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Dr. Anish Suri
Title: Senior Scientific Director, Discovery Immunology
Company: Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson
Education: Ph.D., Immunology, Washington University St. Louis; B.S., Biology, Angelo State University
Family: Wife, Aleksandra; sons: Nikhil, 9, Rupin, 7, and Milan, 3
Hobbies: Cooking, wine tasting and collecting, traveling, reading, tennis, squash
Bucket List: Travel to all continents
Associations: American Association of Immunologists
R&D in life sciences is a privileged opportunity, with only a very few chances to have a real shot at changing lives for the better, says Anish Suri, Ph.D., senior scientific director, discovery immunology, Janssen Research & Development.
It’s this inspiring message that helps Dr. Suri innovate and inspire those around him.
Dr. Suri is a world-class immunologist with more than 15 years of experience in basic and translational research focused on autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, transplantation rejection and immuno-oncology within academia and industry.
In academia, he led productive collaborations with outstanding scientists and mentors at Washington University School of Medicine focused on fundamental mechanisms in cellular immunology.
His goal in the immunology therapeutic area is to drive novel concepts and innovative approaches to advance disease interception. He eloquently articulated a strong future vision focused on understanding the earliest stages of breakdown of tolerance, the cellular immune components that precipitate autoimmune reactions, and their relationship to the priming and breadth of the autoreactive immune cell repertoire. To that end, he has led his group of discovery research scientists through a complicated scientific shift to implement a plan for rheumatoid arthritis disease interception and immunomonitoring that will transform the way immune-mediated diseases are treated in the future.
Dr. Suri has further strengthened the strategy by collaborating with internal and external business partners to access and develop new scientific concepts. The impact of this is evident in novel portfolio programs, investments in external assets and technologies, and key scientific alliances, all of which have contributed toward sustaining portfolio growth in emerging areas of immunology.
These initiatives provide new and exciting opportunities in early therapeutic intervention, and hold immense potential in driving sustained long-term remission and tolerogenic approaches for autoimmune disorders.
In addition, Dr. Suri’s efforts in immuno-modulation and monitoring will be accessible to all Janssen R&D therapeutic areas, further extending the impact of his work to reach the greater organization. In fact, his new approach to research has already inspired similar changes in other areas of science at Janssen, including disease interception efforts that are under way in type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Suri maintains there are substantial datasets that suggest that the immune system is fundamentally sensory in nature, not just as it pertains to immunity but rather to numerous underlying mechanisms of chronic diseases.
He believes that major breakthroughs in the near future may come from initiatives focused on understanding the earliest perturbations that are sensed by immune components, which in turn may react to set up progressive cascades of inflammatory processes, ultimately resulting in a variety of chronic diseases such as neuroinflammation, metabolic disorders, and so on.
“These are distinct opportunities stemming from the current success that we have had in classical autoimmune diseases or the recent exciting progress in tumor immunology,” Dr. Suri says.
Colleagues say his scientific vision, expertise, and drive will culminate in the development of technologies to follow both patients and asymptomatic, at-risk individuals.
At Janssen, Dr. Suri is striving to create a new paradigm in the detection of earliest abnormal changes in an individual — well before a disease even emerges.
These findings will ultimately impact novel therapeutic options and interception approaches to maintain health.
Dr. Suri’s next challenge is to establish and lead the immunology research footprint in the EU region.
“I’m very eager to drive innovative opportunities in a new geography,” he says.
His goal is to continue to explore novel areas of biology for innovative therapeutic solutions for patients; pose meaningful and relevant questions to push the field vertically; and identify and develop tools and reagents to be able to answer the questions posed.
Recognizing the importance of both innovation and rigor, Dr. Suri says his one piece of advice to researchers is to be fearless about their experiments and paranoid about their data to avoid complacency.
Dr. Suri’s depth of knowledge, enthusiasm, commitment, and communication skills, in combination with an inclusive and gregarious personal approach to people management and networking, are all keys to his success as an inspirational leader.
He is focused on talent development, and inspires and motivates others with an infectious enthusiasm that engenders solid collaborations within Janssen and across the external academic community.
