In today’s episode, Chad sits down with guest scientist, Dr. John Smeraglia, Vice President & Head of Translational Biomarkers and Bioanalysis at UCB. John is an experienced pharma leader in the development and service side of the industry.

John talks to Chad about his experiences working in the UK, such as picking up basketball and taking apart a massive magnetic sector mass spectrometer in his early days of working in bioanalysis. They also discuss John’s transfer to San Diego, California, the language barriers encountered while working in Belgium and building a diagnostic PCR laboratory in two weeks as a response to a need in Belgium during the COVID pandemic. Chad and John also delve into other important topics such as Bon Jovi vs. Springsteen, favorite Italian food, and most importantly, life mottos.

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Molecular Moments Episode 8: Dr. John Smeraglia Talks Globe Trotting, Italian Food, and Magnetic Sector Mass Spectrometers!: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Molecular Moments Episode 8: Dr. John Smeraglia Talks Globe Trotting, Italian Food, and Magnetic Sector Mass Spectrometers!: this mp4 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Announcer:
Welcome to the Molecular Moments podcast.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
In today's episode, we sat down with our guest, Dr. John Somalia, vice president and head of translational biomarkers and bio analysis at UCB. John is a pharma leader with experience on the development and service side of the industry. He spent a significant chunk of his career on the East Coast, West Coast and in Europe. Everyone who knows him knows that he's an outstanding scientist, an inspiring leader and an all around great guy. Today, we got to hear about his career and the insights he brought from it. I hope you'll enjoy our conversation as much as I did. We are talking science as scientists do. So without further ado, here's another episode of Molecular Moments. Welcome to the podcast, John, I'm delighted to have you join me today. Can we start with you just giving us a few highlights from your career.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Hey, Chad, thanks a lot. And thanks for this invite. I think it's great to have this discussion really looking forward to it. I came into this area of business really through working in clinical laboratories and working in hospitals. So my first qualification, the first sort of delving into analytical science was really working in hospital facilities, a place where a drugs abuse center in London and in that role got a chance to use lots of different technologies, things like geochemists, Alzheimer's, a whole range of like unbinding assays. So really, that's where it started for me back Oshkosh. Now, almost 30 years ago, I

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Was going to ask, you know, not to date you, but I was curious because you talk about some of the large molecule technologies. And so I was going to ask how long ago that was so early 90s, I guess.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, very much so. Very much so. I went after my first degree. I sort of got stuck into working in the hospital labs and working in clinical chemistry. And I just had that great opportunity. I mentioned I remember turning up in the UK, getting qualified in the U.S. and then having to restart my whole training. My supervisor at the time was a Glaswegian, and I must admit that was a sort of entry that I wasn't expecting, meaning I could barely understand that two words that he said. But somehow we sort of muddled through. And it was I learned a heck of a lot, very early days, which which was fabulous to me. But as I said, it was really a range of analytical techniques, all kinds of different things. So that's where it all sort of started for me. As you know, I'm sort of born in the U.S., born in New Jersey. But actually, despite the at that time a reasonable farmer sector in New Jersey, I've actually never worked in New Jersey as such in the pharma industry, which is I always think it's a funny story considering the travels that I've done, both in terms of, as you mentioned, in Europe and on the West Coast and the Midwest, the range of other places.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Ok, so I got that wrong. Actually, I assumed that you would work in Huntington site in New Jersey, but maybe that didn't even exist back then. I don't know.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, you know, it did exist. But at that time I had made the move over to the UK. So and therefore I was actually working at the site in Cambridgeshire in the UK. But you're absolutely right. The what was referred to as the Princeton Research Centre had been established by then. So it was peculiar that I was the American over and in Europe, in the UK, despite the fact that that facility was probably about 20 minutes down the road from where I live and grew up, which I got was little funny stories.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
How did you land in the UK then?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
