Pharma exec finds switch from academia leads to rewarding connection with patients
Having participated in teams that brought five drugs to market, Uma Sinha, PhD, said one of the greatest rewards of working in the biotechnology industry is seeing how novel therapies extend and improve the quality of patients’ lives.
Sinha, chief scientific officer of BridgeBio Pharma, spoke with Healio about her initial move from a postdoctoral program to an industry position, along with her experiences in treatment development and mentorship across several fields.
Healio: What was the transition like, from academia to industry?
Sinha: My PhD was a basic enzymology-biochemistry degree, so I didn’t know much about industry. In the late 1980s, my postdoc was in pathology, which was during the peak HIV/AIDS period. At that time, I got to see what a huge impact experimental medicines could have on patients’ lives, such as extending their life expectancy. This inspired me to switch to industry.
One of the reasons I’m more than 3 decades into my career is because work in industry is deeply rewarding. I’ve been able to lead or be part of teams that led to five marketed drugs. One of the reasons I ended up at BridgeBio was its model. We work in rare diseases; however, we are agnostic as to the field. So, I get to work in cardiology, dermatology, neurology and so on.
Healio: How do you lead your teams through these discoveries and treatment developments?
Sinha: That is something I have fine-tuned over the years. I have been privileged to have many high-performing teams. This year is going to be a big one for me, as I am getting ready to submit my 25th IND [investigational new drug application]. Keeping the teams motivated has been pretty easy at BridgeBio, as our members are very talented technically.
As a recent example in our IND portfolio, BridgeBio and our affiliate Navire Pharma collaborated with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s oncologists and pharmacologists to evaluate an SHP2 inhibitor for patients with tumors driven by resistance-associated substitutions and receptor tyrosine kinase gene mutations. We have dosed our first patient in the phase 1 clinical trial.
Healio: Can you describe your experience with mentorship and its importance for women in medicine?
Sinha: Mentorship was very important and valuable early in my career. I had mentors both in academia and when I was new to biotechnology who believed in what I could do technically and also taught me how to navigate team environments and the hurdles of drug development. Now, I get to share that with others. Although I started out mentoring postdocs and graduate students, the ability to be a mentor has expanded to the new generation of industry professionals with backgrounds in other fields like business development. They are passionate about learning about drug development and helping patients with rare diseases, so I get to help them learn the tools of the trade.
Healio: Do you have any advice for individuals considering a switch from academia to industry?
Sinha: Always follow your passion — something that keeps you motivated so you can make a difference in the lives of patients. Academia teaches the basic science and how to define and approach problems, but unless you go to industry, you don’t get to pursue the cutting-edge drug options. If an individual already has a solid foundation in science, moving to industry allows you to interact with the physicians and drug development teams, while also connecting with the patients in need of these therapies. I predict students coming from academia will find this incredibly rewarding.
For more information:
Uma Sinha, PhD, can be reached at email@example.com