Click here to watch the video version of this podcast.
Daniel Chao, MD, PhD, spent a lot of years in the lab studying the nervous system of zebra fish and worms. No surprise, after earning his PhD in neuroscience, he wanted to move on.
Ophthalmology reeled him in. After a residency and a fellowship in the field, he moved into a multifaceted research career that includes academia, biotech, and industry.
As Senior Director of Translational and Experimental Medicine and Retina Clinical Lead for Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Chao designs and executes first-in-human and Phase II proof-of-concept studies for J&J’s assets. He’s also involved in developing biomarkers to help accelerate clinical trials and meeting with external partners.
He knows where they’re coming from. In 2019, he spun out technology he developed at UC San Diego into what is now Visgenx and became one of its scientific cofounders. Visgenx therapeutics are based on ELOVL2 gene expression, which is tied to aging in the retina and other tissues.
Companies like Visgenx, take note: Janssen Retina is interested in both internal development as well as acquisition or partnerships as a route to innovative treatments.
Listen to the conversation with Firas Rahal, MD to discover:
- The tech transfer and other pieces involved in taking Visgenx from scientific concept to funded startup.
- The mechanisms behind Visgenx’s lead product.
- His thoughts on retina gene therapy and the top three challenges to wider-spread adoption.
- How he transitioned from academic researcher to Johnson & Johnson.
- The “hustle” involved in an academic research career.
Click “play” to listen.
Firas Rahhal: Welcome everybody back to the OIS Retina Podcast. I’m Firas Rahhal, I’m a partner at Retina Vitreous Associates here in Los Angeles, and a partner at ExSight Ventures in New York. And I’m really happy to have my friend Daniel Chao on today. That’s our guest for today. Daniel is a Retina doctor himself, but he’s had a lot of different hats in a fairly short time, actually, young guy with a lot of career, interesting activities up till now we’re going to hear about that. And Daniel is currently the senior director and clinical lead at Janssen Retina at Johnson and Johnson a position he’s held more recently, but he has a a big background in academic medicine at UCSD, which is where I know him from that’s where I had trained many, many years ago, long before Dan arrived there, Dan, and welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us for the podcast.
Daniel Chao: Thanks so much Firas for the invitation a big, big fan of the show.
Firas Rahhal: Thanks. Hear that you’ve at least seen one or two episodes. That’s good to know. Craig does a great job and OIS editing out all the blunders in the flubs that I create. But I’m sure that won’t happen today with you, you’re very polished guy. Tell us some of your background, I shared a little bit there in a very brief way. But you did elect to go into academic medicine, maybe you can tell us about some of your educational and training background. And how that took you to initially at least an academic career in medicine?
Daniel Chao: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for the question, Firas. So I grew up in the Washington DC area, and was always, I think, interested in science and medicine and putting those two together. And probably the biggest influence with was my mother, she was a research associate at the National Institutes of Health. And so sometimes I would tag along on the weekends when she had to go in and kind of got my first exposure. I think the next thing was in when I was in college at Virginia Commonwealth University, ended up shadowing some neurosurgeons that were there and working with them. And it was just really inspiring to see them, you know, on one side, taking care of patients, and then the other side, then going back to the lab to try to find better treatments. And, you know, I can certainly remember some brain tumor surgeries, they would do this very elegant surgery to really help these patients and then taking them right back to the lab to try to figure out how we can do better. And I think that really kind of inspired me to go down this physician scientist track. And moving forward, then I was fortunate to be accepted to Stanford Medical School. And while they also did a PhD in neuroscience, and you know, in terms of that scientific training, my PhD was in developmental neuroscience, and really, I think was inspired by some professors who were, you know, kind of posed a question, yeah, you know, how nature does, you know, the billions of neurons that you have in the 1000s of connections that you make, how does that wire up and help us see, help us move, give us our personalities, and in my work was not that grandiose or far reaching? I ended up studying worms actually, round worms, in particular, it’s a model organism called C. elegans. And the reason why is that it really reduces that problem instead of a billion neurons, there’s 302. And we could label the connections, the synapses with fluorescent proteins and then manipulate them genetically by mutating them or increasing the expression to understand how these proteins were, how they worked. And of course, it’s not like it’s completely detached from medicine, and a lot of these proteins were conserved. So then moving on, you know, how did I get into ophthalmology really wasn’t on the radar at all, until I had a friend who was an ophthalmologist. And he was going on a mission’s trip to Cambodia, and he said, Why don’t you come along and went along, and it was just incredible, I think, number one, to see the amount of preventable blindness in the developing world and seeing him do cataract surgery and as you know, literally making patients who are blind see, I mean, just how can you have more of an impact than that? And I think from there was really hooked on ophthalmology, then went on to do my clinical training, my residency at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and my retina surgery fellowship at UCSF. And I think in addition to learning how to be a great clinician, surgeon and ophthalmologist, I think I also had a lot of great mentors who were I think, really were able to identify what those unmet needs were in retina and then collaborate and build a team to actually build a product to address that in and tangibly bring it to patients. And I was like, wow, that is so cool. That is, you know, huge impact and how do I do that in the future. And then that ultimately led me to, to UCSD.
Firas Rahhal: That is actually what you just last described there, that is really the epitome of the encapsulation of innovation, right. And in clinical medicine, and the science of Ophthalmology innovation is understand the clinical needs, understand the areas that were weak in, you know, improving patients in their lives. And then if you have the wherewithal to go back to the lab and go back to the clinical trials and build something to address that need. That’s phenomenal. And I’m sure very gratifying for a lot of people like yourself who are doing it, I’m struck by the number of people in retina who had some background in inch or interest in neuroscience, and is that what sort of drove you to the retina space within ophthalmology? Is this kind of early interest in how neurons correct connect and communicate with one another? And obviously, the retina is a great place to almost visualize that directly.
Daniel Chao: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that was, I think the scientific part actually came on a little bit later, I think it was really when I was deciding, you know, what kind of clinical specialty to pursue certainly was very oriented towards, you know, the neuroscience specialties neurology, psychiatry and neurosurgery. And, you know, for whatever reason, found that those didn’t fit me quite well. And it was really, I think, seeing the big impact that ophthalmologists and retina specialists have on their patients, and, you know, the cool things that they’re able to do microsurgery on one side, in the clinic, it was fun, it was interesting. The people were really balanced, happy, and really excited about what they did. But then I think, as you said, I think as I got more into the science, I was like, Well, this is more or less like an offshoot of neuroscience in a lot of ways. And as you know, you know, I think ophthalmology and the retina is really at the cutting edge of science with gene therapy, stem cell transplants, etc. So I think that that certainly was an easy transition.
Firas Rahhal: Yeah, we’re gonna get to some of those scientific ventures you just mentioned in this conversation, hopefully, and I agree, Retina clinically, is sort of, I hate to say this, because I don’t want to offend our other medical colleagues, we’re doing amazing stuff. It’s neuroscience where people actually get better. And there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of math getting better and other clinical specialties. And certainly, in my time in med school, I did spend some time in neurosurgery and neurology, and I liked them a lot. But I did observe that in ophthalmology patients got better on the whole. And you mentioned it, and I just, I want to agree with that. That is kind of what drives a lot when it comes to it. So what did your What did your career look like at UCSD? How were you spending most of your time? Obviously, there’s this combination of clinical medicine, science and or, you know, lab work and teaching. And I’m sure you’re doing some of all of the above what how did you view it? And what did you really like there? What were you enjoying there? What maybe you didn’t you like so much about a university career?
