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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 15, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 3
At Carey School, Life Scientists Get Down to Business

Adam Schayowitz and Liping Liu are due to be part of the first graduating class in the MBA in the Life Sciences program.

By Andrew Blumberg
Carey Business School

Adam Schayowitz and Liping Liu grew up enamored with medical science; so much so, they both knew from an early age that they wanted to make it their life's work. What they didn't expect was the rendezvous with the business world that's enabling them to realize their dreams.

Both Schayowitz and Liu are students in the Carey Business School's new MBA in the Life Sciences program, which teaches medical professionals the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to bring promising therapies and treatments to market.

Schayowitz, who concentrated in neuroscience as an undergraduate, says he was always fascinated by the fields of psychology and biology. He credits his parents' careers in the pharmaceutical industry with helping him merge those interests, as he earned a doctorate in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics from the University of Maryland. While a student there, he worked in the areas of new drug development and the latest treatments for breast and prostate cancer.

"I gained some experience with clinical trial protocols along the way," Schayowitz said. "I also learned that it was easier to teach a science guy business than a business guy science."

That realization and Schayowitz's growing interest in developing new cancer treatments led him to seek a program "at the intersection of science and business" that could impart the business skills needed to move research from the lab to the marketplace. He applied to the MBA in the Life Sciences program upon its launch and is due to be part of its first graduating class, in 2009.

Schayowitz now works for BioMarker Strategies as director of research and development. The small start-up, which is due to relocate to the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins, in East Baltimore, concentrates on tissue-based biomarker technologies that enable physicians to detect and diagnose cases of cancer faster and more accurately. The company's co-founders, he said, were initially intrigued by Schayowitz's business and scientific background.

"My responsibilities with the company are twofold: to communicate the science clearly and effectively to investors, while explaining the development component to our scientists working in the lab," said Schayowitz, who runs the company's lab and manages its staff.

The company's newest technological development is called the SnapPath, a tumor cell–processing system that standardizes and automates tissue processing and sample preparation, facilitating molecular analysis of suspected cancer cases. A prototype is due out shortly, with a manufacturer to be identified in 2009.

Since joining BioMarker, Schayowitz has been at the forefront in raising more than $1 million, capital that made possible the development of the SnapPath as well as the new offices in East Baltimore, a move that is designed to foster strategic collaborations with like-minded enterprises that could benefit along with the company's intellectual property.

Schayowitz's classmate Liu says she is eager to see the fruits of her scientific labors. "The application of the science has always been more fun for me than the fundamental research," said Liu, who earned her doctorate in biochemistry from Nankai University in China and also is due to graduate from the Life Sciences program next year.

After postdoctoral work in Toronto, Liu joined a biotech start-up seeking to develop cancer vaccines. "It was my first reality check, seeing business decisions made over science," she remembered. "I often saw battles between scientists and business people, with the scientists wanting perfection and the business folks needing to meet financial milestones."

Liu worked over the next few years in developing biological therapeutics along with conducting biomarker research. During that time, she established a biomarker discovery program for diabetes and cancer, and an antigen discovery program for cancer/infectious disease vaccine development, and led preclinical programs through required investigational new-drug filings with the Food and Drug Administration.

Within the past year, Liu was recruited as the head of research and development for Stealth Peptides, a Rockville, Md.–based company with global operations developing peptide therapeutics for age-related illnesses. There, she's teaching scientists trained in analyzing data and focused on perfection and protocol how business strategies can ultimately help them capitalize on their research. "I can talk to the company's founder and CEO, extrapolating the data for them while understanding their needs and what has to be generated by R & D," she said.

At its core, the Johns Hopkins program emphasizes the critical need for scientists and business people to speak--and understand--the languages of two often disparate worlds.

"I've seen so many PhDs and clinicians put into management positions without training, and this program addresses that issue," said Cherie Nichols, director of the MBA in the Life Sciences. "In addition, there are a lot of scientists who won't make a lifelong career out of science. This program will also open other doors," she said.

Designed for current and future strategic decision makers in such fields as biotechnology, genomics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics, the program includes as its students physicians, researchers, lab technicians and other medical professionals and administrators. Program participants progress through the two-year, part-time degree as a cohort, or group, engaging a series of real world, program-based learning modules bringing together medicine and the marketplace.

Along the way, students experience the lifecycle development of a typical life sciences organization. The modules explore areas ranging from the language of business, such as accounting, finance, ethics and leadership; to creating a business plan and securing funding; to establishing a sustainable company and delineating leadership roles and responsibilities; to managing and guiding a business through all phases of development.

"The strength of the MBA in the Life Sciences lies in the strength of Johns Hopkins," Nichols said. "The university's medicine, public health and biotechnology programs are world-renowned, and combining the scientific expertise with the dynamic business teachings and standout faculty of Johns Hopkins' new Carey Business School is a win-win," she said. "Indeed, one of the keys to the program's success is that so many Hopkins faculty are out there, every day, effectively merging science and business."

Both Schayowitz and Liu have visions of someday running their own biotech companies. If that happens, they say they'll look back to their days as students in the program as a major component in their success.

"I wouldn't have my current position without this program," said Schayowitz. "It contains all the tools necessary to understand financial issues. Now I understand cash flows and balance sheets, and I'm a little surprised I like business so much."

"I'm seeing things from both sides," Liu said. "I can talk both languages [science and business] much more fluently, plus I'm learning a lot about management and leadership skills. I'm also able to better embrace the people affected by decisions; I can see why so many conflicts might arise."

Beyond promoting a better understanding and respect between science and business (and the subsequent ability to work together more effectively), the program has raised deeper issues for its participants. Explains Schayowitz, "You're introduced to issues involving humanity and commercialization, of the need to find a niche, a way to make a better life for many feasible and possible. In that sense, business means nothing without science, and science alone can't drive the business end."


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