“I like to understand people’s passions and interests — what areas drive them, what makes them tick, he says. “This helps me frame their aspirations in the broader context of the vision of our organization. If I can successfully help someone realize this view, it oftentimes is an effective catalyst for motivation.”
He maintains that innovation results from building a culture that fosters creativity, encourages diversity of thoughts, and rewards calculated risk taking.
Dr. John Orloff
Title: Executive VP, Head of Research & Development, Chief Scientific Officer
Education: Fellowship, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Yale University School of Medicine; Internal Medicine Residency, University of Pittsburgh; M.D., University of Vermont; A.B., Chemistry, Dartmouth College, Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude
Family: Wife, Gwen; daughters Jaclyn and Kirsten, son Mark
Hobbies: Skiing, boating, cycling, reading
Bucket List: Travel to explore more of the world
Associations: American College of Physicians; American Diabetes Association; American Heart Association; American Society of Bone and Mineral Research; Endocrine Society; International Bone and Mineral Society; formerly Board of Directors, PhRMA Foundation; Advisory Board, USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics
Imagining the Possibilities
Just days before Baxalta traded on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time, Dr. John Orloff was brimming with excitement from the possibilities that will stem from the new company. The Baxter International spin-off traded its first shares on the NYSE July 1, 2015, about a month after the board of directors voted for the split. Dr. Orloff has plans for creating a new culture, building a new organization with a foundation in orphan disease areas such as hemophilia, specifically, and the plasma business. The staff had just moved into the new R&D and innovation location in Cambridge, Mass., where Dr. Orloff was instrumental in leading the effort to consolidate resources from three major global hubs — Vienna, Chicago, Los Angeles — integrating cross-functional resources to improve collaboration and efficiency.
“We’re bringing people from all over the world to our new hub, so it’s a really exciting time for me and the organization, as well,” he says.
It’s this type of enthusiasm and intensity that equips Dr. Orloff to lead the new company in its quest for innovation by advancing a rich, late-stage development pipeline, expanding its legacy of expertise in hemophilia and immune deficiency, and advancing new opportunities in niche areas of oncology, with several late-stage assets poised for regulatory submission.
With a depth of scientific and leadership expertise, Dr. Orloff is central to the executive leadership team and a guiding force for executing on the development strategy for the company, which has increased its R&D investment by more than 50% over three years.
Dr. Orloff’s dedication to innovation has driven several successful partnerships for Baxter BioScience, the name of the business unit under Baxter before the spin off. Two of its potential therapies are partnered initiatives. In September 2014, Baxter BioScience and Merrimack Pharmaceuticals announced a partnership to develop and commercialize an investigational pancreatic cancer drug known as MM-398, which has been submitted for marketing approval in second-line pancreatic cancer this year. The partnership was one of Baxter BioSciences’ biggest advances to provide treatment for patients with unmet medical needs. Then, in March of this year, Baxter BioScience and partner CTI BioPharma announced positive top-line results from the PERSIST-1 study examining pacritinib, a JAK2/FLT3 inhibitor for patients with myelofibrosis that will be submitted to regulatory authorities this year for marketing approval.
Baxalta is in the process of developing the first product for patients suffering from von Willebrand Disease, also under Dr. Orloff’s leadership. To provide enhanced treatment for patients with hemophilia A, the company is prioritizing the development of BAX 855, a full-length longer-acting recombinant factor VIII (rFVIII) that was established to increase the half-life of Advate, the most widely chosen rFVIII in the world.
Perhaps the most innovative initiative of all is Baxalta’s investment in gene therapy technology to develop long-term treatment options for patients with both hemophilia A and B. The hemophilia B gene therapy program is currently in Phase I/II clinical research, with promising early results, and the hemophilia A program is in discovery phase with the lead candidate selection anticipated later this year.
Although Dr. Orloff had been putting in 16-hour days to prepare for day one of Baxalta, colleagues say he is an inspiring leader who always shows respect and empathy for everyone he works with.
“I work hard and I play hard, at least I hope to soon,” he says.
