“Hi….my name is Elaine Hamm and I am here because of my failures.”
Last month, that is how I introduced myself to a room of people at the Department of Health and Human Services. While everyone else at that meeting talked about their progress, I had the opportunity to talk about my failures. And I really do mean opportunity because I feel like failure is one the most important elements of the entrepreneurial and drug development story; however, it is a piece that we gloss over, shoving it into a statistic and moving on.
I was approached a few months back to speak to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Combating Antibiotic Resistance Bacteria (PACCARB). They heard about me through my work with Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Supermoms Against Superbugs program. They asked me to speak because I was working on a new antimicrobial therapeutic.
And I was. Until last June that is, when the drug failed, and the company shut down.
I fully expected them to say “Coolcoolcool…thanks for your time…bye.” But I offered to speak about our struggles because that is something we don’t talk about enough. Luckily, they agreed.
Fast-forward a few months and I was creating the most depressing powerpoint of my life. Rehashing the past 5 years where I was involved in not 1 but 2 failed infectious disease programs. Dredging up memories of layoffs, no pay, and negative results. Of getting the email on a Friday at 10:30 pm with a graph that showed no difference between the treated group and the control. How do you tell that story without bitterness and provide meaningful solutions (and under the allotted 10 minutes)?!
Well, for one, it helps that I am not bitter. Because here is the thing… science is filled with disappointment and negative results. Startups are too. And you just have to keep going. Solving hard problems will always be hard (especially in developing new antibiotics). But we learn from mistakes and do something different next time. And, honestly, I have learned way more from the negative data and the failures than I have from the successes.
So, that is the story I tried to tell. “Here is what happened, here is what I would do differently, here is how you can help.” For the full video, see the link below… my portion starts at the 34:17 mark.
And from that failure was born my new company, Ascend BioVentures. Ascend was designed to help shepherd early stage therapeutics through the development process. It was built on trying something new and lessons learned, but most importantly, optimism. Startups are hard. Drug Development is hard. Drug Development in Infectious Disease is particularly hard. But people are dying and, while we could wallow in our pharma pity party, instead I am reminded of the last line of one of my favorite books: “to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . [And] so we beat on, boats against the current…”
Full Agenda for the meeting is available through HHS’s website: