The Mix Tape: Ep. 9 — From Bench to Business

With an ever changing science industry, the need for multidisciplinary scientists is growing. Today, Mix Talent's Drew Rothschild talks to drug-development-expert-now-CEO-AND-CSO Jan Rosenbaum, a living example of how successful integrating multiple industry skills can be. Rosenbaum is the President, CEO, and CSO of Kurome Therapeutics, a Cincinnati based company that targets therapies for adaptive resistance in cancer cells.

Transcription

Unison-

Welcome to The Mix Tape.

Valerie McCandlish:

I’m Valerie.

Natalie Taylor:

And I’m Natalie. Thank you everyone for being here today and joining us for another episode. Today, our guest is Jan Rosenbaum, who is the CEO and CSO of Kurome Therapeutics. She’s going to be talking with one of Mix’s founding principles, Drew Rothschild.

Natalie Taylor:

A little bit about Jan. She is an experienced drug development professional with more than 25 years of technical management expertise in pharma and biotech, specifically in the development of small molecule, peptide and protein therapeutics. What’s really interesting about Jan is that she never intended to be in the business side after leaving science, but she will tell us about how her career evolved and that you can incorporate learnings from completely different areas and apply that to what you’re doing in your job.

Valerie McCandlish:

Natalie, I’m really excited for this episode, because I feel like Jan’s development in her career is really reflective of how we are here at Mix Talent. And the makeup of our employees is just from a variety of disciplines. We have, of course, people who’ve come from recruiting, but we also have a group of people who are former scientists that are now recruiting scientists. We have people who come from sales. We have folks that come from IT and from retail and from a corporate setting. So that blend of experiences and that brain trust of knowledge helps us to really deliver the best talent available to our clients when we’re working with them.

Natalie Taylor:

I agree, Val. I would say it’s the perfect mix.

Valerie McCandlish:

Oh, there it is. Well, without further ado, we’ll kick it over to Drew and Jan for today’s episode, From Bench to Business.

Drew Rothschild:

Well, great. I appreciate you taking the time to spend with us today. And I’m Drew Rothschild. I am the head of strategic projects and partnerships at Mix Talent. And today I’m being joined by…

Jan Rosenbaum:

Jan Rosenbaum. I am the President, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer of Kurome Therapeutics.

Drew Rothschild:

That’s great. And so couple titles there, which I look forward to digging into how you took those paths today. I think easiest icebreaker in this podcast episode for me is to get an overview of your current company, where you guys are from a development standpoint. And then I can’t help myself as a recruiter, I’m probably going to take you all the way back to high school and learn a little bit more about your upbringing.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Sure. So Kurome Therapeutics is a startup company. We are in the therapeutic space, which means that we are developing drugs for treatment of patients with hematological cancers. So that’s blood cancers. And specifically we are trying to develop drugs for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. And AML is a disease that is very hard to treat, and it’s very hard to treat because current treatments really only treat patients for a while. We tend to lose 50% of those patients, and we lose 50% of the patients because they’ve become resistant to the disease. And they become resistant to disease for a variety of reasons, but one of the things that our scientific founder discovered was that there’s a process called adaptive resistance. And adaptive resistance is different from the type of resistance that you usually hear about in cancer therapy, which is the process where the cancer outsmarts the drug by evolving to eliminate the ability of the drug to bind to its target. That’s the normal type of resistance. That’s acquired resistance.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Adaptive resistance is different. And that’s the process where the cancer cells co-op signaling pathways that are used by normal cells, but the cancer cells use those same signaling pathways to allow the cancer cells to survive. And that’s what Kurome is working on. So we work on signaling pathways that are normally used by normal cells in the immune system, but in the cancer cell, those signaling pathways are used to help the cancer cell survive and we inhibit those pathways. So we inhibit the ability of cancer cells to survive.

Drew Rothschild:

Wow. And so give me an overview of how long you’ve been working towards this, both since you’ve been here, but the science, the PIs potentially, the history of the asset and where it’s going.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So I first got involved with Dan Starczynowski, who’s the scientific founder, in 2018 when Cincinnati Children’s asked me to work with Dan and see where the technology was going. Dan has been in this field for all of his career, and specifically the technology that Kurome Therapeutics is based on for over 10 years now.

Drew Rothschild:

Oh, wow. Nice. All right, as I promised we’d go back because I can’t help myself. So we’re sitting in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you are a CSO, CEO, president, we’ll get into your venture background, career aspirational, P&G employee. Tell me about upbringing. I mean, what we was middle school like, high school? Did you know you wanted to be a scientist? It’s fascinating for me to see where people have gone in their careers and then foundationally where they started.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Well, I grew up in Buffalo, New York, which you can probably tell from my accent. My A’s are very, very flat. And I always wanted to be a veterinarian, always. I loved animals. I wanted to work as a veterinarian. And my allergist would not sign the health form for me to apply to Cornell Ag.

