Andrew Bergen is Associate – Genetic Epidemiology for BioRealm, LLC.
Interview by Lawrence Jones
Please describe your current position. Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate?
“My current position is Associate – Genetic Epidemiology in a data science and genetics consultancy called BioRealm, LLC (biorealmresearch.com). My role involves designing, performing and disseminating genetic epidemiologic analyses. My recent efforts have been focused on developing a genomic analysis platform for addiction research, and analysis of multiple laboratory studies of nicotine metabolism. We aim to contribute to pharmacogenomic knowledge and practice by developing algorithms for use by research scientists and clinical providers. I also advise the company on business development and technology issues.”
Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?
“My experience after the formal training period, in the for-profit research world as a Laboratory Director, and in the non-profit research world as a Principal Investigator both contribute to my ability to make contributions in my current position.”
Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?
“My current position arose through the network of collaboration, while I was serving as Director of the Molecular Genetics Program in a large non-profit research institute.”
What do you consider is fundamentally different about the biotech industry when you first started compared to now?
“Three decades ago, biotech industry applications were often direct applications of university-based scientific research, performed in the commercial space. Also, the mission of many biotech companies was about providing a platform technology to researchers in various sectors, an area that has seen some consolidation. The complexity of the funding and commercialization ecosystem was less than it is today. Today, the biotech industry has become more complex scientifically and operationally, reflecting major changes in scientific knowledge, technology, financial markets, investor knowledge and health care practice. However, the goal of biotech innovation is still to provide a product or service that fulfills an unmet need or provides a novel approach to an existing challenge.”
Where do you see biotech heading in 2016-2020 in regards to cutting edge research?
“More big data generation and analysis leading to increased knowledge of risk factors for disease that may lead to more personalized therapies. Big data integration at the community level will also identify factors whose mitigation may improve public health.”
What is your perspective of the entrepreneurial biotech landscape in California?
“California ranks at #1 among the States in nearly every metric. It has the largest number of biotech companies, due to the dense and complex ecosystem of populations, educational institutions, existing technology companies, available capital and experienced business, legal and financial professionals. This concentration also raises the bar on business performance – which may be why biotechnology companies founded and grown in CA are US and global leaders, whether independent or integrated into other companies.”
How does Maryland’s entrepreneurial biotech landscape compare?
“The MD biotechnology ecosystem is less complex than in CA. Compared to CA, MD has a fraction of the population and many fewer major research institutions, but those in MD are highly ranked or represent the major sponsor of research in the US. The number of companies per capita in the two states is similar, but absolute numbers and interactions among companies are less. The different weighting of research funding in MD and CA may influence the local entrepreneurial landscape.”
Are there some perspectives and advices that you can share with the readership about how Baltimore can become a biotech leader in the next 2-3 years?
“A few years is a rather short timeline, but if the ecosystem model is useful, leadership requires productive relationships among research, clinical care, biotechnology, finance and advisory professionals to translate innovations into products or services – with the emphasis on generating the intellectual and financial capital to support future translation.”
How can Johns Hopkins take a more leadership role in the biotech arena in the Baltimore-D.C. area?
“JHU has been THE leader in university research funding in the US for 35 years. It may be the case that John Hopkins actually underpins the biotech arena in the US more than is currently appreciated. E.g., it would be interesting to understand how many Johns Hopkins faculty and graduates are involved in the broader ecosystem of research and of regulation that influences biotech. The question you are asking might be better framed “how can Johns Hopkins place more emphasis on growing the biotech ecosystem locally?”. I think that active collaboration of multiple stakeholders, including the diverse Schools within Johns Hopkins, could increase the complexity of a biotech ecosystem that grows companies and provides solutions at multiple levels. “
What do like most about being a Johns Hopkins Alumnus and how has your education prepared you for your journey’s?
“Exposure to truly great professors and colleagues, whose ongoing work continues to inspire me. Thank-you for the opportunity to thank them.”