Lauren Nelson is the Regional Account Director, Market Access at Genzyme
Interview by Lawrence Jones
Please describe your current position. Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?
“My current position is focused on establishing and maintaining patient access to Genzyme’s products through the patient’s health insurance. This encompasses providing information to health plans about our products as well as contracting with the health plans. My purpose in attending graduate school was to explore other options within the biotech industry.”
As a past HBN president and board member how did your experience with the HBN enhance your network? How do you think it can continue to become more recognized within the Hopkins alumni community?
“My work with HBN, especially leading panel discussions, as well as partnering with other organizations helped me develop contacts throughout the industry. It is important for people to be clear about their goals and what they want to get out of their work with HBN so they better understand how to spend their time.”
Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?
“The keys to an effective job search are developing key skills aligned to your desired position and networking. Really, the networking is key. The biotech industry requires a high level of specialization within each functional area, so professionally, it’s a very small world.”
What do you consider is fundamentally different about the biotech industry when you first started compared to now?
“Well for one thing, the technology is different for sure. I remember walking through a room full of Sanger sequencers when I was 20 years old feeling like that was the future, and in many ways that has turned out to be true. Genomics and bioinformatics have only begun to revolutionize drug development and medicine. It’s exciting to see the changes, but there needs to be more training outside of the research community, for example in medicine and regulatory science, before we will really begin to realize the benefits of personalized medicine.”
Where do you see biotech heading in 2016-2020 in regards to cutting edge research?
“Well research isn’t really my bag anymore; I am on the business side now so I will speak to that. The biotech industry needs to provide more evidence for their products, and the data need to be more patient-centric. People want to know what they are paying for, and consumers are increasingly responsible for a larger portion of their healthcare costs, especially for drugs. The industry is going to need to evolve to meet this demand.”
What is your perspective of how the Hopkins Biotech Network can expand?
“I would say HBN should aim to develop new partnerships. When I ran the group, we also had a lot of alumni involved on a daily basis in what we were doing. It yielded better continuity on initiatives, more robust input for decision-making, and a better network. We also worked closely with MdBio and the Tech Council, among other groups.”
How does Maryland’s entrepreneurial biotech landscape compare?
“That’s a big question! Making a comparison like that is totally relative and there are a lot of choices among bioclusters out there. Maryland’s biotech landscape is unique with the heavy concentration of federal and academic labs, and they produce a lot of IP. So there have always been good opportunities for basic and applied research, and there is a lot of regulatory science know-how, of course, with the FDA nearby. There has been a long-standing gap on the commercial side and building a critical mass of professionals who have the understanding of how to shape a molecule and a market to launch successful drugs. Maryland has some of that talent, but it’s hard to compete with Boston being so close. So it might not be a bad idea for Maryland to encourage the presence of royalty-companies for the economic advantages, but that’s just my two cents.”
How can Johns Hopkins take a greater leadership role in the biotech arena nationally?
“On a national level, I think you need to talk about kitchen table issues. One big, public opinion issue with biotech is that when you say ‘biotechnology’ to an average American, they think you’re talking about cloning and it scares them. It is very difficult to get people to buy into an idea if they can’t understand it, so I think Hopkins could help educate the public because the Hopkins name has always been a trusted authority on the topics of medicine and health science. “
What do you like most about being a Johns Hopkins Alumnus and how has your education prepared you for your journey?
“I like meeting other alumni, especially out here on the west coast. Regarding the program, I thought the way we could design our individual academic focus was of great benefit. There were many graduate schools I considered, but most of them would have required that I take several classes that simply did not interest me. Hopkins offered the opportunity for me to structure the program around my academic and career goals.”