What has driven me throughout my 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry is the desire to do something that would translate into new therapies to help patients.
When I look back on my career now, I’m fortunate to say that I’ve been able to do that, at least on two occasions.
While in pharmaceutical school, I spent a summer at the department of psychiatry at New York University Medical Center doing basic research about Alzheimer’s, which got me interested in science and going into the pharmaceutical business.
In graduate school, while studying pharmacology neuroscience, I did a fellowship with Pfizer in Connecticut that was invaluable. It was enriching to interact with all the scientists, whether they were chemists synthesizing new compounds or scientists testing them in the lab. I began to see how you could take something from basic research and turn it into something that could then go into clinical development.
It changed the way I looked at a research program and how to take it forward.
I developed those skills during my time at the National Institutes of Health as we did a lot of research around alcoholism, trying to develop compounds that could potentially block the effect of alcohol on the brain.
Then I was recruited over to a company in Denmark, called Novo-Nordisk, which is best known as a diabetes company. They were starting up research efforts in non-diabetes areas. I was involved in building up the neurobiology area of this new research group, involved in treatments for Alzheimer’s, severe epilepsy and other areas.
That was the first experience of my career where I was involved in starting up a program, getting a compound in clinical development and seeing it through Phase I, II and III trials to the point of seeing it marketed.
I transitioned to a start-up company in Baltimore where I was employee number 10. One of the first products that we submitted was an oncology product to treat patients that have brain cancer. We put that on the market.
From that point, I was involved in starting a number of different companies, involving licensing technology and getting venture capital financing into the clinic.
I’m entrepreneurial by nature. Even as a child, I knew I would end up in some form of business. My dad ran two companies in New York City, and I used to work for him during the summer.
Starting companies is not for everyone, but I liked the idea of going around to different universities, identifying the technology that could potentially be transformed into a compound to help patients, and raising capital.
That’s what interested me about Rexahn. It’s very entrepreneurial. It has three compounds in clinical development for different cancers, which is exciting because it could change the way cancer patients are treated.
At some point when I’m no longer in the pharmaceutical business and I look back on what I did, if I’m able to have done something to improve the lives of patients, that’s something I would be very proud of. I’m excited to continue that work here.
—Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief executive of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals, a Rockville clinical-stage biotechnology company.
Career highlights: Chief scientific officer, Corridor Pharmaceuticals; chief executive, Cardioxyl Pharmaceuticals; chief executive, Artesian Therapeutics; senior vice president of research and development, Guilford Pharmaceuticals; director of neurobiology, Novo-Nordisk; PRAT fellow, National Institutes of Health.
Education: BS, pharmacy, St. Johns University; PhD, pharmacology and toxicology, University of Connecticut.
Personal: Lives in Towson, Md., with his wife. They have two grown children.