Dr. Orloff views his role at Baxalta as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“This is a chance to build something great for patients and we need to make sure that we are executing the vision of this new company, which is focused on rare orphan diseases and delivering real value to patients,” he says. “And that means that the R&D organization has to execute on its plans in the areas of our therapeutic focus and make a real impact on patients’ lives.”
Dr. Orloff is ready for that challenge.
Dr. William Strohl
Title: VP and Head, Janssen BioTherapeutics
Company: Janssen Research & Development, LLC, part of the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson
Education: Ph.D., Louisiana State University; B.S., Central Michigan University
Family: Wife, Lila; two sons, Joshua, 23; Justin, 20
Hobbies: Playing guitar with his son, walks through the woods, and making wine with his son
Bucket List: Visit New Zealand
Awards/Honors: Waksman Award for Outstanding Career in Microbiology,
Theobald Smith Society — 2001; Selected by the journal: Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, to be profiled in its “Portrait of a Leader in Immunotherapeutics” (HVI 8:9, 1175-1178; Sept 2012) — 2012; Named by Terrapin as the 25th most influential person worldwide in the field of Monoclonal Antibodies — 2013
As VP and head of Janssen BioTherapeutics, Bill Strohl, Ph.D., has led the company to develop multiple biologics candidates each year. An expert in antibody research, Dr. Strohl is exploring new areas of research, including cell and gene therapies.
He is weaving the many intricacies of the latest technologies and most important science into Janssen’s overarching vision of developing innovative therapeutics that will transform and improve the lives of patients, and he has been deeply involved with forging partnerships that will greatly impact those novel approaches.
“The knowledge that what I do, the decisions that I make, and how I innovate can translate into new therapeutics that will help people with serious illnesses is truly motivating,” he says.
He describes his role at Janssen as a greater professional achievement than any professional goal he ever had, and says he feels honored and blessed to have had the career he has had.
Previously at Centocor, he was involved in the development of a portfolio of biologic therapies, including first-in-class monoclonal antibodies that remain major drivers for the J&J organization across all divisions.
Dr. Strohl stands out for his knowledge and passion for breakthrough science, cutting-edge technology, and combining the two to bring novel therapeutics to patients living with debilitating diseases.
Dr. Strohl strives to share his knowledge, making sure that the talent within his team is properly matched with where things are headed on the scientific level. He is focused on helping the organization build a path forward to define what the most novel and transformational scientific approaches are that need to be better understood or brought forward within the organization to be able to have an impact on new medicines for patients.
To accomplish these goals, Dr. Strohl ensures any barriers that could impede progress are removed so that the organization can drive the necessary science.
When it comes to his people, Dr. Strohl is focused on listening and truly understanding career aspirations.
“I am willing to roll up my sleeves and work side by side with others to achieve greater goals,” he says. “I give my colleagues a lot of respect, which is a natural way to inspire.”
He strives to create an environment that allows people to be happy, at the same time he challenges them to come up with new ways of doing things and gives his team members the time and space to do their jobs.
In addition, Dr. Strohl is closely involved with the Scientist Mentoring & Diversity Program (SMDP), which is designed to provide high-quality mentorship by industry executives who can help bridge the gap in understanding the pace, jargon, and business of science for diverse graduate or post-doctoral students. As executive sponsor of the program, he helps to highlight the quality and wealth of resources that minorities are able to provide to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
He is adamant about walking the walk when it comes to ensuring diversity in R&D; it is very easy for a company to say inclusion is a goal, but Dr. Strohl has a bold passion for moving the dial and implementing meaningful action. Recognizing the potential that the program has in identifying strong, diverse, and talented scientists looking to make a transition from academia to industry, Dr. Strohl oversees the Janssen mentees — about 10 each year — and serves as a mentor himself, going above and beyond to ensure that the experience is a fruitful one for participants.
Dr. Strohl serves as the mentor for the program’s first international mentee, and recently traveled to South Africa where she works. He has worked tirelessly to embed the program into Janssen R&D, and made it his priority to see it used as a strategic tool to find and acquire talented, diverse scientists to support the efforts of the organization. In 2013, Janssen R&D made a pledge and investment to onboard talent from the program and, as a result, hired seven SMDP scholars as full-time employees. Leading the charge, five of the scholars were hired by Dr. Strohl and now support Janssen BioTherapeutics.