During my first degree, I took the opportunity to do an internship where effectively held back many of my electives and decided to take a semester in the UK. And I did that via this exchange program where I was in Worcester, which is sort of the west side of the country. And that was really just about broadening culture, doing some part of going to school there in the summer months. I did it Interrail throughout Europe just again, because I held back many of my electives, I was able to just utilize those for and without affecting my core curriculum, if you like, as a medical technologist. That was fun as well. Got a chance to play a lot of sports and bit of rugby, bit of football, but of our soccer, I should say. And I did enjoy playing basketball because, well, I was never a talented basketball player. Somehow my level was a little bit different than some of the Europeans at the time. So it sort of gives you a confidence that despite I was no better than the last, it was good fun.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
It's like the Europeans coming to the US to play soccer. Still, it's it's just a different it's just a different level, certainly where they're coming from. See, when I think about bio analysis and kind of the more farma focused career, you landed first at Huntington and were you doing bio analysis at Huntington then in those years?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, very much. I was a real first focused role in bio analysis, and I joined, as mentioned earlier, Huntingdon Life Sciences. And in that role, I joined as a staff scientist and my first job arriving there, and it probably dates me as well, was actually to go into the lab and help take apart a massive magnetic sector mass spectrometer. The computer Dekalog the computer system alone was sort of a bank of computers that was probably about twelve feet long. So it just goes to show how the times have changed. But the interesting thing about that was, of course, I could dig into all the intricate nuances of a Masback and I'll probably learn more as an entry point by doing that than almost anything else. But that was the time when SCIEX came out with their platforms and sort of the API threes and these sorts of things. So, you know, I get different from the three. But I learned a lot very quickly, as you do in Serros oftentimes get exposed to lots of different molecules, lots of different structures. And I was able to just sort of get stuck in. And had the opportunity to really learn a lot, learn my craft, but it was very much in quantitative analysis at that point, it was focused on small molecules primarily, but I obviously had all that training in the large molecules previously, and I did that for a number of years, really enjoyed what fortunate enough to work with some great people and a number of different important mentors in my career.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
One particularly is the young called Howard Hill, who's done quite well in Europe. And he really gave me a lot of opportunity and I learned a great deal from him. And during that time, I went up to ultimately lead that group. So I forget how long it was. But before leaving Huntington, I was hanging up there by political group there doing work for Karinna clients all over, all over the globe, which meant that I by that point, not only got the depth of science and worked with a number of great colleagues, but it kind of gives you a different view on the business side as well, because obviously, in terms of, you know, efficiency, sample throughput data, understanding, working with clients, I got a chance to a great deal of that, which was again, which was also very enjoyable. But by the time I guess about 2001 turned around, I had decided that I was looking for a new opportunity. And so with that, there was a now friend and a sort of someone I had worked with previously who informed me of a role in pharmacy in Chicago or in Skokie, Illinois. What was the former J.D. Searle company? And I took the opportunity to go over there. Was that Doug

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Fast? Was he there at that time?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Doug was certainly there. I didn't know Doug at that point. It was a UK general called Ray Briggs,

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
So I knew it. I know Ray. Yeah, I.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
I also know a small world. Right. I think we all sort of connect.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
It is a small world in different ways.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Ray was looking for someone to go over to and join. What was the clinical pharmacology organization now working outside the lab building by Analytical Strategies, some biomarker work there. The first job I had there was to take on a biologic, which was funny enough. I purchased an hour on a partnership with actually the company I work for now. So the companies are symposia as a molecule. My first foray into working with that was many years ago, as I say, about 2000 2001, doing validations and driving, working with Caros, working with people like Doug, who did a lot of the development work. It's funny how things come full circle some 13, 14 years later, when I learned that UCB, the first thing I see on my desk is one of my old validation reports from back in the day. So it was just very interesting how, you know, times change, but things stay very much the same. And I could I could also see where maybe I would've done things differently if I had all the knowledge that I gained in that period of time as well.