Drew Rothschild:

Really?

Jan Rosenbaum:

Yeah. Wouldn’t in health form. And so instead I went to the State University of New York at Albany as a chemistry major. And I was deciding between chemistry and biology, and the head of the chemistry department convinced me that I would be more successful in biology as a chemistry major. He said, “Biology’s easy. You can always learn that afterwards.” And at the time that I started at Albany, my parents moved to Southern California. My dad was in the aerospace industry and aerospace was folding up in Buffalo at the time. So they moved out to California and they said, “You have to come to California,” midway through college. And I applied to the UC system, UC in California is the University of California, by the way. It’s not the University of Cincinnati. And I applied and got redirected to UC San Diego, which at the time was a smaller school for biology. I didn’t want to go there.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So I stayed at Albany. I was on a scholarship at Albany, finished up at Albany. And I had been working at UCLA during the summers in the pharmacology department and got very, very interested in pharmacology as a result and wound up… One of the postdocs at UCLA who is now a faculty member at UC, it’s interesting how small the world is, told me about the pharmaceutical chemistry department at UCSF, the University of California, San Francisco. And I applied there and got in.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And while at UCSF I was trained in pharmaceutical sciences. Wound up with a pharmacology project because pharmacology was my first love. Pharmacology, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is the mechanism of drug action. But my background was very multidisciplinary. So while I was trained as a pharmacologist, I was able to learn a lot from the pharmaceutical chemistry program. So I learned a lot about what happens to drugs when they enter the body and I learned a lot about structural chemistry because the program at UC was divided into a medicinal chemistry program and a pharmaceutics program. So pharmacology was kind of unique to my mentor. And so when I finished up at UC, I went to Stanford for postdoc in cardiovascular pharmacology. And that was very, very deliberate because my program at UC was in neuropharmacology and I wanted training in cardiovascular pharmacology to set myself up to be better prepared for industry.

Drew Rothschild:

So you knew you wanted to go to industry at some point?

Jan Rosenbaum:

I knew I wanted to go to industry. Yeah. I absolutely wanted to go to industry, but I wanted to stay in research. And my ideal job would be something like the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology, which to doesn’t exist anymore. But the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology was like IBM and Bell Labs for biology back then. And at the time in the Bay Area, biotech had no need for pharmacologists. It was only molecular biology. They didn’t know what a dose response curve was and they didn’t care.

Drew Rothschild:

So you changed a little bit for-

Jan Rosenbaum:

A lot.

Drew Rothschild:

… us recruiters out here.

Jan Rosenbaum:

A lot. So I did my postdoc in clinical pharmacology, following up on some work that I had done in graduate school. So now I was a pharmaceutical chemist, a molecular pharmacologist, and I had a strong clinical pharm background. And I got recruited by Procter & Gamble. I had no idea what they would want with a receptor pharmacologist. But I came out to Cincinnati because of Procter & gamble.

Drew Rothschild:

Well, back up. Recruited, I always love digging into this too, because recruited then versus how you get recruited now, what was that like? What do you mean?

Jan Rosenbaum:

I was looking for jobs in the back of Science and Nature and saw an ad for Procter & Gamble and couldn’t figure out why they were looking for a receptor pharmacologist. And my husband was working for Levi Strauss at the time. And I said, “What do you think about Cincinnati?” He says, “I don’t know. The sales reps like it there.” And so I applied and P&G really rolled out the red carpet. And they talked to me about this pharmaceuticals division that they were building. It was the health and personal care technology division at the time and all this exciting research that was going on. And it was interesting because they were considering two people for the position. And they didn’t know anything about UCSF. They knew about the NIH. They didn’t know anything about the California schools. They didn’t know anything about SUNY, Albany. They were very Midwest focused for life sciences. They had a lot of people that came from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. They were very highly skewed towards the biochemistry program there. And in comes this person from California who spoke like she was from Buffalo and so everyone thought I was from Chicago, because that’s what they could relate to.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So I started at P&G and I lasted a little over a year in the health and personal care technology division because it wasn’t basic enough research for me. And I moved into corporate biotech at P&G and that’s where I learned biotech, was in corporate biotech. They were the equivalent of the Roche Institute, but within P&G. I mean, everything about biotech was new to me at the time. We were trying to identify and clone receptors for some growth factors that we were working on to make bones grow. And I went to a Cold Spring Harbor meeting on the molecular biology of signal transduction. And I will never forget it. There was a speaker from Merck who was about to speak and I really needed to go to the bathroom. And I said to the person that I was sitting next to that I was going to just step out. And he grabbed my arm and he said, “No, you need to sit and hear this talk.”

