Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness

Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

Dale Yuzuki

Dale Yuzuki, Global Marketing Manager, Pillar Biosciences

Dale Yuzuki is a sales and marketing professional in the life sciences research-tools area, who recently started his new position as Global Marketing Manager for Pillar Biosciences. Previously, he’s been employed by several big players such as Life Technologies, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and most recently SeraCare, where he worked with the development and launch of their first precision medicine product into the marketing place. 

He’s also super active on Twitter @DaleYuzuki and runs a blog, ‘The Next Generation Technologist’, where he writes about life-science tools and marketing. 

How he’s got time for it all is up for debate because after talking to him on the phone, he certainly seems like a guy that watches a lot of TV (he claims he doesn’t though…)

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on getting Pillar Bioscience’s commercial efforts up and running. By up and running, I mean identifying people for early access. We don’t plan a commercial launch until later this year, but already have PLOS One publication out as well as have products on-hand that people can test on an early access basis. These are actually great things to have at the start, rather than talking about with any new technology. Pillar has a new technology for NGS enrichment for inherited cancer, somatic mutations in oncology, and circulating tumour DNA. It is not just talk, it’s actually something that people can try for themselves. People can evaluate whether or not ctDNA can actually measure down to 0.2 %, or whether not the software is able to deconvolute unique molecular identifiers (UMI’s). It’s evaluating whether the software is easy to use, and whether it can actually measure what you think you can measure.

Previously, when I was at SeraCare, I was looking at it from a reference standard point of view. And one of the big red flags in the field of monitoring for therapy choice as well as screening healthy volunteers with liquid biopsies is whether or not these assays are able to do what they claim they are able to do. So these kinds of concerns are valid, and have been raised. Yet the industry is moving forward with a lot of claims. Getting Pillar Biosciences known by people that are doing laboratory developed tests for cancer testing is what I’m working on right now. It’s a research use-only product, but there are plans to take it to the FDA in a regulated context.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

That would have to do with awareness of a small but expanding organization. In my realm, there aren’t enough hours of the day to reach people individually, so I’ll say the biggest challenge is being able to reach the right people. I think that’s familiar to sales people anywhere.

This makes me think of the sales classic from 1992, “Glengarry Glen Ross” starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemon, Alex, Baldwin, Ed Harris, and even Kevin Spacey. I’m going to link it here, as an Easter Egg Jam for Front Line Genomics’ readers. Somebody recommended to see it years ago – one memorable line from the movie is “coffee is for closers!” Maybe it will help a sales person reading The Short Read.

But back to the question – that’s the biggest challenge, because I certainly have people I know in my head that are just the right people to contact. But nonetheless, I’m on my way.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

I would love to see accurate liquid biopsy evaluation. There was an AstraZeneca poster released to AACR about five different tests circulating tumour DNA. They used one of the test providers as the gold standard, and the other four all tested the same 24 patient serum and tumour samples. It’s hard to get a high volume of plasma from diseased patients… It was so, so important that this particular poster had a lot of attention, for me, and for others who are practitioners in the field, because it shows the wide variability of detection rate. What were true positives, and what were false positives, what were true negatives, and what were false negatives – and that’s a very, very important dimension to look at in the context of clinical measurements of mutations. Am I measuring what I’m supposed to measure, and am I truly seeing everything that’s there? We’re talking too about false negatives – the signal is there, but you’ve missed it.

Now, one of the weaknesses of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) as a project is that they were all concerned about true positive rates, and not concerned about the false negative rates. By that, I mean they have to make sure that their positives are real, because it was expensive and difficult to follow up and make sure that the signal they detected was the actual signal. So it was a signal finding tool, but it wasn’t very concerned about signals that were there that it failed to detect. So if you ask anybody involved in TCGA, they will admit that the false negative rate was pretty high. Their false positive rates were maybe 3 or 5% of all their hits. But the false negative rate that could be up to 50%, they didn’t see. So it was 50% more signals there, but their ‘telescopes’ (so to speak) weren’t comprehensive enough to take it all in.

The reason I bring this up is that I would really like to see a very, very accurate ctDNA detection, and standardisations of methods.

What are you most proud of in your career and why?

That must be being able to do new things with existing building blocks – my talent stack if I can put it that way.

I’ve gone from being a high school chemistry teacher to a graduate researcher in cellular and molecular biology, where I had been working in HIV and cancer research for a good stretch. Then I have been able to reapply my teaching skills in other ways by working for QIAGEN technical support, and then going from there to product management, marketing and sales roles with QIAGEN, Illumina, Raindance Technologies, Life Technologies, Thermo Fisher Scientific and SeraCare Life Sciences. I ended up taking night school classes in marketing at the UCLA extension back in the day, and then carried that into a sales role, and again carrying that into content marketing.

So right now, I can say that I’m proud of the fact that I can apply this constellation of skills into a new context. I’m able to apply everything across the board, and now, even though I’m toggling back into a sales/business development role, I bring everything with me.  It’s lead to many good things, both professionally and personally.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

As I read this question, my first response would be Horace Freeland Judson. He was basically a science communicator; he was a journalist who wrote a book stop of a book called The Eighth Day of Creation. He’s passed away, but in this book, he interviewed all the pioneers of biology. I’d invite him, and whoever he’d like to bring. It would be so cool – you’d get all these towering figures in biology, but curated by him. If you just look at the table of contents of the book, in terms of the structure of proteins, and the discovery of DNA, and all the people that he interviewed for this book, how do you pick out one? But he would probably bring some pretty interesting personalities and at a dinner party, personalities are really important. I would trust the voice of a journalist, in this answer, and I’m going to stand by that. If someone discovers The Eight Day of Creation, and actually bothers to read it – their lives might be improved by this Short Read.  

What advice would you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

I wish somebody would have told me then, that it is true that “the century of biology” is now. Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen wrote a paper in 2004 called The Century of Biology, published in the New Perspectives Quarterly, and reading it 13-14 years later it seems really dated in some ways, but the point is there. We’re living in the century of biology.

In the 1967 movie “The Graduate”, the character played by a younger Al Pacino is given one word of advice, which is plastics”, and is told, “there’s a great future in plastics”.

Even before I started my career, when I was choosing a major, life sciences was people going to medical school or professional school or something like that, and only because they really loved it. They didn’t look at it from a sort of ‘what kind of opportunities in the future will that lead to’ sort of thing.

Thinking of the hot topics of today, people starting out might be thinking about something in line with artificial intelligence, software development, material science and robotics. Life sciences are definitely on that list too. It has to be, and that means that I’ve been lucky to have chosen a career in an exciting field that is rapidly expanding.

 

Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution


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Who would you like to see interviewed for The Short Read? Let us know via contact@frontlinegenomics.com