It takes long-term commitment by employees to ensure the long-term success of a company. In this Q&A session we talk to David Rusnak, one of the first 3 employees to join BioAgilytix when it was founded 10 years ago and currently our Director of Laboratory Systems and Automation, to learn more about his experience growing with the organization from its very start – and what has and still keeps him excited to come to work each day.
Tell us a little about your background.
I double-majored in Biology and Biochemistry at North Carolina State University, and while in undergrad began working at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park. I was there for eight years there as a Biologist, where my main focus was designing and performing quantitative and qualitative analyses to investigate the effect of growth factors during neoplastic progression and its effect on receptor expression and activation. Not long after, GlaxoSmithKline opened a laboratory in the Triangle, and I joined their team in a cancer biology group working on phase I clinical trials. It was there that I gained a lot of experience in the design and implementation of automated cell-based and immunoassays.
By 2008, I was working in another group providing phase I clinical trial support which included my colleagues Krystal Alligood and Tim Lansing. They told me about a new bioanalytical laboratory that Afshin Safavi was opening, and in 2008 the three of us ended up being the first employees of BioAgilytix. Tim recently retired; Krystal and I are still with the company today!
How has your role evolved with BioAgilytix as it has grown?
When I first started here I was involved in biomarker assays, but it quickly became clear that my background in cell-based and immunoassay automation would best serve BioAgilytix as it scaled. There was, and still is, a huge need in the industry for cell-based neutralizing antibody assays (NAb) for clinical development and potency assays to support manufacturing. I set up the cell-based assay team in 2009, and by 2010 we were validating both NAb and potency assays for our sponsors. Our cell-based assay support has grown to two separate groups with the clinical NAb and potency team consisting of approximately 25 scientists each.
The need to automate both assays and data management has grown as the company has grown, and it was a natural fit for me to move into the role I have now as Director of Laboratory Systems and Automation. In particular today we are focused on automation for our cell-based and immunoassays. This includes liquid handling automation with robotics, as well as data automation with electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) and other technologies to ensure we output timely and compliant results.
How does your team manage communication and collaboration?
Because automation touches many aspects of the work we do, I work across a number of different teams to address specific aspects of system verification, validation, and ongoing management. Our regulated environment necessitates my close collaboration with QA throughout these processes, but I also interface with the scientists actually using these technologies to ensure they get the most out what the automation system can offer.
In all of these interactions, our team’s commitment to collaboration shines through. Everyone here truly wants to deliver the best results possible to our customers, and we all agree that good communication is the best way to address project challenges and be successful.
What do you think differentiates BioAgilytix from other CROs?
We have an internal slogan that I think describes it well: “Smart people who care.” Everyone in the company is the best at what they do, and each person is genuinely committed to excellence and the mission of our company to help our sponsors deliver new medicines for disease and suffering. Our team members have come out of some of the best labs in the world; we have several people who have worked in the labs of different Nobel Prize winners before coming to BioAgilytix. This combination of knowledge and personal drive truly sets us apart.
How would you describe BioAgilytix’s company culture?
BioAgilytix is collaborative and scientifically driven. Everyone is willing to step up and help manage project loads within and outside of their own group. Like I mentioned before, the people here are so knowledgeable in their respective areas of focus, but they are also very willing to work collaboratively and learn from one another, creating a team that is more than the sum of its parts.
What is your favorite thing about working at BioAgilytix?
It is inspiring to be a part of what I believe is the best scientific team on the planet. It is still amazing to me that when we go to conferences and hear where the industry is going, we are already at or ahead of the game. And that is really because our people have a strong desire to be the best of the best and to constantly push their skills and knowledge further. It’s that collective feeling that makes everyone want to do his or her best each day, and to help your colleagues be their best too. Someone is always willing to pitch in and share the load to help get the job done right every time.
Interested in hearing from other BioAgilytix team members? You can find other Q&A sessions from our employees here.