Tell me about yourself?
As Organon’s Chief Scientific Officer and VP of External Innovation & Emerging Science, I lead a team that seeks out areas of promising scientific innovation to advance our pipeline. I have always been passionate about women’s health—especially reproductive and maternal health; having a chance to witness the discovery and development of novel therapeutic solutions and to create alliances between internal and external scientists are my favorite parts of our work.
Outside of work, I love to travel, watch sports, hike, and spend time with my family.
In your opinion, what are some of the most promising areas or approaches in drug discovery that you find particularly exciting?
I find it exciting that the unmet and under-met needs within women’s health actually drive our strategy and prioritization at Organon. Unfortunately, women’s health continues to be an underserved market with less than 4% of R&D dollars going towards women’s health concerns—and that is despite women making up half of the population and making about 80% of the health consumer purchasing decisions for themselves and their families. Our therapeutic cornerstones are all ripe for innovation and discovery: contraception, fertility, maternal and peripartum conditions, and other conditions unique to women. Finding solutions to health concerns that have historically lacked funding, prioritization, and attention energizes my team because of the high impact potential for conditions that have not seen major progress, or in some cases any progress, since we learned of their existence.
With the increasing complexity and the need for personalized medicine, how do you see roles of biomarkers in drug discovery?
Developing and validating new biomarkers will continue to be critical to drug discovery, and a key part of how we’ll expand the way we understand probabilities for a drug’s success or failure. In addition, disease biomarkers will enable faster and more efficient recruitment of patients for clinical studies and ways to achieve the required clinical endpoints. Biomarkers can also help us better understand diseases and their pathology, and in turn the best mechanism of action or drug target selection for these conditions.
To highlight one example, beginning from the first onset of an endometriosis patient’s symptoms, nearly a decade may pass before she finally receives the correct diagnosis from a healthcare provider. This excruciating delay in diagnosing a condition that affects up to 10% of women throughout their lives is due in large part to the lack of biomarkers available to effectively diagnose the condition. Following diagnosis, the same scarcity of biomarkers for treatments also mean that patients can only find relief for various symptoms and not a way to address the underlying cause. Patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or pregnancy complications face similar hurdles related to insufficient biomarkers for diagnostics and treatment.
In your experience, what are some of the key factors that contribute to successful collaborations in this field?
At their core, successful partnerships must involve stakeholders who are equally excited and supportive of the deal, and its mutual benefits. Organon has been intentional in developing a strategy to leverage external innovation rather than internal discovery. Our mission to build an R&D pipeline for women’s health is intrinsically linked to our strong external innovation strategy.
To ensure that Organon is a strong strategic partner, we stay current on emerging scientific evidence and breakthroughs. We need to be able to intelligently discuss innovative solutions in depth and breadth with our partners, which is not only relevant for ensuring due diligence and proper review of an external data package, but also to make sure that Organon has the capacity to truly take over an asset or subsequent development processes.
In your opinion how can advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence impact the drug discovery process?
The application of AI already has and will continue to play a role in the delivery of information and processes to enhance decision making. For Organon, AI’s progress is an important development that we will undoubtedly utilize; AI will augment the human-centered nature of our drug discovery process. As with any emerging tool, I would caution that we still need to rely on solid data from preclinical research or clinical development before concluding that certain targets are validated for a specific indication or reporting that clinical efficacy can be claimed.
In what outcomes do you think DDIP will help you?
While Organon has a strong mission and vision to be a leader in addressing the unmet needs in women’s health, we are acutely aware that innovation in this space requires interdisciplinary attention from multiple parties. Since Organon has built a pipeline through a strategy of external innovation, we must be at the forefront of drug discovery. To best serve our patients, Organon must tap into the creativity of academic teams, startups, and other key players in the external ecosystem that are focusing on women’s health R&D. We know that we cannot achieve our goals alone. We hope that DDIP can contribute to that convergence of ideas that will advance the thought leadership, provide a forum to share emerging best practices and science, and foster the collaboration the industry needs to continue to innovate.
Lastly, what advice you give to young researchers aspiring to make a difference in the field of drug discovery?
In my view, a solid foundation of scientific training is critical for those starting out in the field. You must ensure that you continue to challenge yourself and gain exposure to new experiences, whether at a start-up or as part of a scientific function in an existing R&D organization. Regardless of your route, don’t let the status quo guide your conception of what is possible. Be bold and curious, innovate, become comfortable with failure (but learn from it!) and always ask questions to learn from your predecessors.