Jan Rosenbaum:

And I listened to this talk and that talk changed my entire approach to science. I got so charged up by this talk. The talk was all about how we mutate receptors and how we look at how the receptors interact with drugs when we change their molecular structure. And I said, “I have to do this. I have to do this. If I do this, we will figure out how these receptors are working.”

Drew Rothschild:

So you were at P&G how many years?

Jan Rosenbaum:

I was P&G for two weeks short of 23 years.

Drew Rothschild:

Right. And what state… I mean, was this your first two years there?

Jan Rosenbaum:

This is my second year there. So I went back to corporate biotech and I said, “I have to learn what you gene jockeys are doing because I have to do this with this receptor or we’re not going to find the drug that you’re looking for.” So I went back into the lab and I learned molecular biology. And I was pouring gels the size of my body to sequence DNA because that was how you did it then. And I was learning westerns and northern, everything, everything. It was like another postdoc while I was running my own lab. And it was the best thing I ever did. And then wound up cloning the receptors for the bone morphogenetic proteins, beating other companies to the punch. So P&G held the patents on those receptors. And that’s where I established myself as a molecular pharmacologist in the receptor area. Worked with top investigators in the field and built a name for myself. And it was all based on that. It was because of that Cold Spring Harbor meeting.

Drew Rothschild:

Amazing, amazing. And P&G, obviously everyone knows P&G from the consumer goods standpoint. And then obviously those listening in the pharmaceutical industry, there was this era, I would say, of P&G where they were out recruiting, some of what they do on the consumer side, the best of the best, being pretty aggressive. And then eventually that business spun out. Did they shut it down? I’m trying to recall.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Right. So I moved back to the pharmaceuticals, what was then P&G Pharmaceuticals, after almost 10 years in corporate research. So I moved from the bone group to the skin group in corporate biotech, and then I moved into the angiogenesis group in pharmaceuticals. And while I was in the angiogenesis group, at that point I’d worked with a number of companies on the outside because I was always very much externally focused while I was at P&G. And I was rising up through the technical ranks at the same time. And so when they made the decision to close down discovery research in pharmaceuticals, that was the beginning of the end for pharmaceuticals at P&G.

Jan Rosenbaum:

They offered people packages to leave and so I asked for a package. They wouldn’t let me go. They moved me into the clinical division into what’s called their search and evaluate organization. And that’s where you are helping the people who look at technology to bring in technology from the outside that would help build P&G’s pipeline. And I was in charge of evaluating everything on the preclinical side and I also helped the attorneys to evaluate patents because by then I had become very adept at patenting technology. Again that was purely trained as a result of going through the process myself. The attorneys at P&G were great at training me. I trained them in pharmacology and molecular biology and they trained me in the patent process.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And so I lasted in the search and evaluate organization for almost two years and then they shut that down because at that point they knew that they were going to be selling the organization to Warner Chilcott. And so once they shut down the search and evaluate organization, they offered packages to anyone who wanted to leave. I think I was second or third in line. And I knew I wanted to become a chief scientific officer. That was my goal. And I knew I didn’t have the training for it, and to get the training I knew I needed more on the business side of things. So I was fortunate enough to live across the street from a serial entrepreneur. And I had been talking to him the whole time that I was sticking it out at P&G about what I was going to do next. And so he introduced me to the folks at CincyTech.

Drew Rothschild:

Gotcha.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Which is a venture capital organization here in CincyTech and they’re a seed fund. So they fund companies right at the beginning. And I interviewed at CincyTech with Bob Coy, who was the CEO at CincyTech at the time, and told him that I wanted to create a position within CincyTech to pull technology out of local hospitals and the universities and that I had the skillset to do that because I could speak the language the professors spoke and I had the business experience from largely being on the search and evaluate team. I knew what pharmaceutical companies were looking for. And so Bob thought that was a great idea, and I got hired at CincyTech and I was the director of life sciences for five years.

Drew Rothschild:

So about six years ago, I came back to the Midwest, back to Ohio, Columbus, from Cambridge, right? And at Mix we work across the country in biotech, especially life science, rare disease. And it was a different Ohio, I would say, I came back to than when I left. Certainly in Columbus it was very nationwide focused. Ohio state focused gene therapy. But I’ve been blown away in the last five years. Probably every two weeks I get an email or an introduction down in Cincinnati of an early stage life science organization. You know better than anyone having been on all sides of the fence here. Is that because of the P&G investment 20 years ago and those people moving on? Is it because CincyTech was established? Is it the hospital becoming better suited in the ecosystem of out license? What’s going on down here?