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Yeah, it's funny. It's funny how those things come around. I actually did an interview with a pharma company at one point and they had acquired a drug that I had worked on in my Cierra life. And when I went into the interview, the gentleman that interviewed me kind of tossed the validation report in my face and said, well, why don't you just tell me about this? So that was kind of the interview and I won't name him maybe maybe another time line, I'll tell you that. But it was quite an experience and I didn't get the job. So I actually had no idea you were at Serle. But that was a good group there with Doug and you and Ray Briggs. And then you ended up at Pfizer. And and I don't know if you recall, but I think that's where we first met was when you were at Pfizer. That really fascinated Alex. I feel like I'm learning a lot about your background. I didn't know how did you end up out San Diego?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Of course I was with pharmacy. Yeah, but pharmacy was purchased by Pfizer. And so with that and this is only a year down the road. In fact, I left planned to leave the UK and the announcement of the acquisition was literally a week before I was planning to leave to the UK. So effectively I joined the organization with probably a little bit of uncertainty and thinking about moving my whole family, then my wife myself over the back to the U.S. But everything works out well. You know, everything worked out very well. So effectively joining from then pharmacy, I got working with a number of great colleagues there as well. And with the purchase of pharmacy by Pfizer, they had decided to consolidate certain areas and they closed down the facility that was in Skokie. I had the good fortune that I had options to go off to Michigan and to Ann Arbor or to in Connecticut at that time, or even they were willing to have conversations about going back to the UK if I wished you. The other option was San Diego. And when you're sitting there and it's February and there's 12 inches of snow outside and just said, and you're looking across at the golf and you see the you know, this guys walking around in t shirt. I'm Torrey Pines. I think it sort of it made it made the sell job to my wife very pretty straightforward, shall I say. Right. So we so we made that move.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
We made the move over again just one year later to the facility that was formerly Akron. But effectively, that's nothing. Right. Absolutely. That's where we met doing a very similar role, sitting in a clinical pharmacology organization leading by analytical strategies, working on molecules. But also at that point, it was there's an opportunity to build a group there. So there was just myself and another colleague when I arrived. And because we transitioned to be the oncology center, it really opened up other opportunities. And then what I mean by that is really that there was a need to bring in the biomarker component there to some the chemistry works and proteomics where we were working on at the time as well, and a range of different peptides and proteins. And so I had the good fortune of developing it, being involved in developing Sutent, which was at least one of their key oncology products that they brought in. And yeah, and I think forgive me, but I suspect I was there for about seven or eight years, if I remember correctly, a couple of colleagues that I was working with in Chicago went over to San Diego as well. So I had a soft landing in terms of people there and lifestyle. I have to admit, I've wondered, you know, being in a New Jersey guy and sort of just the Northeast and the being perhaps a little more direct in some cases, how would I settle in on the West Coast and or, you know, but it really worked out well.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
And I just loved my time there. There's very few places, I think, where you can pursue your career and do all the, you know, in a very highly enriched sort of community, but also realize that you can just go out and people come to that part of the country for vacation and, you know, the weather's virtually always fine. So I had a great time there, really. But in the end, I sort of decided to pull back to the U.K., especially as we had children by that point was quite strong. Something came up whereby I could go back. And perhaps the key trigger here was I was sitting in a clinical pharmacology organization not necessarily linked to the technology as much as I had been in the past. And I really wanted more of that. I wanted more of being linked to what was really at the coalface. And so I went back to the sandwich. I got the invite to take up a role in Sandwich in the U.K. and I was heading up the analytical effort for Dean Baquet or PDM organization, as they referred to it. And I got doing some regulatory work, some non regulatory work. And it was a great opportunity, a different type of opportunity, but it sort of filled my passion to still be linked to novel technology development while also being in the PARATHA project facing activities.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
