Young entrepreneurs should work to learn the business – Dr. George Roby Thomas

Dr. Thomas has over 18 years of experience in research leadership and strategic planning in the areas of bio-pharma R&D, molecular diagnostics and therapeutic target discovery and validation. Dr. Thomas has held senior executive positions at Torrent Pharmaceuticals Research Centre, India, where he led teams responsible for setting up in vitro and in vivo assays, managing outsourced studies, pharmacokinetic and toxicological studies and clinical trials. In addition, he has been responsible for the scientific evaluation of various assays/technologies for license or acquisition from industry and academia. In his role with CentreStone Ventures, a life science focused venture capital fund, Dr. Thomas has been actively involved in the scientific assessment and feasibility of various business opportunities, sourcing new opportunities, and taking leadership positions with investee companies. Dr. Thomas received his Master of Pharmacy degree and Ph.D. from the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, Pilani, India. He received his post-doctoral training at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Following are experts of interview of Dr. George Roby Thomas with our faculty Ms. Archana Upadhyay

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Dr. George Roby Thomas
Dr. George Roby Thomas, PhD President & CEO, Marsala Biotech Inc. Canada Vice President-Strategic Development, Medicure Inc./ Canam Bioresearch Inc. Canada Principal, CentreStone Ventures Inc.

Q. Could you tell us about yourself, your journey from being a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Sciences to the President & CEO of Marsala Biotech?

Born in Kerala, I spent 30 years of my early life in India. After completing my Bachelors (Hons) and Masters Degree in Pharmacy from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, India, I joined Torrent Pharmaceuticals, R&D, Gujarat, India, in May 1995. My major responsibilities included helping setup the Pharmacology lab, and leading New Drug Discovery programs for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. In parallel, I also completed my PhD in Pharmacy, from BITS, Pilani, India.

Subsequently in May 2003, I moved to Canada as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, and Mount Sinai Hospital., where my research led to publications in peer reviewed journals. After my fellowship in Cardiovascular research, I joined a startup Pharma company – Medicure Inc. and its R&D Group Canam Bioresearch, as a Scientist in June 2007. By 2009, I was elevated as the Director R&D, and have been leading their R&D and Business Development globally since then.

By 2011, I was given additional responsibilities in the Groups Life Sciences focused Venture fund- CentreStone Ventures (CSV). In my role as Principal, CentreStone Ventures, I lead the scientific assessment and feasibility of various business opportunities, sourcing new opportunities, and taking leadership positions with investee companies like Marsala Biotech Inc. (President & CEO).

In addition to leading a family with my wife, and 2 young kids, some of my major accomplishments include

  1. Establishing Marsala Biotech Inc. and creating jobs for highly skilled professionals in Winnipeg, MB. (Secured seed funding from CSV, and research grants from Provincial and Federal sources)
  2. Leading the R&D efforts of Canam and Medicure Inc. (Director R&D). Winnipeg, MB.
  3. Setting up a Pharmacology Lab and leading New Drug Discovery projects from Conceptualization to Operations and potential Commercialization at Torrent Pharmaceuticals R&D Centre, India.
  4. Assessment, Due diligence and investments in portfolio companies as a Principal at CentreStone Ventures Inc, Winnipeg, MB.

To improve business skills, I enrolled and successfully completed in 2015, my Executive MBA program from the Ivey School of Business Canada. My wife is a Managing Pharmacist in a retail Pharmacy chain, and together with our children, we enjoy travelling in our spare time.

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities available for young pharmacy graduates?

The Pharmacy curriculum better equips young Pharmacy graduates to excel in the Pharmaceutical industry, particularly in New drug discovery as compared to Engineering or other disciplines. A Pharmacist is uniquely positioned to understand the intricacies of drug design, synthesis of new chemical entities, structure activity relationships, mechanism of drug action, safety Pharmacology etc. Approximately 40 % of all medicines in the regulated markets are manufactured in India. Over the past 2 decades, India has improved in its scientific prowess with major innovations originating from India. This presents vast opportunities for young graduates.

Some of the challenges faced, are in terms of Regulatory compliance and Intellectual property rights, which in a way presents a huge opportunity to Young graduates.

Q: What skills must pharmacists possess to have a successful career in the field?

Pharmacists looking for a career in new drug discovery should have a strong background in Pharmacology, Cell biology, Biochemistry and Organic chemistry. They should be able to handle large datasets, analyse them critically, and should be able to present them effectively. In addition to good communication skills, they should be good at time management, and should be good with technology. Most importantly they should have loads of patience and NOT get frustrated with minor setbacks.

Q: How important is the inclusion of molecular biology and biotechnology topics in the Pharmacy syllabus?

With the advent of personalized medicine / preventative medicine / cell and gene therapies, it is very important for Pharmacists to be aware of this field. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology should be included as part of the Pharmacy curriculum.

Q: What would you suggest to young entrepreneurs who wish to make their mark in the medical field?

Young entrepreneurs should work for 4-5 years in established biotech companies and learn the way businesses run. Many a time, the best scientists may not necessarily build a successful company. Management strategies and access to capital are also crucial for the success of a business. The should also reach out to the right Venture capital or financial group, who would be a good strategic fit in terms of developing their technology. Confidentiality and protecting their Intellectual property is paramount and they should file for patents as soon as they possibly can.

Q: What are the current trends followed by the Pharmaceutical Industry in India and abroad?

There has been a lot of consolidation in the Pharma and biotech industry with mergers and acquisitions, and companies choosing to focus on niche areas, which they consider to be their forte. Recently the focus has shifted back to R&D, for producing novel, effective and safer drugs. Good Science leads to identifying good medicines, which meet a huge unmet therapeutic need. The best sales organization cannot market a bad drug, whereas a good drug will definitely have a market, and requires minimal sales effort.