How to Learn Biotech

The best in scientific literature, books, essays, news, newsletters, government resources, podcasts, forums, analysts, and more!

Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz
Jan 24 · 7 min read

I am increasingly asked what I read to learn and stay up-to-date on biotech. It turns out a screenshot of my bookmarks is not the most helpful response.

This is a roundup of useful sources in biotech, pharma, and healthcare.

My list excludes many great ways to learn: a scientific degree (and textbooks), conferences, talking with people (from professors to executives), and actually working in the space. However, it’s a near-comprehensive list of materials that you can access at any time, from anywhere in the world, mostly for free.

If I’ve missed a good source, or you’d just like to connect, feel free to email me.

PubMed is the bread-and-butter of biotech knowledge. If you feel daunted by the sheer volume of content, here’s PubMed’s real-time list of trending papers. Each week, I skim abstracts from the top 100 and read several in more depth.

bioRxiv and medRxiv are now the true cutting edge for new data: the latest results increasingly appear in preprints months before formal publication. I’m also signed up for free updates from Nature, Science, Cell, PNAS and NEJM.

Sci-Hub is a pirate website that instantly retrieves almost any scientific paper as a free PDF—and you shouldn’t use it because if you do Elsevier may sue me in its fight to keep taxpayer-funded science from being taxpayer-accessible.

The FDA provides extensive documentation on clinical and preclinical trials, approved drugs and medical devices, new regulations and incentives, as well as industry reports, advisory committees briefs, and open-source datasets.

The CFR is the code of federal regulations. Title 21, Chapter 1 covers pharma. It’s worth reading at least once in your life. As Thomas Cromwell said of the Tyndale Bible in Wolf Hall: “You read it, you’ll be surprised what’s not in it.”

The USPTO publishes patents 18 months after the initial IP filing date. Most are tedious to read, but it’s one of the best ways to follow emerging biotech. Google Patents provides the best tools to find and track relevant patents.

ClinicalTrials.gov is the best database of both active and completed, publicly- or privately-funded clinical trials in the world. The Clinical Trials Register is the European equivalent and the WHO maintains its own additional registry.

The SEC requires public companies to disclose regular reports on the state of their business—from S-1s filed by startups nearing IPO to 10-Ks/10-Qs/8-Ks filed by established corporations—all searchable in the free EDGAR database.

GovTrack is a topic-agnostic tool for tracking federal legislation, which I’ve customized to specifically follow congressional actions related to biopharma and healthcare. Watch how bills evolve as they move towards a vote.

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is a reliable public-private partnership between the state of Massachusetts and the industry, with a range of useful resources—especially for early-stage companies based in the commonwealth.

Sign up for the free Endpoints newsletter (7-10 short articles in a single email every Mon-Fri ~11am EST) and the Early Edition (top headlines ~6am EST). Occasional features are for paid subscribers only, but I get by with free access.

STAT has free newsletters and a free podcast, The Readout Loud. Most articles are paywalled, but STAT has made it worthwhile by poaching Sharon Begley from Reuters, Matt Herper from Forbes, and Adam Feuerstein from TheStreet.

FierceBiotech, FiercePharma and FierceHealthcare are good, free sites with newsletters, but fairly redundant if you already read Endpoints and STAT.

Timmerman Report has subscriber-only articles for $149/year. Timmerman’s podcast The Long Run, however, is free and unique: hour-long interviews with key executives, venture capitalists and scientists from across biotech.

BioPharmCatalyst summarizes each day’s top catalysts (clinical readouts, FDA approvals or CRLs, trial halts, secondary offerings, etc.) and their effect on biotech stocks. The site also has a good FDA calendar and paid trading tools.

Vinay Prasad, a professor-oncologist at Oregon Health & Science University, hosts Plenary Session, a good free podcast that savages biopharma bullshit.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit with a free newsletter focused on health and healthcare issues in the US like the opioid crisis and insurance policy.

BioWorld offers a more global focus than most other providers. BioSpace and BioCentury host longer, more detailed articles delving into specific scientific, financial or regulatory issues. BioPharma Dive is a free newsletter focused on drug R&D and regulatory affairs with occasional “deep dives” into each topic.

Exome is Xconomy’s free biotech section, which focuses on financial news like stock movements, upcoming IPOs and relevant government activity.

Asia-Pacific Biotech News is a monthly magazine with free online biotech and healthcare news in China, Japan, Korea, India, and SE Asia. ChinaBio Today is the pay-walled website and free newsletter of the eponymous advisory firm.

PharmaExec publishes a series of useful annual reports and insightful essays on a wide range of biotech issues, typically written by biopharma executives.

PharmaIntelligence focuses on a broad range of regulatory, patent, clinical, consumer and commercial topics, with a useful newsletter called Pink Sheet.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) is one of the oldest biotech publications and provides among the broadest coverage, from bio to software.

Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) is a nonprofit with news and features (free) and a magazine (subscription) from the American Chemical Society.

In The Pipeline, written by Derek Lowe and hosted by Science Translational Medicine, is a wide-ranging blog covering everything from in-depth medicinal chemistry to sober criticisms of over-hyped companies peddling AI in pharma.