That was a beautiful facility that Pfizer had in Sandwich and an interesting part of the U.K.. And your career sort of I can't say it mimics pharma, but moving around, acquisitions, consolidation, the shifting of the industry and just kind of going with the flow, certainly, you know, your career is certainly reflective of that because then you ended up back in a zero back back at Huntington, I guess, for a little while before UCB.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, I did that with the closure of the sandwich facility. I was kind of left wondering what I would do. And I referred to someone earlier named Howard Hill. He was still at Huntington. They were looking for someone to come in and help them out. And I thought, well, let's take up the opportunity. I know the people that I know the organization and, you know, and I had an enjoyable time. But however, I think one of the things that was interesting about that role that I was heading up the analytical effort, but I was also heading up the clinical pathology activities. So kind of going back in some respects to all that stuff that we spoke about in the earlier part of the conversation around my first training. What that allowed for is, again, that that really speaks to where I am today as well, is the core analytics, small molecule, large molecule, but also diagnostic biomarkers, predictive markers of disease and so on. That was also part of my past training and I could bring it all together. So I think that was one of the things that appealed to that, but did that for some period of time as, say, a short time.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
In fact, about a couple of years or so, this opportunity came up at UCB. Ultimately, I was due to be back in 2013. But I think that people had a lot to do with still being close to technologies that had been. It's a project facing activity that's somewhat different when you're working in the pharma organization, when you're working in a contract organization. It was really interesting working with small biotechs and virtual companies when I was at Huntington because I was being asked to give advice and thoughts on, you know, which which I enjoyed. But it wasn't the same depth of understanding about what kind of modalities are they working on? What are the expectations from the chemistry scaffold or for that matter, the antibody technology in the target to target biology? So this opportunity came up. I decided to jump to faithful all the way in and the different. Being a changeling, someone I was in the UK at that point, but this took me out to Belgium as well. So in my current role, I'm responsible for facility in Slough in the U.K. So just outside of Heathrow Airport, maybe 20 minutes max,

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
The old Keltec,

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Correct? Yeah, exactly. You see, we had purchased Keltec probably circa eight or nine years before my arrival. And the cell technology was very much a biotech one, a more successful biotech's in the U.K., very much on biologics, very much on focusing in immunology as a disease area, if you like. I know some might say that's not a disease area. It's a broad cross-section of different diseases, but nonetheless, sort of focusing there. And of course, that's where some you again, came back onto my desk, but also the facility in Belgium. And that was a whole nother Eye-Opener for me. Belgium is a wonderful place, diversity of culture, great folks. But I don't speak French, nor do I speak Flemish. So it's a challenge and I would say still remains a significant challenge.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
So have you learned a little bit on either side? Your facility would be maybe more French than

Dr. John Smeraglia:
It's in their own region. And that is about 20 minutes from Brussels to the south. The language of the laboratory is definitely French. The language in terms of the official business language is English. So in the conversations outside the laboratory, I was fine. In the conversations inside the laboratory, I suspect people are enjoying, you know, the American coming in and there are a lot of stories that I would have no idea what they were referring to. But I did learn a lot and I learned some French I have Italian heritage. And with that I can just about get by in Italian. So inevitably that did help somewhat. But I am far, far from being able to speak French. I can get every third word if I'm fortunate. Sadly, it's worked out so far.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
You're like this 100 percent New Jersey guy that hasn't lived there since you were a kid or ever worked there. Right. You're Italian. You're you know, I don't know if there's a New Jersey look, but and I don't mean that in a negative way. But if I talk to you on the street, I might have taken you for New Jersey. You don't have a strong, I'll say, New Jersey accent. Right. You're probably not getting on Jersey Shore, but you seem like a New Jersey guy. And I mean that and all the and all the good ways. Right. The, you know, brilliant soccer players that have come out of there, things like that. But was this all happenstance? You kind of have this adventure that you wanted to kind of circulate around all these places. And also, I'm curious with your you know, what motivated you in the science? So just what made you who you are moving around and all this?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
I think that piece from moving around just had all to do with curiosity, had everything to do with meeting new people, diversity of thought, diversity of interactions. I find it incredibly amazing how people who've gone through and worked in the same area for a long period of time. But are the filters we put in our understanding that we bring is very different in culture, has a lot to do with. So I think that answers that part of it from the science perspective. You know, I was fortunate that it's a relatively early age. I sort of really got on with chemistry. It growing up in New Jersey, as I mentioned, an older brother who was going down the biochemistry route. And I would never say that to him at the time, but I obviously admired him greatly for all that he knew where he was going with the things he was doing. He kind of opened my eyes. But a few teachers that I had back in high school days sort of really made a difference there. And then I found it makes sense. It works for me. I get it. You know, sometimes I'm not that great on other subjects.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
