“5 Questions With…” is a weekly series from BioBuzz where we connect with interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Brian Duber, a biotech business development expert and a master’s student in public health at Johns Hopkins University.
Since Brian’s transition from the laboratory to business and corporate development in a global CDMO, he has been interested in improving patient care in and out of the clinic by working with internal and external stakeholders involved in the next generation of biotherapies. Over the years, he has gained insight into different aspects of the table through his expertise at Johns Hopkins, Morgan Stanley, and most recently through sell-side mergers and acquisitions of Paragon Bioservices to Catalent for $1.2 billion in May 2019. As Director of Business Development at An undercover biotech company, it has recently interacted across disciplines, from scientists to CEOs. His experience in researching opportunities, gathering intelligence, organizing teams and data to execute potential deals, has allowed him to develop an extensive network within the BioHealth Capital region to improve healthcare and patient outcomes.
1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by reconsidering your education, training and profession.
She graduated from Towson University with a BA in Biology with a concentration in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Like many recent graduates, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my degree at first, so I started working at Johns Hopkins University doing research in the Neurobiology Lab. While I enjoyed my work, most of the people in the lab were 20-30 years old and had PhDs, MDs, or both, and I didn’t see myself pursuing this kind of long-term career path. I also wanted to work closely with developing treatments for patients rather than publishing research papers.
The next step in my career was to work at Paragon Bioservices – a Baltimore-based CRO that was acquired by Catalent Pharma Solutions in 2019. There I worked as an associate scientist and was involved in the viral purification process. I got to know more about different companies and treatments, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied by working off the bench and instead wanted to learn more about business strategy.
I then worked at Morgan Stanley as a partner, which helped me gain new experience in business development. Paragon soon approached me for a new role in business development, involving my hands more in the project management side of things, including what eventually became Catalint’s acquisition of Paragon. During my time at Paragon / Catalent, I learned a range of new skills, from understanding the nature of the market to acquisitions.
Last summer, I joined Cugene as Director of Business Development, and worked more in Biomedicine. I had a lot of fun working but after a few months, I realized that the company and role were not set up to work in a remote environment.
I am currently looking for my next career step, particularly in business or corporate development roles where I can help roll out local biotech ecosystems.
During my work, I also pursued several advanced degrees at Johns Hopkins, including a Masters in Biotechnology in 2017 and an MBA in 2020. Currently, I am pursuing a Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins Well.
2) You are currently working on a master’s degree in public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – why did you choose to pursue this new degree, and how do you hope to apply this new knowledge to your career?
I’ve worked quite a bit in the field of rare disease therapies while at Catalent, and it has made me realize how important it is to understand things like patient advocacy in this field. I quickly realized that I didn’t have the academic training to truly understand the general health and patient side of therapeutic development, and I really wanted to gain a better understanding of how these therapeutic drugs could use potential genes and cells to serve these drugs. Population when there is no significant revenue model. There is a huge unmet need here to treat orphan diseases, and I would like to discover better ways to combine large, faraway pharmaceutical companies with the agility of small biotechnologies to offer patients new hope.
I expect to finish this degree in May 2024 – I will take my time so I can really apply what I learn to real-world examples I come across in the workplace. I took this approach with my MBA, and it really helped me connect the points of what I was learning in class to my day to day work.
3) How did Johns Hopkins prepare you for a career in biotechnology/biopharma, and do you have any advice for those looking to learn more about biotechnology/biopharma inputs?
One of the biggest things Johns Hopkins has to offer that has helped me prepare for this career path is the large number of resources available to students. Before I started my MBA, I had no idea how to access biotech market information. Once I got started, I learned how to take advantage of all these great resources to get market research, financial data, and information about publicly traded companies. Since I was also working full time, I was really able to learn how to apply these data points to my day to day work.
On top of that, every one of the classes I took was so valuable, once again I was able to take the lessons learned and apply them to my job. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the flexibility to complete these degrees at my own pace while working.
4) What advice would you give to people who have a scientific background and want to get involved in business development?
If you are just starting out, this is a really good time to consider entry-level GMP jobs at companies like Catalent or Emergent – these types of jobs will provide you with the essential skills that everyone wants in bio-manufacturing. Once you get your foot in the door, you can then more effectively define your career path. For those still in high school, I highly recommend researching associate degree programs in biotechnology in the area, such as those offered by Montgomery College and Frederick Community College, because you’ll gain specialized biotechnology skills without accumulating a lot of debt.
For those who have just graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a 4-year university, you need to know how to get the skills companies want – skills like organizational experience, upstream or downstream manufacturing, etc. Get started at a research institute, but there are other plays you can do as well. Be sure to check out Maryland-based biotechnology companies, such as REGENXBIO, to see which entry-level jobs are available to equip you with the skills you need to advance in your career.
Another key tip is to communicate within and outside of your organization as much as possible. You may feel awkward at first when you’re so early on, but soon your name starts coming up more and more, people start getting to know who you are and they will likely present you with opportunities. This is an especially big advantage for business development roles, as many of these jobs are not often posted on LinkedIn or other job boards.
5) I’ve lived in Maryland for some time – what has kept you close, and what do you think is most needed for Maryland to continue growing as a major life sciences center?
Like many, I see huge growth potential in Baltimore and Maryland as a whole. Not only do we have many world-famous universities, but we have such close proximity to federal resources, with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration in our backyard, plus three large airports and a major rail system within a 65-mile radius. We can easily get to New York City in 3.5 hours via Amtrak, or even Boston and back the same day with a 1.5 hour trip each way. This is phenomenal – we can have valuable in-person meetings and face-to-face conversations with many other biotechnology centers, but also have affordable office space and a diverse talent pool consisting of junior talent, organizational experts, and research innovators.
Once we have more resources, and largely the funding, I think the flood gates will really open up for Maryland’s biotech and we’ll see the area begin to outpace other hotspots in the market. Besides funding, another major thing that I think should happen is that we need to dismantle some of the silos between academic labs and industry. Many academic labs have always had a bad taste in their mouths about developing biopharmaceuticals and not keeping patients’ best interests in mind. While this mindset has changed dramatically in recent years, there are still misconceptions that must be shaken to open the doors for more collaboration between academia, biotechnology, and industry. I firmly believe that Maryland is likely to open those doors faster than other regions due to the different industry sectors and academic institutions in this field.
Are you also looking for your next career step? Be sure to check out our career resources page for the latest ideas on who’s hiring and what you can do to land your dream job in biotechnology.
Be sure to check out previous BioBuzz interviews, and stay tuned for more conversations with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region, Philadelphia, and beyond!
Sarah Ellinwood is the managing editor of BioBuzz. Sarah is a scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, specializing in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. I got my PhD. He received his Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology with a concentration in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things social sciences and mentoring peers and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.