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Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes: Words of Wisdom from 2023

Having had the opportunity to speak with a variety of leaders in the field of drug discovery and development throughout 2023, I’d like to take the opportunity to round-up a handful of my favourite notes, quotes, and anecdotes. 

Whether career-based advice or inspiration for life outside the lab, our interview-based content aims to highlight the human beneath the lab coats. But it’s fair to say our more business-focused conversations have revealed a few hidden gems too…

A stand-out moment for me was during a meeting with AskBio and Columbus Children’s Foundation co-founder Sheila Mikhail, who I approached when she appeared on our Power List 2023. Sheila is the kind of leader who will continue to inspire others whatever happens – and that’s why I titled the first interview “Unstoppable.” 

My favorite quote from that piece exposes her ambition and resolution: “I was told that, as a woman of color, clients would not be comfortable receiving complex legal advice from me. I was asked to stay in the background and advise my peers, who would then be the interface with the client. It was disturbing. I decided to start my own law firm.”

She was so fascinating to speak with that I interviewed her twice. During this second interview, I learned that, after a career of developing drugs to help others, she was now facing her own health challenges. She told me:

“I stepped down as CEO of AskBio earlier this year because I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer…  I had to fight to get the proper screening and I was told that my insurance wouldn’t cover it when I pushed for a chest CT. 

“Now I'm advocating for women because if I had to struggle this hard to get diagnosed, then God help other women. This is an example of equitable access. I'm doing my part to try to make changes in talking to and educating women, but it's always about insurance. You can cure disease by giving women the right screening tool for their breast type. 

“I’ve been trying to make something good from my experience and help others. Everything happens for a reason.”

Continuing with women in leadership, AmyriAD CEO Sharon L Rogers, another 2023 Power Lister, brought a lot of energy to her interview available here. Developing drugs is a pursuit of great excitement for leaders like Sharon – and it showed. And she continues to ask herself whether what she has achieved and developed is enough. The following quote reveals a perfectionist’s approach to tackling Alzheimer’s disease: 

“A drug I developed (Aricept) has been the number one standard of care for Alzheimer’s and dementia for over a quarter of a century. As a standalone achievement, it is a great accomplishment – but, if something has prevailed as a standard of care for 25 years, it reminds us that we have not done enough. I continue to be dedicated to developing new and improved treatments for the management of Alzheimer’s. Currently, there’s a movement toward disease modification in Alzheimer’s, which came about because people believe they know what causes Alzheimer’s – proteins known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. I believe these proteins are risk factors but find the disease process infinitely more complicated. For that reason, I continue to believe we need more agents to manage disease symptoms, with the goal of helping patients maintain independent function for as long as possible.”

When ambition becomes success, some leaders may lose sight of their responsibilities to the bigger picture. So, if you are ever successful but still lose your way, here’s some more wisdom from Sharon:

“Everything we do impacts something else, and you just never know how far that repercussion will spread. The decisions we make and the way we conduct ourselves can make us successful and profitable, but we should never forget who we are doing it for.” 

Humility seems to be a recurring theme among stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry. In a world where other business leaders can sit on a stage and aim profanities at their sponsors, those who have found a way to blend business with science bring a much more cultured approach when it comes to publicity. Nobody has epitomized that more for me this year than Vor Bio CSO Tirtha Chakraborty, whose love of the arts has developed side by side with his love for science: 

“I am terrified of banality – day-to-day repetition. I like change and, for me, science and the arts are two extremely dynamic areas that naturally complement each other. There is a pattern – you need to recognize the beauty in the pattern and strive for perfection. A ‘good enough’ mentality is not going to solve the big problems. I'm fortunate to have extraordinary team members who subscribe to the same philosophy of seeing beauty in science. Science is an art in its own sense.”

Impressed by Tirtha’s eloquence, we invited him back to take part in a roundtable discussion on CRISPR, and to garner his expertise in the ways in which gene editing is disrupting the life sciences. In “Manipulating the Fabric of Life,” Tirtha said: 

“There are still some questions about CRISPR, mostly due to lack of familiarity with a new field that has the power of making permanent genetic changes, but we must be brave. We don’t want to see patients die without therapies because we weren’t brave enough to try something new.”

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About the Author
Rob Coker

Deputy Editor of The Medicine Maker

Following a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master’s in Creative Writing, I entered the world of publishing as a proofreader, working my way up to editor. The career so far has taken me to some amazing places, and I’m excited to see where I can go with Texere and The Medicine Maker.

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