It don't put me down. Test me in English literature. I'll be I'm sure I wouldn't do so hot, but it seemed to work out quite well. And so that's really where all that started. And then it's just been a bit of a ride. It's been a bit of a ride in terms of the biology understanding. I always think of the work we do as absolutely knowing chemistry, but also knowing biology that those three small letters in the beginning of, you know, the work that we do via analysis is really very important to understand the context and the interpretation. And especially when you think about biologics and where we are with piqué and imaging is free and total and immunogenicity and characterising images in the ways that we do, understanding what that means, the target, what it means for potential safety risk. It does seem to land really well. And so with that, I've kind of always carried it. So I've not been the hard card-Carrying analytical chemist, but more bringing in the biologic context along with the analytical chemistry component. And that's really where the passion, you know, comes from.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Yeah, I think that's so important. And that's yeah. That's something we've talked about on the on the business side, right outside of the of the podcast is is taking the time to understand the biology and answering questions. Right. We use these tools to answer the questions. And that's one of the things also that I've seen in your lab and your work at UCB. You know, from an outsider looking in, it seems that you kind of came in, you inherited a nice lab, a nice setup, but you've really made it a facility that can answer those big questions. Is that a fair assessment? And maybe you can talk about that.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, I did. Yes, somewhat. But I would also say it's nothing. I'm not sure how much was about me is about building that team. I had an opportunity to build a team and bring some people in and make some changes. We did make some changes. It's fair to say at that time the cell tech companies still kind of existed within the culture and it was separate from the Belgium culture. We were able to bring one by analytical organization and think about that diversity that I crave. And I I enjoy so much diversity of scientific thought. We able to bring the biologics as well as the small molecules together. UCB has a strong pedigree in epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases. And then you have cell tech with immunology and really strong antibody engine in terms of the antibody, the expertise that generated. So my current boss, great guy, he was looking for someone to come in and take hold and provide some thoughts. And so we built something. So where we are today is really having had one part of the organization focused primarily on the technologies associated with biomarkers. And it's a broad spectrum platform. So it's it's yes, certainly we have Macerich. And we have a range of like tools will be built on top of that was a flow cytometry group within as well as more recently, animistic chemistry offering any new group within that focused on the biomarker piece rather than the safety endpoints. Additionally, we built a proteomics gene transcript of mixed group inside this.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
And so therefore, I've always been an advocate of, again, what's the question? And let's find the tool that answers the question rather than driving everything down one particular platform. And then it's up to the scientists to make that judgment of which tool, which platform is going to be able to truly understand what you may do it in an orthogonal way. You may do it. You may actually go forward, both in some cases, because they give you different answers, if you like. And over this period of time, we've been able to build a really strong group there, some great leaders on the site as well. Yeah. So we're kind of in this phase where we've, you know, continue to support the portfolio. We support portfolio from portfolio entry. All the way out of post marketing activity, so I kind of spoke about the birthmark component, lots of early, those guys are very much focused on the early questions to translate through into the clinic. And we do have another group, which is the regulatory arm of the group, the Regulatory Body Analysis Group. We did have transformed that a little bit when I joined great scientist who knew a lot about regulatory bio analysis over focus on small molecules. And our portfolio has shifted quite a lot to biologics. So the fact that that was a whole nother challenge and exciting challenge and the transition that's happened, but that group had not touched a biologic really. And now virtually everything they do on biologics,

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Ucb in some space has been neuroscience focused. Right. You mentioned epilepsy strength and things like that. One area that I've been curious about is where do we think biologics will go in the neuroscience space? Right. Those issues are like crossing the blood brain barrier and and things like that. So do you see that continuing to grow or is that going to continue to be the domain of small molecules?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
