It’s no secret that the last few years have been hard on just about everyone. COVID, climate change, political strife in the US and around the world… the list is long and troubling.

Closer to home, biopharma has experienced its own set of challenges.

As a recent article in The Boston Globe described, our industry is facing “… mounting business and regulatory changes: a slowdown in funding, calls to rein in fast-tracked drug approvals, and a new law empowering Medicare, the federal agency that insures Americans over 65, to negotiate the price of some medicines for the first time.”

At The NemetzGroup, we have witnessed how these challenges impact our clients, particularly emerging companies. Our goal is to help them make informed, strategic decisions that will drive success and improve the world we live in. Our team works hard to support our clients in stewarding their constrained resources to achieve their vision and prepare them for the complicated journey to the market. We know many of them are struggling (as is the market overall).

When the market is in a downturn, and plans are delayed or shelved, it’s easy to feel pessimistic. However, bringing optimism and finding inspiration in the face of adversity is part of my DNA; it’s something I strive to share with anyone I encounter. And it often helps me navigate alternative ways to solve complex commercialization problems for our clients.

I have found a focus area that inspires me, lifts my spirits, and exposes me to an exciting world of advanced technology, science, and automation. Dedicated people in this field are doing great things and will be the future leaders in our industry…

It’s The Wyss Institute (officially: The Hansjörg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University). Initially, it was established in 2009 with a generous donation of $125 million from entrepreneur and philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.

As its website explains, “The Wyss Institute at Harvard University is a research and development engine for disruptive innovation powered by bioinspired technologies with visionary people at its heart. Our mission is to transform healthcare and the environment by developing innovative technologies that emulate the way Nature builds, and accelerate their translation into commercial products through the formation of startups and corporate partnerships to bring about positive near-term impact in the world.”

The Wyss Institute has some incredibly brilliant people — passionate about their science and excited to bring their novel assets, devices, and solutions to the next stage.

The Institute plays an important role in nurturing this. It’s a noncommercial setting, which keeps them a step removed from the frantic pace of working to get a drug to market as quickly as possible. They have the mind space to innovate and live in a creative mecca where inspiration is always in the air.

Importantly, the Wyss Institute secures funding through a variety of means.These include research grants from government agencies and collaboration with industry partners, foundations, and philanthropic organizations. By diversifying its funding sources and actively pursuing collaborations, the Wyss Institute ensures a sustainable financial model to support its research activities. It removes many of the challenges our clients face, affording freedom for innovation.

How I Got Involved

It all began in 2017 when I met Angelika Fretzen, an amazing, energetic, and intellectually curious woman. At the time, she was running Product Development at one of our biopharma clients. We hit it off immediately.

The following year, Angelika was recruited by Don Ingber, MD, PhD, Founding Director and Core Faculty member at the Wyss, to lead the integration of translational research and development with the business development and commercialization efforts. Soon after, she gave me a simple offer: “I’d love to tap your holistic approach to commercialization; I know this team here could benefit. Let’s do something together!”

I jumped right in. My first project with the Wyss (as a visiting scholar) was running a half-day workshop for rising entrepreneurs (MDs, MD-PhDs). The focus was on telling one’s story and developing a target product profile for more effective positioning and eventual funding.

Most recently, I have been providing a broader strategic perspective by evaluating and providing feedback on 8-12 validation projects identified as ready for more significant funding. The leaders of these projects need help contemplating what’s required as they move forward in their evolution as a company.

Why I Love It

The cause inspires me. The Wyss is focused on leveraging the education, background, and (large) brains of its scientists. In short, they are trying to build a better future.

It gives me purpose. My involvement with the Wyss forces me to use my brain in a different way. Here, my role primarily provides awareness and education to the scientists with whom I interact. I help them translate their remarkable work into benefits for patients, payers, and physicians.

It brings me energy. I have the distinct honor and absolute pleasure of providing mentoring guidance to these scientists. They give me inspiration and a courtside seat to watch how advancing technology, science, and collaboration can change the way we solve problems.

Some notable examples…

    • Denitsa Milanova and her team at MRBL are using AI to advance gene therapy to treat rare skin diseases and aging. 
    • Luba Perry and her team are using 3D printers to find a future solution for women to grow their own breast tissue after mastectomy. 
    • Girija Goyal and her team are developing a novel immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer.

Find Your Own Light

My involvement with the Wyss Institute these past several years has been an absolute joy; it’s reminded me of why we do the work we do to bring innovative treatments to patients and has served as a vital counter to those days (weeks?) where downcycle news dominates.

If you are in search of that same feeling, I encourage you to look in the direction of how to support those bringing new light to the future. It need not overlap with your “real” job, so long as it provides inspiration and delight that you can channel back to your work — and life!