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Biotech Leaders Offer Advice to Fordham Students

Biotech Panel VideoBiotech is more than just a single industry; it’s a science with broad applications in many fields, said experts at a recent Fordham panel discussion, and its continued advancement will rely on leaders with a keen business sense.

“Great innovation goes nowhere without great business,” said John DelliSanti, FCRH ’88, GBA ’97, at the Nov. 4 event, “Biotechnology: International Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” A Fordham Science Council member and chief operating officer for ArisGlobal, DelliSanti joined two other distinguished alumni panelists in offering students insight on becoming a successful biotech professional. Robert J. Schaffhauser, Ph.D., FCRH ’68, former vice president and chief technical officer of Engelhard Corp., served as moderator.

DelliSanti began with one piece of advice—keep an open mind. Experienced in many areas of the industry, he counseled students on the importance of breaking into the field through internships and networking, exploring all options, and embracing change. Social media, he added, plays a significant role in the marketing and sales end of biotechnology.

Paul E. Freiman, PHA ’55, president and chief executive officer of Neurobiological Technologies Inc., also weighed in on the key elements needed to form a biotech company: money, technology, and experienced staff members. “Without money, you can’t do the science,” he said. Of the existing 15,000 biotech companies worldwide, he asserted, only 500 will survive. Freiman cited regulatory issues, lack of cash, and science that does not work outside of the laboratory as obstacles to lasting success.

Similarly, Charles J. Casamento, PHA’68, executive director and principal of the Sage Group, noted that the biotech field presents several job opportunities in addition to scientific researcher; physicians, attorneys, development staff, financiers, marketers, and salespeople are also needed as part of the composition of biotech companies. He also stressed that the field’s innovations in changing the biological processes of organisms could open the door to many other developments. “In the same way that you can make corn more resistant to disease, maybe someday you can make humans more resistant to disease,” he offered.

During the question and answer session, one student asked whether an M.B.A. is a prerequisite for success in the biotech industry. The panelists agreed that the degree sets a job applicant apart. Freiman recalled asking a senior Pfizer executive about the importance of an advanced degree in business. The answer was succinct: Today’s M.B.A. is yesterday’s B.S. degree. Another student asked whether or not it’s advisable to take a position for which one is overqualified. There was overwhelming agreement among the panelists that accepting such a position can help get a career started. The same themes echoed in the advice from all the panelists: Get your foot in the door, remain flexible, and accept change.

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