Berg as guest editors. Abstracts are due January 25, 2013. Also, the SLAS Education Advisory Committee has named "Phenotypic and Signaling Network Approaches as an Alternative to Target-Based Drug Discovery" as the subject of the Fall 2013 SLAS Webinar Series.

Liming Shi, senior research scientist in bioassay development at Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN, plans to share his experience managing biological assays transfer and validation projects after the assays were developed, qualified or validated. SIG Chair Shi encourages free-style discussion and information exchange in the SLAS Technology Transfer and CRO/CMO Project Management SIG meeting on Tuesday, January 15, beginning at 8:00 a.m.

"There are many challenges for method transfer, not only the technology itself but also the regulatory requirements, multi-functional tasks and financial incentives," Shi explains. "I believe this SIG meeting will be a very nice platform to share everybody's experience and expertise in an informal environment. Participants will realize that technology transfer is not as simple as 1-2-3! People who are in charge of technology transfer need both technical expertise and project management skills. This SIG meeting provides a perfect arena for members to have a group discussion, an excellent platform for members to build personal connections and an informal environment for members to exchange industry/academia updates and personal opinions."

The SLAS Standards Initiatives Special Interest Group plans to kick off its Wednesday, January 16, meeting beginning at 11:45 a.m. with a series of short presentations showcasing a number of current standards efforts in varying stages of development.

Burkhard Schaefer, SIG chair and president of BSSN Software in Mainz, Germany, says the purpose of this SIG session is to raise awareness of community-driven standardization efforts currently underway and to provide a forum to foster collaboration between standards initiatives to ensure greater impact and better utilization of community resources. Schaefer is no stranger to the importance of standardization, as he has been involved with the development of the AnIML Data Standard for the past nine years.

"We feel beginning with 10-minute presentations from each group is a good way to get everyone on the same page," Schaefer explains. "Afterward, we move into a discussion as we feel that this provides a good format to connect the community and the standardization initiatives. It allows the initiatives to get their projects in front of an audience, and to capture feedback and requirements from the community. Participants pick up ideas on how to use standards to solve upcoming integration and data exchange challenges and learn from the presented case studies and application examples."

Schaefer believes the SLAS Standards Initiatives SIG, and specifically the opportunity to meet in person at SLAS2013, holds great value.

"Many things in laboratory integration become easier when standards are used to connect the different components," Schaefer says. "By attending the SIG, users can learn about standardization activities that may be relevant to what they are doing. We now see a number of standardization initiatives in the laboratory and lab informatics space. Because building a standard is a major multi-year effort, the SLAS Standards Initiatives SIG tries to foster communication and collaboration between the different groups. By working together, we leverage synergies, deliver results more quickly and make a larger impact on the scientific community."

The SLAS Automation Quality Control SIG meets on Wednesday, January 16, at 8:00 a.m., to bring together peers from the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries to discuss automation lifecycle management, says SIG Chair John Thomas Bradshaw, senior development scientist at Artel, Westbrook, ME.

"Leading this year's initiative is Craig Schulz, a principal scientist at Amgen," Bradshaw states. "Schulz kicks off this special SIG meeting in Orlando by sharing Amgen's current policies and practices around automation management, as well as sharing the results of a survey on this topic conducted by SLAS through December 19, 2012. He then facilitates an open forum discussion with participants sharing perspectives and insights regarding the journey from equipment acquisition to retirement within their organizations to gain the group's collective wisdom."

Bradshaw and Schulz expect that the data gathered and information shared will continue post-SLAS2013, perhaps culminating in a white paper and/or an SLAS2014 session.

Tim Dawes, senior scientific manager at Genentech, South San Francisco, CA, is co-chair of the SLAS Sample Management SIG. He and SIG co-chair Richard Kuo, group head, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Emeryville, CA, have planned their program in Orlando around the logistics and database challenges of transporting samples between company sites. The SIG's Wednesday meeting begins at 11:45 a.m. and features three speakers: Snehal Bhatt, GlaxoSmithKline, Collegeville, PA; Marybeth Burton, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, NJ; and Rachael Holmes, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA.


While effective in-person meetings are a key component of SLAS Special Interest Group success, group members crave more. That's why 13 of the 15 have formed subgroups on LinkedIn, the world's largest professional network on the Internet with more than 187 million members in over 200 countries and territories.

Some SIGs, like SLAS Phenotypic Drug Discovery, have daily additions to discussion threads. Posts may ask questions like "what are the best essential resources for using natural products in PDD?" or bat around a perspective shared in the literature on the value of the genomic analysis of cancer. Other SIGs are just beginning to discover the value of having virtual conversations.

In a recent SLAS Electronic Laboratory Neighborhood e-zine feature on using LinkedIn for job search opportunities, SLAS member Andy Zaayenga, managing director at SmarterLab in Martinsville, NJ, spoke of LinkedIn's value beyond the job hunt. "Think of it [LinkedIn] like walking into a room with everyone you know and asking a question," says Zaayenga, who has more than 8,000 professional connections in his personal network. "You will receive answers, suggestions, advice. It's an extremely effective tool for gathering information and for sharing information, getting the word out about something."

Topic of Interest Missing?

When members want to connect around a new topic of interest, SLAS invites those interested in organizing a new SIG to complete an SLAS Special Interest Group Charter Application and submit it to the SLAS Board of Directors for consideration and approval.

"SLAS encourages the creation of SIGs to foster and promote emerging areas of interest from the grass roots level within the educational scope and strategic vision of the organization," explains SLAS CEO Greg Dummer. "This organization was built by like-minded, energetic individuals who were passionate about their disciplines. Our SIG application process and operational procedures are in place to help them succeed."

December 3, 2012