1. What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in identifying and structuring collaborations within the oncology space?
The biggest challenges right now in some respects are twofold: the competition and valuations for mid-late stage assets. There are many major companies in the oncology space that are trying to enter or expand their pipelines, most notably in the immuno-oncology space. Janssen’s competitive edge comes from our ability to initiate and foster working relationships, execution on shared R&D; milestones, and the ultimate ability to hit aggressive timelines and deliver results. I believe our competitive advantage is the partnership approach that we bring, making Janssen Oncology the partner of choice.
2. What do you view as some of the more exciting areas of innovation in oncology today?
The whole immuno-oncology space is quite exciting, but learning how to utilize these new therapies in the right setting or in the right patients requires significant innovation and understanding of the basic biology. Janssen Oncology is also pursuing disease interception of cancer, another very innovative area, and one in which only a few companies are investing. Our goal is to intercept cancer (prostate, lung and hematological malignancies) before it actually forms by targeting early cellular changes/alterations.
3. You have supported efforts with Johnson & Johnson’s London Innovation Center (IC) recently. How does the culture or pace of innovation there compare to the U.S.?
I gained great experience and perspective over the last year while supporting the London IC, which covers all of Europe, Israel, etc. The culture and the pace of innovation are expansive and opportunities are definitely present that need to be pursued. We may have a greater number of opportunities stateside at all stages of R&D;, but the quality of the potential opportunities in the region that the London IC covers is exceptional. My interactions with potential and existing partners have been first-rate, science-based, and aligned in moving forward in a data-based, timely manner.
4. What are the most notable advances you’ve seen and/or helped facilitate so far during your time at Janssen R&D;?
In working with our Johnson & Johnson Innovation transaction teams, it is the formulation and execution of unique deal structures that help both the partner and Janssen Oncology achieve our shared goals; i.e., helping to advance the biological underpinnings and the asset as quickly and carefully as possible to help patients. On many occasions, when talking with a potential partner about deal structures, they have said to me, “No one has ever asked us what we want.” It is all about the partnership and the relationship in a shared goal of getting a new drug candidate to clinical proof-of-concept and to regulatory approval. Getting the partnership correct from the start means everything.
5. What do you enjoy most about your role?
This is a great role that allows me to interact with many potential partners and to see a tremendous amount of new science, new biology, and new ideas. What’s so rewarding is the chance to recognize and foster those ideas in order to have them blossom into a better understanding of the science and, eventually, a new therapeutic strategy or drug. It is this opportunity to work with entrepreneurs outside of Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Janssen every day – reviewing data and seeing new ideas that ultimately lead to collaborations – that I enjoy the most. As Paul Stoffels, M.D., Executive Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson, says, “The world is our laboratory.” I really take that to heart. Having the opportunity to work with the brightest and the best, inside and outside of the company, to forge relationships and new collaboration really is the most enjoyable part of my job.
6. How do you spend your time outside of the Boston IC?
I serve on a number of scientific advisory boards including for the Aspen Cancer Conference, an annual meeting where individuals from academia, industry and government come together to discuss new insights/areas in cancer research. I also serve as a mentor in the Scientist Mentoring Diversity Program for Biotech (SMDP BioTech) at the International Center for Professional Development of which J&J; is a co-sponsor as well as on a Johnson & Johnson team to implement programs that increase the number of women pursuing graduate level research in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing and Design (STEM2D). On a personal note, my wife and I split the coasts between our homes in California and Boston. As new empty nesters with two sons in college, we spend as much time as we can enjoying the outdoors – spending our free time in the mountains, running and hiking, fly-fishing for trout, and semi-competitive bass fishing (catch and release); all to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
7. What path led you to Johnson & Johnson Innovation?
I’ve spent more than 30 years in the oncology research area. I was a faculty member at MD Anderson Cancer Center and moved to work in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry at Amgen Inc. Two years ago, I moved to Janssen Oncology, which I firmly believe is doing drug discovery and development differently and applying the right blend of internal and external resources and partnerships. At Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Janssen, I now have the opportunity to take advantage and utilize my networks and the know-how to bring in new opportunities and make a difference in the lives of patients.