So I think it's a challenge. The blood brain barrier is the primary challenge. Right. And there's a range of different and people have done work in this field and we're doing work in this field about how do we transport into the blood brain barrier right through the pain barrier, I should say. We look at different modalities. We look at different antibody framework to try and see if we can get more through. I think we'll continue to do that. But it's fair to say that if you look at our portfolio and others portfolio in terms of biologics, you're really putting a lot on board, really high doses to get enough into the brain and managing all that. Having said that, of course, that and that probably speaks to, again, some transitions that's happening in the industry. UCB is ways of dealing with that, is looking at novel modalities. Are there modalities that could take us that may not be antibodies as such, maybe some to some version of an antibody, but also then we've gone heavily invested heavily in gene therapy, in neuroscience, specifically to avoid the delivery systems. Obviously be very different there. And that's a whole nother area. I must admit.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
I'm learning every day. I'm learning from a lot of great colleagues because it's not an area that I had particularly done a great deal working previously. But over the last few years, we've built, you know, a reasonable portfolio for the company that we are high as the company that we are. I think that partially to address this component of overcoming a delivery perspective. And the other part, too, I guess that equation I was looking to from a technology perspective, we're now building a gene therapy laboratory as part of the bio analytical organization. So Biomaterials is this very large umbrella with lots of different technologies, lots of different scientists. I just had a conversation today with a colleague and I think is amazing to see each of the leaders were speaking different areas all came out. The problem from very different places. Again, that diversity that stimulated me was borne out in this conversation. And they found it, you know, very positive because they could see from a different perspective onto the challenges they were facing. But I think as far as we are still remain challenged by getting sufficient drug on board in the brain through blood, brain barrier or otherwise.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Just call it a public service message. But for anybody who's listening, that's curious about gene therapy. I talked to Laura Sarp Lorenzino a couple of weeks ago on my podcast, and she she's the chief scientific officer at Antillean Therapeutics and did probably the best simple explanation of gene therapy. So we'll leave it at that gene therapy versus gene editing. And it was fantastic. So, John, probably you at this point understand that peace. But for others who might be curious, that be a good a good point of reference. You know, the other thing I was thinking as you were talking is that you started out in clinical pathology, probably didn't see a flow cytometer, acute PCR immunohistochemistry for 20 years. And now those are becoming common tools and bio analytical laboratories, right?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, yeah. No, no doubt. And that's been just so exciting, really, because it was going back to so many years, you know, having to develop those kind of assays many years ago. And just the fundamental knowledge that was established early days has paid dividends and really has helped me, you know, to think in the way that I do. And so, yeah, all of a sudden, again, all those things that I'd done 20, 30, almost 30 years ago now are back with me, you know, today. And I'm just always surprised by that.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
And now we're trying to think of how do you validate a flow cytometry assay to the standards of a Masback analyzer? How do you validate it? Keep. So those are interesting questions. On the on the regulatory side, we're going to continue to ask ourselves, are one of the other things you told me about not too long ago was that you had to transform your lab to do some covid testing. Yeah, I'm sure it was a huge amount of work, not what was in your plan, but also an opportunity. Right, to help the country.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
It was an incredible time. I really did. Because why we had to do it, but I must admit, I mean, I've always I've just had a great time at UCB and really the people there really enriched my life. But we came to a situation where everybody, as all of us were treated with covid and rates going up. The Belgian government was looking for companies to help support testing. And because of my former diagnostic background, it was known to one of the leaders in the organization and they were approached by the government and how we might have somebody who can help. And I thought, OK, and I remember that day when my boss came to me and said, I've got a challenge for you effectively, was to help build this diagnostic PCR laboratory where we had nothing previously. We have research colleagues working on PCR technology. We have some, you know, good experts and that, in fact, he was converting a laboratory that wasn't being utilized because of the covid circumstances of people not being on site as often and working with some great partners and great colleagues to really a consortium of different approaches. Some people came from a toxicology background. Others came from a research therapeutic area background, establish a core team to then make sure we met all the appropriate quality standards for a diagnostic lie.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