Dr. Strohl also is an accomplished writer, and wrote a book on “Antibody Therapeutics” with his wife, which was published in 2012.
Dr. Rakesh Dixit
Title: VP Research & Development, Global Head, Biologics Safety Assessment
Company: MedImmune, a member of AstraZeneca Group
Education: Ph.D., Toxicology/Pharmacology; Board Certified in Toxicology (American Board of Toxicology), University of Lucknow and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Family: Wife, Beata; three children, Anita, Avi, and A.J.
Hobbies: Walking outdoors, hiking, cooking
Bucket List: Visit remote countries, such as Bhutan, Bora Bora, and Tahiti; learn a new language
Awards/Honors: Multiple Best Publication Awards from the Society of Toxicology
Associations: Society of Toxicology, Editor-in-chief for Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, Associate Editor for Toxicology & Applied Pharmacology, Associate Editor for the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health
Advancing R&D Processes
Rakesh Dixit, Ph.D., is helping to accelerate MedImmune’s development and delivery of safe, effective, life-changing biologic medicines to patients.
The breadth and depth of knowledge that Dr. Dixit possesses — not only in his own field of toxicology, but across biology, physiology, translational science, and various therapeutic areas — makes him an endless source of new and intriguing ideas, which helps to inspire innovation across the company. His outside-of-the-box thinking has driven numerous advancements in MedImmune’s clinical development processes, as well as provided solutions to some of the most onerous challenges in toxicology and beyond.
After joining MedImmune in 2006, he was charged with building a safety assessment group to advise R&D teams across all therapeutic areas.
“As I was doing so, I saw an opportunity to simplify a number of processes and optimize procedures, and helped drive changes that increased the work efficiency of our staff by about 50%, while further enhancing safety assessment testing practices,” he says.
In 2010, he was promoted to VP, R&D, leading the safety, pathology, and laboratory animal research and development teams. In this role, he created a global safety-pathology function group that would provide guidance for existing and new biological products across all of MedImmune’s therapeutic areas. This department has set a new precedent companywide for driving scientific innovation.
In light of MedImmune’s rapid growth over the past five years, he developed and adjusted processes to ensure biologics drug safety assessment could scale alongside the expansion of the pipeline.
To identify opportunities to safely and strategically decrease the timelines for molecule development, especially within the company’s immuno-oncology and antibody drug conjugate programs, Dr. Dixit evaluated the R&D teams that were most effective, as well as those with room for improvement. By closely examining the mechanisms of action for key immunotherapy molecules, he was able to design leaner and shorter nonclinical safety studies that have reduced the length of early drug development by at least six months.
In addition, he and his team of toxicologists presented the FDA with unique in vitro systems based on mechanistic/pharmacology-based safety assessment and PK-PD modeling approaches for high-risk immuno-oncology biologics as a replacement for in vivo animal testing — normally an FDA pre-requirement to human testing for therapeutics.
Dr. Dixit says the environment at MedImmune is designed to make innovation thrive.
“We empower our employees to look beyond standard expectations and push the boundaries of what’s possible to advance science and the development of life-changing medicines to improve public health, and help fight and cure diseases,” he says.
Dr. Dixit often has to make tough decisions on moving a new biologic with unknown safety into clinical trials, but keeping the unmet medical needs of patients in focus allows him to make these courageous decisions. It can be disheartening, he says, when a molecule that has been under investigation for years doesn’t deliver on its promise due to lack of efficacy or safety problems.
“However, we must continue to press on in the face of adversity, without losing enthusiasm or energy,” he notes.
He has come to understand that it’s not that risky to take calculated risks, and often, some of the most positive changes arise from smart risk-taking.
“I would encourage others to be courageous, dream the undreamable, make the impossible possible, and achieve the unachievable,” he says.
Dr. Dixit adds while a breadth of knowledge and experience can be an asset, it is important to prioritize and concentrate on the areas that will bring the most value and benefit to the organization and to one’s own professional growth.
His passion for science and the fact that there are so many patients suffering from serious diseases who are in urgent need of new or more effective and safe treatments motivate Dr. Dixit to keep innovating.