Daniel Chao: Yeah, so I think when I was finishing fellowship, you know, I think that the idea that I wanted to pursue a particular type of job, I think I realized, I wasn’t really interested in going into, you know, full time, private practice or other things like that, and really focused on what’s called, you know, what’s commonly known as kind of a clinician scientist pathway. And so these are more or less exclusively at academic institutions. And it’s a little bit unusual in that actually, the way that it’s set up is that you actually spend a minority of your time in clinical care, usually about 30 to 40%. And really, the main thrust of it and the expectation is that you set up an independent research program, you know, that’s funded by NIH or other foundations that that’s really there to advance the field. And I think that’s where a lot of individuals who both really interested in science really interested in the clinic kind of gravitate towards and so my time was, was kind of split up like that about a third of my time was in clinic surgery, teaching residents and fellows clinically, and then probably over half my time was in really trying to set up a research program. And for me, that was really in the basic laboratory sciences. Initially, when I started, you know, I think along with this idea of a kind of accumulated variety of different kinds of zoology organisms work on I actually started to use zebrafish to make models of retinal disease, because I had so much fun playing with worms. but it’s you know, it’s interesting, I think there’s a lot of parallels for anyone setting up a research lab and a, in a startup and a lot of ways in that, you know, it’s fortunate get some startup funding from the university. But then, you know, you have to go out there recruit people tell them, Well why should I work with this junior, you know, faculty, when I can go work with the Nobel Prize winner down the street? How do I get grants so I can pay these people? And how do I publish papers into to extend that, and in some ways, a very similar thought process, you have your burn rate, you know, you’re always thinking about funding and writing grants. So that was a big part. And then the other part again, was, as you said, I think being involved in clinical trials, and as well as teaching, I was the Medical Student Director of Education, so was overseeing a lot of clerkships and really the first point of contact for medical students who were interested in ophthalmology and would mentor a lot of them through that process as they were applying for residency, I think the things that I really liked was, again, I think the people, the diverse interactions of people, you know, had a great chair, Bob Weinreb, who was really supportive of physician scientists, lots of really interesting stuff going on, you know, a great community of clinicians, and then also just the broader UCSD community. I mean, there were so many great scientists, engineers that were doing so many cool things and got to meet some of them work with them, we had some great collaborations, and then extending that beyond that is, you know, the biotech community in San Diego. And so I think that that was just really exciting to be able to interact with all these people. And, and I think the great thing about academics is that, you know, you have the freedom to kind of do what you want and shape your career and work on what ideas really think are important. That being said, you are kind of confined by you need to have the financial resources to be able to do that. And I think that’s one of the things perhaps I don’t like, is that most of your time, again, is trying to get writing grants and such. And then the other thing that can be very challenging is that, you know, as you can see, academics, there wear a lot of hats, and how do you balance? You know, all of those things, you know, as you know, being a clinician is not, you can’t just compartmentalize it and say, Alright, well, these are the days I’m going to do that, you know, emergencies come up, things bleed over. And then, you know, how do you juggle all these balls in the air?
Firas Rahhal: It’s a consistency across academics and the private sector, actually, that all of us who are involved in any way in development of products or innovation, raising money is always the bane of everyone’s existence, you know, getting the funds to do what you want to do. And when you get past the fundraising, or grant writing part, and you actually have the funds, all the fun really begins because you get to start doing the stuff you were gearing up to do. So I hear you. And that’s kind of similar in the private sector, and you’re in there now, of course, you’re in a different context than say, a startup, you guys are big, and I want to come to that. But while you were there at UCSD, you already kind of started merging your career into the private sector in some ways, in this whole kind of and a lot, this is a common way things are done now. And in modern, at least, ophthalmology innovation idea is sprung in a lab somewhere or clinic somewhere in university setting. A smart guy like yourself, runs with it for a while and then maybe spins a company out into the private sector. And I know you were working with the company Visgenx I believe you’re a founder, maybe you can share with us what that experience was like, because that seems to be at least in your setting, a bit of a bridge and a link to have to take in you to what you’re doing now.
