Slone Partners: How does someone become the President of Clinical Next-Generation Sequencing and Oncology of a $20 billion company like Thermo Fisher? Take us on your personal journey.
Dr. Goswami: To keep things in perspective, it’s just one of several divisions in a very large company. I’ve been fortunate enough to be with Thermo Fisher for over 13 1/2 years now, and for me, the whole idea about coming to Thermo Fisher was to be able to learn new skill sets, be exposed to a different industry than I had been part of before, and to really get my hands into running a business. My time at the company has spanned many different roles, including coming into corporate development, working with the technology licensing groups, looking at the key technologies that could change the course of the company, getting experience on how to negotiate deals, and what contractual terms would be important to ensure success.
I have also had the good fortune to be able to start a business in the stem cell and regenerative medicine area during a good time for the industry and grow the company when the field was really exploding. Then I took a really different turn going out into regions like Japan and Asia Pacific, running the entire company’s operations in those regions, which included sales, customer service and support for all our products and services. I then came back to the U.S. to run a couple of businesses focused on protein and cell analysis. In mid-2016, I took on the Clinical Next-Generation Sequencing and Oncology business. It has been quite a journey and I am really humbled to have had these opportunities.
Slone Partners: What has the process and progress been like collaborating with former Vice President Joe Biden on the Cancer Moonshot initiative? His son Beau died of brain cancer, so this is a very personal goal for him …
Dr. Goswami: In the beginning, the Office of the Vice President reached out to us because of the work we were doing in cancer and the innovative technologies we were developing. We were trying to give democratic access to labs anywhere that had the ability to adopt these tools. Together we looked at various approaches to share data and early results, and to bring in collaborators. It has been really pleasant to work with the teams.
I give a lot of credit to former Vice President Biden and his vision to create something that brought together different parts of academia, industry and regulatory bodies all into one larger framework, looking not only into the genomics side of things, but also proteomics areas that could impact cancer. It is called ‘Moonshot’ because we are trying to accelerate the process and achieve in 5 years, what would have otherwise taken 10 years. The Vice President’s vision was to really make this an international effort, creating openness, sharing data, and bringing together the best minds from across the globe. The Vice President put a lot of personal time into it, and interacting with him, Greg Simon, and others running the project, was a really great experience.
It’s unfortunate that with the political changes some of that momentum was lost, but I’m really pleased that it came back in the form of the re-filing of the Atlas Consortium, which is specifically looking at liquid biopsies as a means to identify cancer and markers for cancer resulting in better treatment.
Slone Partners: In addition to earning your MS and PhD from MIT, you also achieved an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which to many may seem like a surprising departure away from the sciences. How has your business education informed or guided you in the “business of cancer”?
Dr. Goswami: This is who I am as an individual, being driven by the intersection of business and technology. Business can do good by bringing innovation to the field and democratizing access to the marketplace. I was exposed to ideas and training while obtaining my MBA, throughout my consulting career, and now with multiple geographies at Thermo Fisher. It has given me ideas on how to approach the business and how to create new opportunities. Additionally, it has given insight to what area we want to focus on, as well as what our customers want us to focus on, along with researchers and pathologists, to provide better access to choices and therapy.
The other thing my MBA has helped with is working through the economics to create win-win priced products to make them attractive and cost-effective to the healthcare systems. Also, thinking through things like distribution; how we get our products into the hands of our customers across the globe. At Thermo Fisher, we have resources, experts, and collective knowledge to move much faster than many of our competitors.
Slone Partners: The FDA recently approved the next-generation sequence-based Oncomine Dx Target Test, which marks a remarkable collaboration between your team at Thermo Fisher, Pfizer and Novartis. What does this say about future collaborations between science companies that traditionally compete against each other?
Dr. Goswami: In this particular space, it is not so much about competition as it is about getting the right test approved as quickly as possible. Collaboration is far more helpful than locking a competitor out of the market. The panel that was launched has 46 different genes that are extremely relevant to understanding a patient’s tumor profile and helping clinicians guide the right forms of therapy. The idea was to work with different types of pharmaceutical companies on varying cancers, not just non-small cell lung cancer, for which they are developing drugs. It makes sense to collaborate. The ability to expand the panel beyond lung cancer will become much easier going forward.
Slone Partners: As an executive search firm, we’re always looking for the brightest talent for our clients. When you hire people, what are you looking for? What are the most important traits you simply cannot live without?
Dr. Goswami: Skill sets and functional sets are always something we seek. The candidate needs to have a technical background in the specific area we’re looking for. We are also looking for people who can progress in the company and illustrate skills that are necessary to create next-generation leadership at Thermo Fisher. Are you proactive? Are you able to work through complex problems across geographies and functions? Are you inclusive? Can you create teams? It’s a very global business, so we need people who thrive in diverse environments. There is a need for diversity of thought, diverse sets of people, thinking and business models. It is also important to have mental agility.
Slone Partners: From a technological point of view, what’s the most exciting development you’ve seen in your healthcare career? An“ah ha!”moment you felt was a truly groundbreaking, game-changing technological advance.
Dr. Goswami: The first is the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells by Professor Yamanaka in 2006. Induced pluripotent stem cells are tissue cells that are genetically modified and have the ability to form any other cell. That is a really fantastic discovery that I did not think was possible. The second is the ability to correct DNA errors in cells in a very effective and efficient manner. And the third is understanding diseases at a fundamental molecular level and the benefits of next-generation sequencing. Eliminating chronic disease looks a lot more real today than it has in the past. It’s revolutionary.
Slone Partners: With so many professional responsibilities, what makes you personally happy?
Dr. Goswami: Well, it’s the simple things, really. On the professional side, it’s a blessing to be able to help lung cancer patients and to be able to make a material difference in their lives. It’s very fulfilling to be able to do this. And, I can’t complain about spending time with my family in California and getting to enjoy my life with them.
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