Wednesday, November 27, 2019

San Diego Biotech Reporter Bradley J. Fikes Dies at 61

Bradley J. Fikes, journalist
San Diego U-T photo

When biotech reporter Bradley J. Fikes died last Wednesday at the age of 61, he was described in his newspaper as "part Dr. Dolittle, part Inspector Gadget."


The piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune was a tribute to Fikes, whose family said he died of natural causes at home. The paper said he was "an ever-on-the-move ball of energy" and beloved by his colleagues.

Fikes occupied a special position in California journalism. He was one of the few daily newspaper reporters who regularly covered the biotech industry and its research community. Fikes was also one of the few who delved into the affairs of California's 15-year-old, stem cell research agency. 

Last month Fikes penned a lengthy piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune that involved the agency, known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The story dealt with a blood cancer drug called fedratinib and the relentless, years-long journey before the research, which was partly funded by CIRM, came to fruition. 

Fikes began the story like this:
"Cancer patients hold onto hope the way some people hold onto the lap bars of roller coasters: As if their lives depend on it.
"And then they get ready for the ups and downs."
Kevin McCormack, the stem cell agency's senior director of communications, wrote on the agency's blog that Fikes' story captured the setbacks, twists and turns and the years that it took before the treatment ultimately emerged. 

McCormack said yesterday, 
"Everyone at CIRM was stunned and saddened by the news. Brad was a real character, and a real gentleman. His unique sense of fashion made him hard to miss, even at a crowded conference, but it was his curiosity and his clear love of science that really stood out. He didn’t just report on stem cell research as a job, it was something he loved and that came across in his writing. He had a tremendous gift for taking complex science and turning it into everyday English. He was also great fun to hang out with. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a wry way of seeing the world. I shall miss him. We all will."
One of Fikes' colleagues, Michelle Guerrero, a Union-Tribune illustrator and graphics reporter, said in Fikes' obituary
“He had the wonderment of a child, the complexity of a scientist and an artful way of coming up with the words to explain it all.”
Fikes cut a colorful figure as he divined the doings at Scripps and Salk and at the other hallowed halls of science.  The Union-Tribune's piece on Fikes said, 
"Fikes was impossible to miss. By his own admission, he was a walking fashion disaster. He wore odd-colored business shirts that clashed with his suspenders, and slacks that never made contact with an iron. At times, cellphone cables hung out of his pockets like limp licorice."
Fikes was a graduate of San Diego State University where he first began writing the news. The campus newspaper wrote its own account of the life and times of Bradley J. Fikes. The piece carried comments from his colleagues including Gary Robbins who sometimes teamed with Fikes on stories. Robbins praised not only Fikes' journalism but his humanity as well. Robbins said, 
"He had poise, he had professionalism, he was a gentleman.”
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