Daniel Chao: Absolutely Firas and I would say this, as you mentioned, kind of this innovation being involved in in innovation was something I think that was sparked very early I think from me probably from my medical school days, I was able to take part in this class. It’s actually a business school class at Stanford called Lab to Market essentially, you get together, and a team of engineers and business students and some engineering students have some interesting ideas, and you work through the process of what it would be like to try and move this product forward. And so the project that I actually was assigned worked on was actually with some engineers on a glaucoma advice of all things. It was a device like a glaucoma drainage implant, which had some sensors and could kind of automatically regulate the pressure that was coming out. And with the ideas that okay, we have this smart device that can control the pressure that was implanted surgically. And sounded like a great idea that engineers thought it was great idea and I think we learned a lot of I learned a lot of good things, certainly about market segmentation and not trying to develop a very complicated solution to something that better is already out there. But I think going through that process just really got me excited. Well, what other ideas are out there and how do we find how do we find something that we can move forward. And that kind of lead towards, you know, Visgenx. I think when I was thinking about how I wanted to structure my research program, it was really with that translational bent and that I was trying to use science as a means to find some discoveries that we could then turn it into something a product that can help patients versus being perhaps just more, I’m interested in it for the sake of Discovery and Science. And so it turned out for this particular project, you know, my initial research was kind of stalling. And I was thinking like, well, how do I kind of pivot into my next chapter, you know, part of it for my academic survival? Because, you know, you always need to bring in grants and such. And also, I think, perish isn’t Yeah, it publish or perish? And I think part of it was also, you know, what kind of impact would I have, and I remember one day kind of sitting in the lab, and you know, we’re doing drug screens and zebrafish, and I thought, Oh, we’re gonna discover new drugs that could help people. But, you know, I think what I came to realize is that that was just so far away from actually reaching patients. And I’m sitting there going back. Alright, I got to go to the microscope room, look at all these zebrafish and like, Is this really the best use of my time? And is this something I really wanted to be doing year after year, in terms of making an impact? And I think obviously, the answer to that list was no. But going back to Visgenx, is that, you know, I think this was another chance happening is that one of the other junior faculty in UCSD, a PhD, basic scientist, named Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, who’s now at UCI, she just made just a really remarkable discovery linking this lipid enzyme that have actually been where the gene regulation of this, the methylation of this lipid enzyme was actually a great biomarker for aging. And some people actually use it for like forensics to determine age of individuals. But she discovered basically, that it seemed like when you eliminated this lipid enzyme, it would actually accelerate aging in the retina and also give some phenotypes that resembled AMD in a in a mouse, and, you know, hearing about at work, and I was like, wow, it’s just, you know, it’s clear what those what the possibilities were, from a translational side, and I was like, you know, we really, I’d love to work with you together to move this forward. And, you know, take advantage of her scientific expertise, my clinical expertise, and we started this great collaboration, scientifically, you know, we’re able to get a number of grants publications, but I think also able to spin out, this company Visgenx. And, you know, it was kind of a funny story, you know, after we had started collaborating, we’re thinking, Alright, well, let’s work on the science a little bit to have something more solid before we really think about spinning it out of the university. But it turned out there were these kind of biotech executives, they were kind of looking for their next thing, and went to the tech transfer office at UCSD. And, you know, they said, Oh, you know, do you guys have anything interesting there? And he said, you know, why don’t you take a look at, take a look at this stuff in the eye. And they really liked it. And we’re really interesting and spinning it out. And, and we kind of said, yeah, let’s get together, let’s partner up and out the company. And that’s what had happened. And as we move forward, then then was able to raise some seed money and got us off and running.
Firas Rahhal: That’s fascinating. That part of it. I didn’t know that part of it. I’m fairly familiar with the tech transfer and spin out concept. And often it’s in the other kind of direction, which is the innovator is then sort of pursuing this what you’re describing. And I know of this too, because people who are in incubators do this, and then maybe some execs who are looking for the next best thing, you’re saying, you’re sort of describing a scenario where these folks, were just sort of looking and asking the tech transfer to people to tip them off to something that might be of great interest. Is that common in your experience? Or is it usually the other way around?
Daniel Chao: No, I think this was pretty uncommon. Usually it is the other way around where the academic inventor really invested. Usually, you know, the applies there are kind of these NIH grants that help kind of startup and translate things, kind of move it along to the point and really are the champion until they can recruit someone like a professional then to help manage it and really move it forward. And, you know, I think there’s pluses and minuses to both ways. I do think, though, that the earlier you partner with some experienced business drug developers is that it certainly helps to greatly accelerate the whole process in terms of raising money in terms of really figuring out well what are the next things that we really need to do also understanding manufacturing other things that really you don’t really think about as an academic, but you know, it can be very tricky in terms of the partnership and making sure it’s, you know, the right collection of personalities. Obviously, the academic inventors are like, this is the best thing since sliced bread, you know, why aren’t people giving me money? Why don’t you see that this is great? And but then also, like, you know, I think the businesspeople, you know, they can sometimes and as they get further along than tart start to exclude, you know, the scientific founder. And as they move things forward, and I think fortunate ours that we’re in a team that kind of clearly recognized everyone’s area of expertise, they didn’t really understand ophthalmology, or really the deep science behind it. And we were naive kind of the whole drug development process and how to raise money and move things forward. So I think it really ended up being a good partnership in that way.
