Sean Kelley surprised his friends and family when he decided at the end of his studies that he did not want to be a doctor. For years, the medical school had been the plan, but as he was going through educational rotations and the application process, he realized that his true passion was to understand the biology of the functioning of the human body.
but it was too late this year to apply for the following fall. "
" My grandfather taught me to play golf when I was small and I ended up being pretty good, even winning several high school tournaments. So I left New York where I grew up for Florida and got a job in a country club while waiting for night tables, which allows me to play golf every day. "
For a year, Sean lived his dream time between links and the beach.But he soon realized that the dream of becoming a pro golfer would never outweigh his scientific curiosity Then he applied for a Ph.D. program at his undergraduate alma mater, Penn State University, where he was accepted into the Department of Physiology.
The Science of Medicine
Sean had always been interested in the details of how the body works – it has excited him to understand how a muscle contracts or how a nerve works – to study how the human body develops and repairs itself Physiology as a field seemed like an ideal choice
Sean began his research in a laboratory studying vitamin A and synthetic retinoids as potential anticancer agents and as part of his research he became interested in the use of the model. This has evolved into the development of mathematical models to describe other things such as thyroid hormones and iron metabolism. The work earned him a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, where he continued his research on mathematical modeling and the effects of some environmental toxins on how vitamin A is metabolized. After a little over a year in Scandinavia, he returned home in 1997, completed a second postdoctoral fellowship at Penn State and turned his attention to a biotechnology job.
"I had some options.But it was at that time that my grandfather, with whom I was very close, fell ill and eventually died of cancer. It really pushed me towards the industry and a company focused on making cancer drugs. "
A tough business
In 1998, Sean started his career at Genentech as as a researcher in pharmacokinetics. as a postdoctoral fellow. With his own small laboratory, the work allowed him to participate in research while he was helping to move experimental drugs through the development process. His first projects were focused on new therapeutic antibodies to treat asthma.
A few years later, Sean is interested in a more active role in the drug development process at Genentech, leading him to a leadership position. It's about the same time that he finally had the opportunity to work in oncology as a sub-chief of pharmacology for an experimental medicine designed to activate the signaling pathways of the cell death in cancer cells. In the end, the molecule was not approved, but it was an extraordinary learning experience.
"I have learned that bringing early scientific discovery to patients requires expertise far beyond the scientific sense. A company like Genentech needs people who can wear multiple hats and be able to inspire teams to come together to achieve a common goal. And when you are in this position, you really have to like working with people and knowing how to connect with them. "
It turns out that Sean was one of those people." He liked the leadership role and when Genentech created the Project Team Leader (PTL) position, he immediately intrigued.
"As a PTL, you lead a whole drug development team. You have access to the whole situation, from research and development to manufacturing and the market, and that gives you an idea of the complexity of the situation. There's never a day where you do the same thing. "
Sean was hired as a PTL and worked on a wide range of experimental drugs in oncology, including in the evolving world of immunotherapy." He led teams developing new approaches to attacking patients. Tumor cells and is currently leading a development team for personalized cancer vaccines.He says his proud moment, however, was the day when Perjeta (pertuzumab)was approved in 2012 for HER2-positive Metastatic Breast Cancer
.I have been working on a number of different molecules that have never been approved and what it has done for me, that is to say, that it has been is that you really need to embrace success because they do not come so often.It was a special team, and it was amazing to see our work make the difference. for the patients. "
Some things never change
Sean and Genentech have changed since his arrival in South San Francisco 19 years ago.
"I have worked here through many of the major stages of my life: the wedding, my first home, having my twins."
Sean remembers the good old days when one had to fill out forms to be simple Materials like test tubes and everyone in the company knew what projects were working on other people. Although this is no longer the case, Sean is pleased that Genentech 's agility and innovation make it possible for the company to pursue new treatments against the most challenging diseases.
There is a local saying that has been picked up in the corridors of the business that still rings true for Sean. "We forget because we are inundated all the time, but we continue to be on the cutting edge. The people here were saying, "We are rewriting medical textbooks." We are really doing it. "