Jan Rosenbaum:

It’s a very active attempt to build the ecosystem, and it’s due largely to CincyTech because CincyTech and Queen City led the investments in the area. And so they were there 10 to 20 years ago and then others followed. So they brought other investors together. And then now we have even more investors than we had before. But even the organizations that supported development of technologies that would be out licensed within our university’s group, so the ability to train professors and to build the infrastructure within the university so that technology could be pulled out has evolved.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So we’ve seen tech transfer units get larger. We’ve seen innovation venture departments arise in both UC and Cincinnati Children’s and become much bigger than they were many years ago. So everybody’s working hand in hand. And then we have CenterFuse that brought in money. I think that ability to form startups started earlier on the tech side in the Cincinnati area than it did on the bio side and became more successful. And I think that some of the investors… You have two different types of investors. You have investors that want a quick exit and you have investors that are interested in a longer period of time for a bigger payoff. And in many respects, investing in the life sciences is a longer haul and that’s a different type of investor that gets involved in that.

Drew Rothschild:

So you mentioned over and over again throughout your career that you knew what you needed to go and learn or surround yourself with to get to the next level of what you ultimately wanted to be, which was a CSO. How do you describe the ecosystem now down here? I mean, for young individuals who are coming up as scientists who are going from science to business.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Yeah. So I never planned on going from science to business, that kind of just happened. But I think that there are different types of individuals. There are individuals when they’re scientists who want to learn something and stay in their area and become more deeply involved in their area. And then there are scientists who want to grow in their area and incorporate information from other areas and become more interdisciplinary. And one of the things I noticed as P&G was exiting pharma was that those individuals who were either trained to be more interdisciplinary or who self selected to be more interdisciplinary had an easier time of finding new jobs or creating new jobs for themselves.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So the people who were more open to change were able to adapt better than the people who were not open to change. And I think that still holds true today. So for people who are looking at their careers and trying to decide what they want to do, science is changing so rapidly that you really can’t stay singularly focused anymore because it is becoming more and more interdisciplinary and you have to get outside of your comfort zone very rapidly or you can’t keep up. And so people have to be trained to constantly do new things. And new things does not mean learning a new technique in your same area. It means incorporating learnings from completely different areas and applying that to what you’re doing.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So as companies look to hire people, they need people with that skillset because it’s that ability to combine completely disparate pieces of information that leads to innovation. And the world is changing so rapidly that the people who do that and do that well are the ones who succeed. So if you live in an area that fosters innovation by bringing people together with different skillsets, that area will become very, very exciting. And to do that, you need the funding to do it. You need the different types of science to do it. You need the different support systems for that science.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So it’s one thing to have gene therapy, but gene therapy can’t go on unless there’s a manufacturing site for the gene therapy. And the manufacturing site can’t go on unless someone’s willing to invest to build it. And that’s what an ecosystem is. And so it’s a very exciting time to be in Ohio because we’re seeing that evolve, but it isn’t just on the gene therapy side of things. We’re seeing device businesses, and the device ecosystem has been in this area long before the bio ecosystem.

Drew Rothschild:

[crosstalk 00:25:20]. Yeah.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And now you can’t put a therapeutic into the market without a diagnostic that accompanies it for the most part, and that’s because of the molecular revolution. So you can’t just do medicinal chemistry to get a drug on the market anymore. You have to completely understand the biology of the system, and you have to understand the genetics associated with the disease and you have to have a biomarker to be able to follow your response. And that’s where diagnostics comes in. So in the Cincinnati area, we’ve got diagnostics companies, we’ve got pharmacogenomics companies. We’ve got all this diagnostic expertise so you can learn how to do this. We’ve got engineering capabilities to be able to make the tests that you need to be able to make. And we’ve got the genetics going on all around us.

Drew Rothschild:

It sounds thanks to CincyTech and potentially others [inaudible 00:26:19], the money’s finally here.

Jan Rosenbaum:

The money is here at the seed stage. Money’s not necessarily here at the follow-on stage. There’s couple of VCs who do later stage investing, but there’s only a couple. There’s not tons of them. So we have to be able to bring in money from the coasts. And to do that, you have to be able to convince them that there is an ecosystem here, and we’re more than just fly over country. And when I talk to the venture capitalists and the investors on the coasts, they still are surprised when they hear what’s here. When they hear what’s going on at Cincinnati Children’s, they’re blown away by the investigators that we have here. I’m sure the same thing happens in Cleveland. I’m sure the same thing happens in Columbus.