Firas Rahhal: Yeah, it really sounds like it. And I think you were fortunate with the type of people you connected with, there’s so much there that we wouldn’t have time to review accordingly. Because I love this topic. And for people who are listening, a lot of our listeners might be young, entrepreneurial type academics who are exploring these options, and it’s a little intimidating and even striking that first deal in the case that you just described, if someone like yourself, who hadn’t done it before, you can end up in kind of maybe not the best situation, but it sounds like yours worked out very well did the, and you had the right partners, which is the key I agree. 100% is Who are these people that you’re partnering with? What are their short- and long-term motivations and their ability to raise money, that’s a really critical part of it? Most scientists aren’t really geared towards fundraising, they don’t want to spend their time getting that they may not be particularly good at it, did the tech transfer people help you at that time and guidance? Or was it really just you and or any private advisors that?
Daniel Chao: You know, they were actually very helpful, I think that the UCSD tech transfer office is very innovative, friendly, they really had a push to get their things out there. And I think our particular tech transfer officer was great, he really worked with us hand in hand in terms of thinking about filing the provisional patent and was really a great champion of our idea and product, we were able to get some internal funding from UCSD to push it along. And obviously he was a big advocate to also external partners as well. And so I think really, when you’re working with tech transfer offices, I think each of them, each university kind of has their own attitude and philosophy and some can be very difficult to work with. And some can be very, more friendly. And I think it’s talking to other individuals at your institution who really navigated all of these things. And, you know, who should be who should, you know, there’s probably better trans tech for representatives and not and really having someone who’s done it at your institution that can really help you to navigate that.
Firas Rahhal: That’s good advice. I don’t want to get into the details on Visgenx, because I think it’s fascinating science, but just to use it as a segue into some of the broader scientific innovations we’re looking at now in retina, Visgenx has sort of becoming if not initially, a gene therapy company, as you just described, and there’s so many different angles on gene therapy, it’s not just what people think of overly simplistic is replaced a gene with a gene, there’s a whole lot going on there. In that context. What do you think about retina gene therapy on the whole? You know, this is probably a 10-chapter discussion, is this, you know, we, our field was revolutionized with anti-VEGF therapy 16 to 18 years ago, and we know this, and everyone in our business knows this, especially those of us who were around before that, is this now that level of explosion, is that what’s going to happen here? I mean, what how do you view retina gene therapy? Or is it just gonna be an incremental advance? Or is this revolutionizing what we do?
Daniel Chao: You know, I think we’re in the early days and I think like you’re very excited about gene therapy as a platform, and the potential what it can offer. You know, as we know, we’ve really seen some breakthroughs with Luxturna really demonstrating that we can deliver gene therapy that it’s more or less well safe and well tolerated for the most part and actually bringing clinically meaningful improvements and vision and some of these genetic diseases. And then you know, in other approaches that are using gene therapy as a bio factory, that it can produce therapeutic proteins for long periods of time that can have significant biological effects. So I think gets really exciting. And the idea of, you know, having this one and done therapy is very attractive and kind of the ultimate goal, you know, in my personal opinion not really that of a Manson is that, you know, super exciting, but I think there’s also a number of challenges that that the field overall needs to overcome. And I think there are three things. One is the inflammation or what we call gene therapy induced uveitis. That, you know, we’ve seen in a number of programs, clearly, there’s an immuno genic response, you know, in the eye, even in this immune privileged area, and you know, that effect can be quite varied. But we really don’t understand it from a scientific level, you know, what are really the factors that are involved? How do we design better vectors or capsules that help to minimize this inflammatory reaction, and then you know, how to identify patients that might be more susceptible to this? So I think that’s something certainly that as a field, we’ll know, a lot more about, you know, I think the second thing is also the manufacturing of gene therapy, and that it’s quite new. Currently, it’s, you know, it requires a lot of work a lot of money, and really the process from the different cells that you use the different plasmids and vectors, I think all of that is still being optimized. And then also, how do you scale that to larger quantities that you would need? So I think also some that’s moving very quickly in the field. And then thirdly, I think, you know, pricing, how do we, I think we’re just seeing with Luxturna, you know, how are we going to price this, like, you know, right now, it’s thought, you know, these are truly one and done therapies. And the way that insurance companies are looking at it is really like, kind