“I’m also driven by the intense energy and focus on innovation that permeates the culture at MedImmune,” he says.
Dr. Dixit’s goal is to help deliver life-changing medicines to patients. And someday he would like be CEO or CSO of a small to middle-size biologic or small molecule drug company.
He inspires those around him by showing empathy, listening to peoples’ problems, and helping them find solutions, and by listening to different points of view.
He is committed to mentoring young scientists, especially minorities, providing advice on research direction, project goals and priorities, as well as career advancement.
Dr. Andrew Zupnick
Title: Senior Director, Oncology Division
Company: Novella Clinical, a Quintiles Company
Education: Ph.D., Biological Sciences, Columbia University; B.S., Biology, MIT
Family: Married; son, 6, daughter, 4
Hobbies: Singing, baseball, soccer, poker, and home improvement
Bucket List: Continue to explore obscure regions of the world with his family
Awards/Honors: James Howard McGregor Teaching Award, 2004; Yeh Fellowship for Biological Research, 2003
Associations: ASCO, DIA, BioOhio, BayBio, Young Venture Capital Society, New York Academy of Sciences
The Science and Business Translator
The ability to understand a range of topics — from highly scientific ideas to business-focused strategies — and to translate these into other applications for a wider audience requires a particular skill set. Add these admirable traits to an ability to understand other people’s points of view and to align with their thinking to develop a novel solution or find common ground equals one exceptional strategist: Andrew Zupnick, Ph.D.
As senior director of the oncology division at Novella, Dr. Zupnick’s role spans both the business development and operational groups at the company to provide strategic and development consulting to oncology clients and internal teams, guidance and strategy across the entire budgeting and proposal process, key account management, operational process enhancement to meet client needs, public presentations, and leadership for new growth initiatives for the oncology division.
He is involved in almost all oncology RFPs and early client interactions with Novella’s business development team to align messaging from first touches to project kick off, and then retains an executive oversight role for a subset of clients to help ensure project delivery and study success.
Dr. Zupnick has been with the organization since May 2007 via Novella’s acquisition of Prologue Research. Prologue was an oncology specialty CRO, executing cancer clinical trials for the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, and is now part of Novella’s oncology division.
Since joining the Novella family, Dr. Zupnick has contributed to record results, including significant growth over the past year, and the rebranding and operational initiatives needed to focus on oncology CRO sales and the resultant oncology clinical trial management processes needed to support these new protocols. Many of those successes have translated into the delivery of much-needed new oncology treatments for patients.
One of the first tasks Dr. Zupnick took on was to overhaul Novella’s oncology proposal development strategy to reflect how the company customizes solutions rather than try to force customers to fit into a predefined CRO workflow.
He revamped Novella’s proposal text to highlight its oncology-specific work that allows client- and protocol-specific customization as well as scalability for increased volume, developed a study projection modeling tool to facilitate discussion around overall study planning and feasibility, and helped establish budgeting norms for various types of oncology studies. This provides a flexible, solutions-based model for Novella’s customers.
The operations team trusts his ideas and leadership because of his deep understanding of the oncology research landscape, his advanced scientific research principles/experience, and the success he has had in translating industry-leading trends into standard practice.
He keeps the entire organization updated on the latest oncology trends and the potential impact on how the CRO manages trials and aligns messages to support sales efforts.
“The Novella sales team has taken on a scientific advisory role, where we lead with the science and how this affects investigator interest and ultimately patient recruitment and retention,” he says.
Dr. Zupnick is always willing to listen to his teams regarding potential bottlenecks and roadblocks that can impede the project and is ready with innovative solutions that can be quickly implemented.
He inspires others by showing enthusiasm for the progress and promise of what the company is doing in oncology drug development, and he is always available to explain the scientific nuances of cancer biology and drug mechanisms of action in digestible terms so others can understand just how impressive personalized medicine is becoming.
Dr. Zupnick serves as a mentor for many employees as they learn the nuances of oncology clinical trials.
Colleagues describe him as an approachable teacher and an inspiring team leader, who can identify the key variables in a clinical development program and rally a highly trained team of functional leaders to provide sophisticated solutions.(PV)