By Sonia K. González, DrPH, MPH
I have always been intrigued by and in awe of biology. I’m also fascinated by the process of how an early stage idea becomes an actual product capable of meeting unmet clinical needs. Working at an early stage biotech company is an amazing opportunity to work with an incredible team of scientists working together to solve really difficult problems.
Xylyx Bio (www.xylyxbio.com) spun out of Columbia University’s renowned Laboratory for Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering to meet the need for improved disease models. Unfortunately, current in vitro models poorly mimic pathophysiology, leaving a major gap in drug compound screening and testing efforts. Xylyx Bio’s native, tissue-specific substrates allow drug candidates to be investigated in vitro in a natural, physiologically relevant environment, enabling more robust, informative and relevant assays early in the drug discovery process and supporting more informed decision-making on which to progress new therapeutic concepts into pre-clinical development. By front loading attrition earlier in the process, Xylyx products play an important role facilitating the development of improved treatments for the most challenging diseases.
The greatest challenge I see in biotech is that large, resource-rich companies are no longer taking risks, leaving innovation to universities and small, typically resource-poor start-up companies. This means that in addition to taking on all the risk involved in novel, innovative new product development, small companies also must use a large portion of their time fundraising to support that innovation. However, there are exciting opportunities involved in small companies as well. Being a start-up means being nimble and able to pivot as needed to stay sharp and creative, and this is very exciting. Technology plays a role by helping us be more efficient and leaner.
In addition to helping contribute innovative approaches to solving health issues, biotech companies are also a great source of local, higher-paying jobs, as well as educational and internship opportunities for students. Public health and biotech should absolutely strive to work closely in the future to find novel solutions to issues affecting poorer communities.
I have an incredible mentor who also has both an MPH and an MBA and is a kickass businesswoman. She describes the challenge of being seen as a wolf in sheep’s clothing to more public health-leaning audiences because of the MBA, and a sheep in wolf’s clothing to more business-oriented stakeholders because of the public health background – which is something I felt for a long time but couldn’t figure out how to reconcile. Her advice was to embrace this powerful combination of big picture (public health) and practicality (business) and use it to grow a successful business capable of contributing to solving unmet needs in life sciences.