of a pay for performance like, well, it’s working this year. Alright, well, we’ll pay for it. But I think we’ll really have to see long term, you know, can gene therapy really deliver on its promise. And, you know, I think we’re in this kind of generation 1.0 for gene therapy, but certainly very excited as the field continues to move forward. Is that, that will really make it, you know, has the potential to be this great platform, certainly for a variety of retinal diseases. Yeah, Dan, I totally agree with all of that. And we are here at Retina Vitreous involved in some of these, a lot of these clinical trials. And there have been, as you alluded to, some cautionary tales, regarding inflammation, something that’s always been a concern, actually right from the beginning, but it was theoretical, then. And now that we have actual clinical trials and early clinical data, that is going to be one of the largest challenges, obviously, separate from efficacy, but the inflammation is real. And there have been some problems. But I’m sure smart guys, like you will work that out. Which brings me to the sort of final topic and you kind of alluded to it, you’re now at Johnson and Johnson, you’re in the private sector you worked for in the industry, as an executive, it’s a great position. And you might view things differently, you might not what tell us about the position you’re in now, what attracted you to it? And what are you actually doing on a day-to-day basis? In the short term anyway? Yeah, so maybe I’ll start with that part first. So my position so I’m a Clinical Lead within our Translational Experimental Medicine group. And that’s really focused on early-stage clinical drug development. So my primary responsibility is really to design and execute those first inhuman base to proof-of-concept studies for assets that are moving out of our Discovery Group into the clinic, or potentially also working with external partners. And, you know, along with that, that’s also involved in for instance, developing biomarkers, which may help us understand how these how these drugs may be working, and how can we accelerate that our ability to make decisions on these clinical trials, make trial shorter, use fewer patients and in for that, doing a lot of work, for instance, in data sciences, big data, imaging, and it’s been fun, because I’ve been able to work with a lot of, you know, my previous academic collaborators in that realm. And I think the third part is, I think related to that is then also talking with external partners, you know, hearing about their technology, and you know, just helping to support decisions and potential partnerships that Janssen may be interested in. So I think it’s a really incredible, that was kind of all the things I was really interested in terms of going into industry and so you know, really fortunate to have this position and really enjoying it.
Firas Rahhal: It’s a big question but mostly with regard to J&J in your current position, is the retina division new is this something J&J has been doing a long time? Or is this a relic? totally new space for J&J in the Retina space?
Daniel Chao: It is relatively new. And I think that was one of the big attractions for me. So about three years ago, J&J made the strategic decision to get into the retina area and develop a therapeutic area from scratch. And when J&J decides to do something like that, they really invest the resources and have that commitment and ambition to really be a market leader in that area. And so that’s been, you know, very exciting, as, you know, I think the team is still relatively small compared to, let’s say, other pure pharma companies, but really moving very quickly and growing. And I think, just in the past few years, have developed a number of clinical stage molecules. And I would say, really, the goal of Janssen is really to identify, you know, what are the not incremental assets, but really transformational assets that are really going to bring significant value to patients. And that can that’s across both rare disease, as well as common diseases. And certainly, at Johnson and Johnson, fortunately, we’re in that we’re able to have access to all the different modalities, gene therapy, small molecules, etc. So we can really figure out exactly find the right tool for the indication. And I think the third thing is that I think Janssen, and Johnson and Johnson is very innovation agnostic attitude, you know, in terms of we understand that, that we’re doing a lot of great work internally, but can’t do everything, and that there’s a lot of great external partners who are doing really great science and in we’re trying to be part of that ecosystem. And if we can partner up with groups to help advance that those products and really turn them into things that can help patients.
Firas Rahhal: So I think you clarified this, but just for clarity for the audience members who have great interest in that point, your company then is interested in both internal development and potentially also acquisition or partnership as a direct route to these treatments that you were just described?
Daniel Chao: That’s right, I think if you look at, you know, Janssen across the board, is that, again, interested in both of those avenues? And I think also the, you know, at what stage unit interact with a company like Janssen, and I would say at any stage, I think we’re extremely flexible in terms of the type of collaboration, whether that’s kind of an academic research agreement versus co-development versus licensing versus acquisition, I think we’re really focused on finding, you know, what’s the best thing to make it a win-win situation for all parties?