LifeSciVC is the blog of Atlas partner Bruce Booth, whose writing focuses on analyses of the venture industry and highlights from the Atlas portfolio. He also regularly invites biotech executives to write ‘From the Trenches’ essays.

Drug Truths is a series of essays by John LaMattina, former president of R&D at Pfizer. He writes on a variety of relevant pharma and regulatory topics, now split up between his old blog and his new platform as a contributor for Forbes.

Laura Deming, the founder of Longevity Fund, wrote A beginner’s guide to longevity research, which comprehensively summarizes her field as of 2018.

Peter Kolchinsky, the founder of RA Capital, has written two influential long-form pieces: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to a Biotech Startup and The Biotech Social Contract, which is published across several essays on his Medium.

PlengeGen, by Celgene VP and former Harvard professor Robert Plenge, focuses on drug discovery research, human genetics and emergent tech.

The Curious Wavefunction is a short series of “musings on science, history, philosophy and literature” by Ash Jogalekar, primarily on chemistry and AI.

The investor Andrew Goodwin, who also runs the BiotechDueDiligence site, maintains an extensive list of biotech-related books.

My favorites from his list include: Bad Blood (John Carreyrou), The Billion Dollar Molecule and The Antidote (Barry Werth), Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech (Sally Smith Hughes), The Biotech Trader Handbook (T. Ayers Pelz), Life at the Speed of Light and A Life Decoded (Craig Venter), Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (Brenda Maddox), The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene (Siddhartha Mukherjee), and Regenesis (George Church).

Other books I recommend: Science Business (Gary Pisano), Complications and Being Mortal (Atul Gawande), Designs on Nature (Sheila Jasanoff), Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese), The Case Against Perfection (Michael Sandel), and Medicine, Science and Merck (Roy Vagelos and Louis Galambos).

A few acclaimed books that I haven’t read yet: Hood (Luke Timmerman), Deep Medicine (Eric Topol), I Contain Multitudes (Ed Yong), The Forever Fix (Ricki Lewis), Science Lessons (Gordon Binder), She Has Her Mother’s Laugh (Carl Zimmer), The 8th Day of Creation (Horace Freeland Judson), and Bad Medicine (Milton Silverman, Mia Lydecker and Philip Lee).

Top analysts such as Umer Raffat, Jeffrey Porges, Alethia Young, Michael Yee, and Brian Skorney provide timely, detailed research on their respective sets of biopharma companies. You must be a client to get on their lists—technically.

Twitter is a diverse and useful source of real-time news and research from the biotech community. You can start with the people who I follow @nbhorwitz. Here are just a few of the many people who share great content via Twitter:

@andybiotech @bursatilbiotech @bradloncar @megtirrell @lisamjarvis @drsidmukherjee @adamfeuerstein @dereklowe @dshaywitz @sarahkarlin @odibro @erbrod @vprasadmdmph @skathire @sxbegle @statsepi @emilykatehayes @atulbutte @faycortez @rtnarch @venturevalkyrie @sacjal @farzad_MD @predatordiaries @mikengladstone @daphnezohar @peterbachmd @scripmandy @cshperspectives @LifeSciVC @FDA_tracker @JPZaragoza1 @biotechinvstr @dbsable @biosimilarz @sciencescanner @carolineylchen @jacobplieth @ethanjweiss @roncohenshair @bioduediligence @bio_clouseau @matthewherper @zbiotech @endpts @rebeccadrobbins @damiangarde @chrissyfarr @jaybradner @curiouswavefn @scottgottliebmd @sarahkliff @daniel_kraft @ldtimmerman @maverickny @jonathanrockoff @rosenthalhealth @antonioregaldo @michael_gilman @markschoenebaum @john_lamattina @ronwinslow @kbosley @drugchannels @katie_thomas @alexlash @haririrobert @bobcoughlin @melindarichter @alexbfair @benthefidler @akarsalan @rplenge @Becker_MichaelD @RxRegA @loftus @emvieira00 @maxjacobsedison @jsherkow @bernatolle @RESachs @demycolton @FDA_track @Frank_S_David @DavidArmstrongX @corielok

CafePharma is the reddit of the biopharma industry, with a solid roundup of news from several outlets, plus a lively anonymous forum haunted by biotech gossipers, disaffected pharma salespeople, and suspicious MNPI.

PhRMA, BIO, California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), and MassBio are industry advocates (lobbyists) with extensive, biased information resources.

If you’ve never heard of the journal that published the paper you’re reading and the data seems weak—low n-values, high p-values—it may be garbage.

SeekingAlpha regularly posts mediocre or inaccurate intel on biotech stocks and has been at the center of multiple biotech pump-and-dump schemes.

Biopharma PR. I mean, you should totally use it for real-time updates (or you can read it for fun), but caveat lector until you see the content corroborated.

Popular press. Like PR, it can be helpful context, but any outlet not specifically known for its scientific credibility (WSJ, NYT, WaPo) will be prone to errors.

I hope you found some new sources of biotech wisdom here. Know any great resources that I didn’t include? Let me know!

Happy learning. —NBH

Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz

Written by

Biotech VC. My writing does not represent RA Capital.