Drew Rothschild:

Yeah. And [inaudible 00:27:10] worked on the coast, obviously, and then Research Triangle Park and in Chicago and in the suburbs of Philly, the biotech historic hubs. We obviously still do tons of work there. But as I mentioned previously, the last six years since coming back from Boston, it’s every two weeks that the phone rings or we need to have a meeting or even coastal companies considering relocating here. I think in the tech sector, we talked about that earlier, their migratory path to the Midwest for ideas and talent happened. And I think biotech’s very quickly right behind it. And I think, well, hopefully we’ll have venture money for those fall on investments, right?

Jan Rosenbaum:

Well, venture money brings more venture money. So the more startups who are able to get venture funding, the more venture money will follow. It starts a trend.

Drew Rothschild:

Yeah. One thing that was shocking to me coming back was just the general community. This is a very broad discussion I had amongst friends, family, peers. They didn’t know the difference between venture, private equity, your neighborhood bank. And so just the knowledge base of investing has been, I would say, very conservative and historic in the Midwest. So I think just reeducation of the general public on what venture is. Was that interesting for you coming from P&G into CincyTech?

Jan Rosenbaum:

I had no idea what investing was because I had never been involved in it, and I had no idea what a cap table was. I mean, that was all learning about that stuff and learning about what an investment thesis was. Different investors want to invest in different things. And if you’re a company out there, you don’t go to everybody. You go to the people who are interested in investing in what it is you do. And then I didn’t know what a value proposition was. I had to learn that kind of stuff. And not everybody who’s a professor is qualified or interested in running a company, and that’s why you need people who are qualified and interested to be doing that sort of thing.

Jan Rosenbaum:

The type of data that you need to gather to make your technology be investible is different than the type of data you gather to make your technology be publishable. And people need to be trained in that. So that’s sometimes different than the type of data you need to gather to make your technology be patentable. So those are all things you have to go through. But it isn’t just the people that have to be educated about the different types of investors. It’s the investors that have to be educated about the risks associated with the different types of technology, particularly at the angel stage, which is before seed.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So if you’re used to investing in consumer goods, for example, or something that has a shorter development timeline, and then you consider investing in something that has a longer development timeline, you need to be educated in what the risks are. And the onus then is on the companies who are looking for money from the same people. And Cincinnati historically has not been a bio town. So people need to be educated as to what the risks are investing in bio. It’s not Boston, it’s not San Francisco. It’s changing, but investors need to become more comfortable with that.

Drew Rothschild:

So historically the types of investments they were making, is it safe to assume they were in consumer package goods, spinouts from ideas from P&G, I guess from Kroger?

Jan Rosenbaum:

It depends on how far back you go. And I can’t speak to what the angel investors were doing before I joined CincyTech, and I joined in 2009. So it depends on how far back you go historically. When I joined, CincyTech had a couple of big investments in pharma that paid off and when those pay off, then more people get interested in investing in pharma. And some of them paid off earlier than one would’ve expected, so then they really get interested in investing. But as we see more and more exits, you see more and more interest in investing in those types of things at the angel and at the seed level. And if you look at the PricewaterhouseCooper reports or many of the other investment reports, you can see how there’s been a huge uptick in seed investing in the biotech sector in the last two, three years. And the challenge is getting that to follow, and that’s where we see the gaps.

Drew Rothschild:

Gotcha. So aside from the next round of venture investors in the Cincinnati ecosystem, what else do you feel personally that this local ecosystem needs to get to the next level?

Jan Rosenbaum:

The same thing that other ecosystems need. And I hear this from recruiters everywhere and I hear it from companies everywhere. It’s the executive talent to run the companies. So investors, no matter where they’re located all say that they can’t find people to run the companies that they’re building around these technologies. And I was very surprised to hear that from groups in Boston or groups in the Bay Area. These people, they move from company to company, or why are you having trouble finding this talent? And I don’t understand it. I don’t know it, but some of it is that when you have companies at the very, very beginning that you’re building from nothing, you’re building from a technology that you pulled out of, say, an academic institution, the risk is extraordinarily high.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And the type of person that you are looking for to come in and build that company has to be comfortable with that type of risk. And that’s different than the person you bring in to run a company when the company’s been around for two years and all the infrastructure has been built in the company. And so the type of person who’s willing to come in when the salary is very low and the work is round the clock and you don’t know if the company’s going to last till tomorrow and all that kind of stuff, that adrenaline junkie is powered by different things than the person who comes in when there’s a bigger staff and they’re surrounded by people that can help them. And I think that the person who comes in at the very beginning is more scarce than the person who comes in three to five years in.