Firas Rahhal: That’s great. I’m glad you covered that, that’s often of great interest to some of the startups who are listening and innovators who are listening and want to know how to proceed. In our final couple of minutes back to the personal part, which you were about to allude to, about the decision to make the leap. And one, how’d you make it? What was their apprehension? I’m sure there was we’re all professionals, there’s always some apprehension about going into the unknown, but specifically, how did you view that then, and now and do you already, or do you foresee missing clinical medicine? I’m sure you’ve thought about that as well, taking care of patients has a certain unique kind of quality to it, that there’s not much else like that exactly. And finally, like how would you advise others in your previous life? Who are considering such a move?
Daniel Chao: Yeah, Firas, and I think, yeah, we could talk for hours about that, but I’ll spare you that paid to give you the short points. But, you know, I think when I was you know, about two and a half years ago, I wasn’t really thinking about this at all wasn’t on the radar, I think my academic pursuits, were finally really getting off the ground. But, you know, I think at that point, started to hear about different opportunities in industry and pharma, and was certainly very curious and check things out to really understand what’s involved in drug development. And, you know, I think when I ended up talking to people, I thought, hey, this is a pretty cool job. I mean, really smart people working, you know, working to try to, again, really motivated by finding things that can help patients and work was really interesting. A lot of similar peers. There’s a lot of physician scientists who end up going into and far most like, Okay, this is really interesting, but, you know, not for me, maybe I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing right now. And you know, it’s interesting, I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis or existential deliberation of what I’m doing, but you know, just thinking long term more 5-10-15 years down the road, like, you know, what do I really want to be doing? And, you know, it was very clear from an academic standpoint, what that would look like. And, you know, it would be a lot of it would be involved writing papers and writing grants and realize, you know, I’m not sure if that’s really what I want to do for the rest of my life. And when I really kind of thought about, alright, well, what do I really enjoy the most about my job? And, you know, and it turned out that that was actually thinking about a really interesting discovery or technology, getting to a group of like, a small group of people together and figure out, you know, how do we move this forward, you know, either into the clinic, or beyond, and I realized that was really what, again, kind of drove me the most and what I was most excited about, and really realize that, hey, that’s what they do in an industry as a as a kind of full time job. And so that got me thinking, ooh, maybe I should think about this more had a lot of conversations with mentors, you know, that can ask, well, am I crazy for, you know, jumping and doing this, giving up all, you know, all the training that I’ve done, and I have a pretty good gig right now, because as you know, few things are better than being a practicing retina surgeon. But you know, it’s interesting, even those that were, I think, really hard fire in the belly academics. They were actually all like, kind of very supportive, I think they had probably seen what, you know, kind of potential of what one can do in industry. And it was kind of quite interesting. They were very supportive. And I think over this about a year long process, and I think at that point, kind of realized, Okay, well, if the right thing came along, you know, I would seriously consider it. And certainly, when this Janssen opportunity came rounds, like, Oh, this is an incredible opportunity and decided to take the leap. And, you know, it’s been about a year. So still pretty early into it. Do I miss clinical medicine? Yeah, there’s certainly a sort of part of me that does, you know, being able to treat patients, do surgery. But I think I also really enjoy what I’m doing now to be able to have that larger impact and think about these larger questions. And so I would say I’m happy with the decision that I’ve made, I don’t regret it. And really looking forward to what happens next?
I think it was really rational. And I want to repeat it, because I’m really, I really like this part of your answer, that we should all be thinking about what part of my day what part of my job, do I really like the most that’s kind of it in a nutshell. And if we all do that, you we might make various decisions based on that. I think, given what you just said about what you were enjoying the most at the university clinical scientist practice that you ran. Very successfully I may add, I know about your work before. And that was the part that you liked the most. So why not? I congratulate you for it. I think it’s really an honest answer and the right answer for anyone else considering that they ought to do that inventory that you just described. And before I conclude, I want to say one thing. If you’re in midlife, I need to check in for sources. For all those listening, who are more in my age group, that’s Dan’s version of midlife. Thank you, Dan, for joining us. That was really, really great and educational for me. And enlightening about how one goes through the different options in science and clinical medicine and university practice, etc. And I congratulate you on your leap to your new career. I’m sure you’re going to do amazing things and you, and I will have an opportunity to work together as we have in the past.
Daniel Chao: Yeah Firas, thanks so much for the invitation. Always great to speak with you and looking forward to future interactions in the future.
Firas Rahhal: Thank you. Thanks very much.