Update: here's a trip report on this conference over at Practical Fragments
I'm back from Philadelphia and the FBLD conference. I'm not going to put a trip report up on the blog - although I'm certainly writing one up for my colleagues at work - but a number of people at the meeting asked me what I might say about it here.
Well, I enjoyed it. I tend to like more focused conferences like this one, anyway, where most of the people doing the best work in a field can attend what's still a fairly small meeting. It probably helps that this isn't a very old series of meetings, too. Over time, some sort of scientific entropy sets in, and the topics covered can begin to smear out a bit. Some of the longer-running Gordon Conferences are (to me, anyway) a little blurry about what they're trying to cover.
That same tendency can affect individual talks. We medicinal chemists are particularly guilty of that, since our discipline spreads over a pretty wide area. At a meeting like this one, which was all about fragment-based techniques, people had to resist the temptation to keep going past the fragment-based parts of their talk. Once you get up toward 400 molecular weight, you're not talking about fragments any more - you're doing good old medicinal chemistry. Maybe it's structure-based at that point, maybe not, and maybe you're using some of the biophysical techniques that help out with moving fragment leads forward - but the fragment techniques are what got you to that point, not what's carrying you forward through the concerns about PK, formulations, polymorphs, and all the other later-stage worries of a drug program.
The speakers at this meeting generally did a good job avoiding this pitfall, but I have to admit that the few times I saw PK data come up on the screen, I stopped taking notes. I didn't stop listening, on the chance that there might be something interesting, but it certainly wasn't what I was there to focus on. One could imagine a whole meeting about solving PK problems in drug development - there probably is one, actually. But at that one, you'd have to make sure that the speakers didn't spend time telling you about the neat fragment-based techniques that led to their drug candidate.
As I said, though, there were a lot of interesting speakers at this one, and not a single talk was anything close to a complete waste of time. How many meetings can you say that about? Things ran smoothly, and with notably better food than some of the other conferences I've attended. Some meetings just pitch a bunch of Wissenschaftlerfutter out onto the tables, figuring that people will deal with it - and to be honest, they're usually right. We'll eat most anything in this field, although I've been told that physicists are even less discriminating, so at least we have that.