CDD CEO Barry Bunin Featured in SLAS ELN Interview
Before The Cloud was a regular part of our lexicon, entrepreneurs such as Barry Bunin pioneered secure, collaborative data hosting for scientists.
“We have all the ideas for a Nobel Prize here in this lab. The problem is that the ideas are in separate brains instead of one. If we could gather everything into one brain, we could accomplish ground-breaking research.” Recollects Barry Bunin, Ph.D. (SLAS2016 Informatics Track associate chair) from a key insight made decades ago by then Columbia University postdoc Dr. Bob Rosenthal. The insight foreshadowed his current work:
As an undergraduate student at the time, Bunin was working in Professor Nick Turro’s chemistry laboratory as part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. While there, he met Rosenthal and experienced the excitement of research. Rosenthal’s comment triggered Bunin’s curiosity about collaborative science and led him to the question: How does one bring the research and expertise of many individuals together into one shared space?
Bunin’s search for an answer eventually developed into a partnership with Eli Lilly and Company to form Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD), Burlingame, CA. CDD’s flagship product, CDD Vault, a hosted drug discovery database allows people to securely collaborate. It lets users organize chemical structures and biological study data and collaborate with internal or external partners through a web interface. Over eleven years and a quarter of a million customer logins later, Bunin, CEO and president of the company is still passionately helping scientists create collaborative insights for their individual research projects.
Bunin, a bench scientist with roots in chemical library synthesis has a deep understanding of the challenges scientist face doing research. “This perspective helped me start CDD and keep it from becoming an abstract informatics project. CDD Vault is rooted in the needs of drug discovery project teams. Collaboration can occur inside or outside four walls.”
“We think a lot about end users from a software perspective,” Bunin says. “To create useful collaborative software we must understand what everyone from the technician to the scientist to the manager to the vice president each wants from the software. For example, a biologist would want to double check her results before sharing it with a chemist so he doesn’t get over-excited about a result which when tested in triplicate might not be statistically significant.”
“Individuals need to be able to share expertise and wisdom. Everyone has a different need for collaboration. The technology has to be intuitive for each of them as individuals, but also for the synergy of the project. Technology changes the paradigm…it takes something that people used to think would take extra work and helps it become easier and faster.”
Science on One Side, Business on the Other
It could be said that science and business run through Bunin’s veins. When his parents married, they brought together a blended background of medical doctors and entrepreneurs. Dr. Simon Bunin, Barry’s paternal grandfather, was a doctor and writer who composed poems for his wife and sons back home while serving during World War II. Later, Barry Bunin’s father and uncles all became medical doctors and a generation after that now his youngest brother (Mark) also entered the medical profession.
“Having doctors in the family makes you start to think about science, human health and how to help others at a young age. My dad, at age 72, is still working full time running his medical practice, and does house calls by bicycle. He is an inspiration to me to explore different things. My younger brother Mark worked at a free clinic in LA and always focuses on the most disadvantaged. It is ironic that my youngest brother is such a great role model.” Barry also learns from his second brother, Steve, who was a sports broadcaster nationally on ESPN with great stage presence. And finally he learns about risk mitigation thorough preparation from his third brother, David, who is an airplane mechanic working with the safety protocols for Southwest Airlines. “We all do totally different things. It helps us be open-minded. There is not one way to do life. It’s a big world and our parents knew that doing something that you enjoy doing gives you more energy over time. Different people have different muses.”
Continuing the Other Family Tradition…
These days, when the busy entrepreneur is not listening to music and recharging with a fast walk along the San Francisco Bay, located just outside of CDD’s doors, he is continuing another family tradition – a bustling, active family. Along with his wife, Debbie, who works nearby at SRI International, the couple is raising 9-year-old Evan and 6-year-old Zachary to pursue their interests with zest. The family plays sports (the kids are involved in their dad’s favorite, basketball on the downstairs slam-dunk hoop) and frequently visits their Little Free Library.
The full interview can be read on the SLAS ELN page here.