Drew Rothschild:

And obviously as a life science recruiting firm and recruiter, you’re echoing exactly what we hear on all the coasts. Every state, and certainly Ohio, has invested in STEM at the high school level. Even as we get into elementary, there’s a huge influx of capital and dedication to STEM to create the next generation of hopefully scientists, leaders, technologists, engineers, et cetera. But across the board, regardless of geography, the leadership to drive these early stage high growth potential assets is lacking. And so what do you see companies, what are some best practices you’re seeing ecosystems do to supplement that?

Jan Rosenbaum:

That’s a good question. Most of what’s done is that people outsource. So many of these companies, I don’t know if it’s most or if it’s many, are virtual. So Kurome is a virtual company, for example. So we operate with very small numbers of employees. And most of our assays, the experiments that we do, are done by companies that are hired to do those assays. And those are very big companies whose modus operandi is running assays for other companies who don’t have people in-house to run those assays. They’re contract research organizations. And so that way you don’t have to set up your own lab and you don’t have to staff your lab with people who do these experiments.

Jan Rosenbaum:

The reason you operate that way is that your need for people to do those experiments is only going to be for a short period of time because your project is going to evolve beyond the point where you’re doing those experiments, and then you’re changing and you’re doing something else as the pipeline moves from one stage to another. And it’s not like a pharmaceutical company where you’ve got multiple pipelines going at the same time so you are always going to be running those types of assays. So it’s different in a smaller company. And so that’s how you deal with an employment shortage or an inability to find employees is you supplement by outsourcing. And as long as the companies that are running those assays don’t have an employment problem, your assays are done on a regular basis.

Drew Rothschild:

Right. And obviously in this market we’re seeing a little bit of that with the CROs, the CMOs, any outsourcing organization. Cincinnati’s lucky that there’s a couple of those, right? These are global organizations, but there’s a couple based actually here that I think is potentially going to help with the talent development market, right? So as recruiters, typically for certain clients, we recruit out of CROs or CMOs to get talent to come to the client side because they get a diversity of quick learning across multiple projects and best practices. Interesting. Let’s go back to your time at CincyTech. So you said five years, you were there?

Jan Rosenbaum:

Yeah.

Drew Rothschild:

And to those that aren’t familiar with what you’d be doing in five years there, elaborate on what you’re allowed to share, the high level projects you worked on, and then what ultimately led you to move on and I believe become a CSO of a therapeutics organization.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So the time I spent at CincyTech I would research the technologies of companies that we were considering investing in. And once you dug into the technologies, you often found that either it wasn’t a technology that was worth investing in or you found that the team really wasn’t as qualified as you thought they were. So they didn’t understand as much about the technology as they needed to or they didn’t understand as much about the market as they needed to, or something like that. So in researching the technology and the intellectual property around the technology, it wasn’t evolved to the point where it really was something you would want to invest in, something you would want to risk your own dollars against.

Jan Rosenbaum:

At the same time that I was doing that, I was helping the companies that CincyTech had already invested in. So I would use my expertise to become a member of the team for some of these companies. So I was very fortunate to be able to work with the Assurex team at the very, very beginning of that company. And I learned a ton about the diagnostics business doing that. I had an absolutely fabulous time doing that. And that’s where I learned how I would manage a company if I ever got to that point. I learned from Jim Burns about what a really successful CEO does when they manage a company. And I learned a lot about the diagnostics business from that company.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And I just filled in with my expertise when they needed it, and that was great. That was great. So I spent a lot of time with that company. And I did the same thing with some other companies. So the hard part is when you’re in venture is that you’re spread over a lot of different projects and a lot of different companies, and it’s hard to get deeply, deeply, deeply involved with any one because then you’re not spending enough time on the other. And I really thought during that period of time that my ability to be an inventor was gone. I would never file another patent again because I didn’t have a research program of my own. And I missed that. I mean, I was deeply involved in the science here and there, depending on the company I was working with, but it was different than when I was at P&G and I felt a little scattered and I wanted to be a little more focused.

Jan Rosenbaum:

I was also working closely with the technology out of Cincinnati Children’s and the company was struggling at the time to get its footing. And it had gone through multiple CEOs and I found the third CEO for that company. And that was when I decided once we got that company firmly grounded that I would join that company as chief scientific officer. And then I was deeply involved in the technology again, and that was good for me. And I stayed with that company for five years, and then as they got closer to the clinic, it was time for me to move on. And that’s when I went back to Children’s to look for something else.

