By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
Stepping out of my hotel room on the last day of the 2015 International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) annual meeting in Philadelphia (November 8 – 11), I reach down and pick up the USA Today that is blocking my egress. Flipping through the newspaper the headline “Allen Always Aimed High” catches my eye. As writer Nicole Auerbach relates how Duke University basketball standout Grayson Allen strived to achieve his childhood dream, I am struck by the similarity between the story and this year’s ISPE annual meeting. “I had so much joy,” recalls Allen of the sensation experienced the first time he successfully slam dunked a basketball on a 10 foot hoop — a goal that took years of persistent practice to finally achieve. It is important to remember that biopharma executives and engineers are not immune to deeply experiencing human emotions (e.g., joy, sorrow). And while attendees of ISPE were certainly treated to high-caliber networking and educational opportunities at this year’s show, they were also provided a strong dose of emotional reality to fuel their passionate pursuit of excellence. Like Duke’s Allen, to achieve beyond your expectations, sometimes it is important to be reminded of why it is you do what you do.
Why Are You Here?
Years ago when vaccine manufacturing executive Jim Robinson arrived at Merck, he asked his team “Why are you here?” His goal was to get them to think differently about their approach to work. The organizers of this year’s ISPE annual meeting must have had a similar mindset when they invited patient advocate Nicole Pierson to speak on Monday, November 9th. I imagine those who showed up for the session — Clinical Supplies And The Investigator Site: Driving A Site-Centric Organization — were not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster Pierson would soon be taking them on. The mother of Gavin, a pediatric brain tumor survivor, left not a dry eye in the room, sharing the story of how her son’s lengthy battle began at the age of five. “It all began with a slight vision problem and him complaining of not feeling well,” she recalled. Soon, however, Pierson was hit with the news that few parents are prepared to hear, “Your son has a brain tumor.” Since that day, Gavin has come to refer to the rare and recurrent teratoma brain tumor that sits in the middle of his brain as “Joe Bully.” Requiring numerous surgeries, each one coming with a longer recovery than the previous, hope remained at a distant until Pfizer was able to grant Gavin access to an investigational drug called Palbocicilib (PD-991) via compassionate use. Nicole Pierson credits Pfizer’s experimental medicine with stopping the progress of the fast-growing tumor. If you were at ISPE but missed this powerful session that reinforced why it is so important for those who work in biopharma to continue showing up to work every day, you can learn more about Gavin Pierson through these videos, blogs, and news stories that detail his courageous fight. Pfizer understandably remains cautiously optimistic about the potential of this compound, releasing the following statement regarding granting Gavin access —
“PD-0332991 is an investigational compound and is not approved by regulatory authorities for use in the U.S. or globally. Pfizer is committed to providing assistance so that seriously ill patients who have exhausted other available options may, in accordance with applicable law and under the guidance of treating physicians, have access to our investigational therapies, if appropriate.”
We at Life Science Leader magazine see this as just one of many “Biopharma Brightspots” that need to be highlighted a bit more often. But Pierson wasn’t the only emotional spark t this year’s ISPE annual gathering.
More Than Just A Plaque
On Tuesday November 10, ISPE held its annual awards ceremony. And while Novartis was named company of the year, and AstraZeneca the overall facility of the year award (FOYA) winner with its 533,000 sq. ft. facility in Taizhou, China, my favorite awards went to those recognizing the efforts of a few individuals. For example, when Sydney Shaw of Northeastern University was named winner of the Graduate Student Poster Competition, I heard a male voice shout out “Yes.” When Alan Levy of Mace North America was named the Max Seales Yonker Member of the Year Award, he absolutely beamed with pride. But many, including yours truly, were inspired by the powerful emotions expressed by Genentech’s George Millili, Ph.D. The recipient of ISPE’s Joseph X. Phillips Professional Achievement Award, Millili choked back tears when presented with an honor named for one of his late mentors. In his acceptance speech the senior principle technical advisor thanked Joe Phillips for having taught him the importance of giving back to the industry. His message to the young folks in attendance — always give a part of yourself to the association, as it will not only help the industry but pay personal dividends as well. While Millili will be the first person to tell you he loves the technical aspects of his job, he also admits his passion for fixing problems is fueled by the knowledge he is impacting patients like Gavin.