Drew Rothschild:

And you mentioned you had obviously opportunities in your career to observe CEO leadership styles or ways to set up the organizations or run or communicate. What are some of those magic nuggets or doctrines or pillars you have put into this organization?

Jan Rosenbaum:

The ability to build a successful team, I think, is the most important thing. First of all, you get people that are highly competent in what they do and you leave them alone. You let them do what they do. And you’re completely transparent about everything. And you don’t let people be siloed. Everybody works together and make sure everybody understands what the goals are and everybody’s working toward them. One of the worst things that managers do is that they leave everybody off in one corner and so nobody knows what the other part of the team is doing and they become the sole point of control over everything. And it’s horrible because there’s no communication in the company. You keep the lines of communication open, and everybody works together.

Jan Rosenbaum:

I mean, the most fantastic thing about Kurome is that when we come upon something that goes against what was predicted, which happens in science I think every minute of the day, the people are so motivated that nobody lets it go. So everybody pounces on the problem at the same time, but from their area of expertise. So everybody’s making suggestions about what should be done next. And they can do that because everybody’s aware of it as it happens in real time. And it’s a very, very exciting environment as a result of that.

Drew Rothschild:

It’s so interesting. Our businesses couldn’t be any different, right? I mean a service business. Yes, we work in the life science industry. The only asset that Mix Talent has is our people, right? And you mentioned a couple things. You mentioned hiring highly competent people and leaving them alone, transparency, interdisciplinary exposure in communication. And I’m over here nodding, yes, yes, yes. I’m sure for many people listening across the coast, if you’re in a startup maybe or you’re nodding, this makes sense. Why do so many companies get that wrong?

Jan Rosenbaum:

Well, sometimes it’s because they’re so big. So if you’re so big you don’t know what the other department is doing. But a lot of times it’s territoriality. You’re afraid that if you let somebody in, they’re going to take what you’re doing and claim credit for it. In a small company, you don’t have time for that. You just have to move the project. And so in the right environment, everybody knows the goal is to get the project moved. And everybody understands that you don’t have to know everything about everything. I mean, that’s why you have people with different expertise.

Jan Rosenbaum:

But from a hiring perspective, I mean, first and foremost, we want to hire people who want to learn and we want to hire people who are proactive. And I mean, you can’t sit around in this company because the company’s moving too fast. And so you have to be the type of person who rolls up their sleeve and gets the work done themselves, not the type of person who waits for somebody else to do the work. And in a larger organization, you can have people who wait for somebody else to do something. So a small company environment is different from a large company environment, and it’s easier for people to not become as involved than it is in a smaller organization. But different managers have different management style. Some people want to be controlling over everything and that’s just the way they work. Other people are more open and more communicative and want more people involved in making a decision. It’s just different styles of leadership.

Drew Rothschild:

And often we’re asked to go find candidates, right? We’re a recruiting firm, so go look into this organization and find that department. And bringing P&G up, I remember 12 years ago when we would suggest to some of our small to midsize clients, even on the coast, “Hey, there’s this division within P&G’s specialty pharmaceuticals division.” And they’re like, “Oh, P&G, that’s big. That’s a big company.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. This division, their pharmaceutical division runs really pretty lean, excellent talent.” And it reminds me, you have to at times as recruiters look to subdivisions within larger organizations to get the behaviors you’re talking about.

Jan Rosenbaum:

But it’s interesting. So when we recruit, I get very hesitant. We want the expertise of people who come from big pharma, but particularly at the seed level recruiting, I meet a lot of people who are used to managing a lot of other people, and people who are used to managing a lot of other people often do not do well in a startup environment. So during the interview process, they’ll talk about how they built this team and the team accomplished X, Y, Z. And I have to say to them, but there’s no team to build here. We don’t have the resources to build that kind of team. You are responsible for getting this done and you have to coordinate it with external CROs, but it all falls on you and you are the one who’s accountable. So if what you want to do is team building and build an organization, this isn’t the place for you.

Drew Rothschild:

Right. And again [inaudible 00:48:26] out, but obviously we’re talking about recruiting here, how difficult and frustrating that can be from a time…

Jan Rosenbaum:

Absolutely. But the flip side of that is there are people in big organization who never quite fit and that’s because they are entrepreneurial. So they’re very good at what they do. They have reasons for staying in those big organizations, but they know they don’t really fit. A lot of entrepreneurs have that same story. So they’re in the big organizations to get the training that big organizations offer and it’s fantastic training, but they reach a point where they have to leave.

Drew Rothschild:

And here we go down the recruiting rabbit hole. So excited to talk to you today about your journey from bench to business. And here we are talking about people and managerial experience. And we started out, you gave an introduction to the organization and I think half the listeners could probably follow the science of what you were talking about, but this, I think everyone can follow. And that’s what keeps me coming back. I feel like I have the best job where I get to get involved with people and what motivates them and their upbringing and why they’re the way they are, and then life science, which as we can attest to has a tremendous impact on humanity and is really rewarding on those hard days.

Drew Rothschild:

So back to recruiting, what is… Well, we can frame this two ways. What is your favorite interview question? Or what is your favorite interview question you’ve been asked?

Jan Rosenbaum:

That’s a good question. I think a lot of people ask me, “Well, you’re a scientist, so why did you move over into business?” And the answer is, well, first of all, I haven’t left science. And I hear a lot of people say, “Well, I’m a manager, but I haven’t left science,” and they have clearly left science. But I have to say that in this particular job in the company at the stage that it is where it’s so small, I am so involved in the science and if I wasn’t involved in the science, I couldn’t get this organization funded. So during the diligence process where the investors interview you and ask you question after question after question about everything having to do with your program, if you are not technically sound and if you haven’t mapped out every aspect of the development path and have a complete understanding of the science, you’re not going to get funded.

Jan Rosenbaum:

And many of the conversations I have with investors are like a thesis defense. They get that heavily into the science and into the details of the program that you’re working on. So if you’re not technically competent and you’re running a biotech company, you’re not going to make it. So in an early startup, in the phase that we’re in, it’s not separateable, separable, whatever the word is. If I couldn’t stay involved in the science, it would not be interesting for me.

Jan Rosenbaum:

So the move into the business part of the business was not what I had anticipated. This particular opportunity came and I built the business proposition for it, and that’s how I wound up leading the company. It just kind of happened. And I like doing it and I’ll do it until the business needs somebody with more experience. And then I’ll go back to the science either with this company or with another company.

Drew Rothschild:

Well, your passion comes through. We’re on a microphone over the internet, but I’m sitting across from you, but I think anyone listening to this can tell your passion for the business, the next challenge, your resilience, everything that this size and stage organization needs. So it’s exciting.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Well, and it’s helped by having a team of scientists that share that passion.

Drew Rothschild:

Yeah. And I’ve experienced that in the Cincinnati area. One of the things that jumped out to me, I went to CincyTech, met a couple people and they said, you need to meet these people. And there are some extremely well rounded leaders in this community. I don’t know how much longer we can get them all to keep working. They’re all retiring and moving on. But gosh, if we can just get that next generation with the assets here, there’s going to be a story to be told.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Well, and the next generation has to learn to continue to be well-rounded. Some people are doing it, others are not.

Drew Rothschild:

Yeah. That’s a whole nother podcast right there.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Yeah, exactly.

Drew Rothschild:

This podcast is a series, right? We’re going around talking to different people within the life science and recruiting space. And we’re hoping to build a little like soundtrack where if you got in your car and you went on a road trip, you pop the tape in, we’re making the mix tape right here. So if we were in the car with Mount Dew and Funyuns, what song do you want to add to the mix tape?

Jan Rosenbaum:

I like Singing in the Rain.

Drew Rothschild:

That’s awesome. Well, I really appreciate your time and thank you for talking with us today.

Jan Rosenbaum:

Thank you. It was fun.

Natalie Taylor:

Thank you to Drew and Jan for joining us on today’s episode. I really enjoyed what Jan said about science and that it is changing so rapidly. She said, “You really can’t stay singularly focused anymore because it’s becoming such an interdisciplinary field and you have to get outside of your comfort zone very rapidly or else you can’t keep up.”

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah, Natalie, I think there’s a lot that we can take away from this episode from Jan and so much that’s applicable to being relevant in just the landscape of the work that we’re doing. But from my personal experience and from the lens of a recruiter I suppose, I think the moment that you start to become complacent in the work that you’re doing is when you no longer become competitive with the other candidates around you. So by being able to challenge yourself and put yourself out there and take a risk, it often does pay off for you. So being able to sometimes weather the storm and come out on the other side, if you’re just singing in the rain sometimes, it’ll pay off for you.

Natalie Taylor:

I love that, Val. You always got to bring the pun to the episode.

Valerie McCandlish:

Well, you know that I had to do it, and of course, this one was such a classic. We are excited to add it to the playlist. As a reminder, you can find that playlist on Spotify, The Mix Tape, and we invite you to continue to subscribe and follow us on whatever platform you listen to us on. Next week will be our last episode of the season. So, as always…

Natalie Taylor:

Thank you for being in the mix. We’ll see you next week.

 

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