So effectively in I think it was in two weeks, we had built this laboratory and got the approval to run that specific assay as a diagnostic offshoot of your laboratory, a clinical laboratory. And so I was very proud of that and I was very proud of the colleagues because it was all about everybody pitching in, everybody coming together. And so we did exactly that and we did thousands upon thousands of tests per day and people were there committing to arriving early in the morning, 6:00 a.m. and some staying on very late and really just to get the job done. And the beauty of it was the passion people. They wanted to do something for the common good. And it was really so proud to be. I used to be who allowed us that opportunity. But the people that I worked with, it was just tremendous. It was difficult. You know, I always pride myself on working hard, do my best I can do. I had never come close to working to such exhaustion. I can remember my wife would have a laugh about this, but I would literally move down into my office and we had a sort of pull out bed. And there were days I never left that room because her working day and night, running out to midnight, getting a couple hours, going back again just to get to this place.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
And it was now it's incredibly rewarding at the time. It was exhausting, actually was exhausting. But we did this. We supported the company and allowed the country to transition to a better and more robust platform. We able to go in and address the immediate need. We're all about patient value and trying to bring benefit to patient. And that is a great example of that culture that says, you know what, this is not our natural domain. We're not a diagnostic lab. We use the skills we have to actually do something that's going to make a difference in people's lives. And that's the part of the work that we do that drives me. That makes me feel like, you know, I go in the morning and I feel so great about what we do. I've had some really great opportunities here. You see, be working in oncology. You're very close to the patients and the patient experience as well. I think it's that so and we did that for, I would say, the best part, about nine or ten months before they can get a more stable platform in the country.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
That's a cool story. And of course, I asked you to speak about that at the Land O'Lakes bio analytical meeting. So I'm looking forward to kind of hearing some of the details here and some of the analytical details. And it had a just felt great just to contribute, as you said, right where we love what we do. We know we contribute to human health. But so often those impacts are 15 years down the road. So it's hard to feel the immediate impact. So congratulations and thanks for that. I wanted to talk a little bit about more of the extracurriculars related to science. I know you're really involved in Ebbw and you've been involved in apps I just talked about. You're speaking at the Land O'Lakes meeting this summer. Can you just talk about some of those different activities you're involved in and why and how that impacts our industry?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, I've always been a strong proponent because back to those last days of actually sitting down scientist, the scientist having chats, having discussions, my favorite meetings are often sometimes the smaller meetings where you can get into the depth you get into. And you can have those conversations like Land O'Lakes or the Reid forum in the UK is also one that's like this. They're residential meetings. And just as often as you're speaking in a auditorium, you're speaking over coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening. And you really get the chance to meet and get to know your colleagues that are not necessarily sitting right next to you in your in the organization. So so being in Europe, the ebbw came up and. A group of people who really built that when I was when I came back to before that really established what I was in the

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
U.s. around 2008 or something, I think. Exactly.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
By 2008, I was obviously already in the U.S., so I was not overly active right to start. But then when I came back, that's when Ebbw was building its biologics arm, if you like. And I was I think I was there at the first meeting. And I still have great friends and colleagues who were sitting in that meeting at that time, you know, and I'm still connected with them. We're still talking science today. I stayed with them. That got to know people there. I was able to do some work, focused on a couple areas, like microstamping that a lot of work in that community and do some try to get some publications out. I'm very impressed by that organization in terms of what they be able to build in such a short time and always been a opponent, always been one who valued those conversations. Invariably, it's not just the large meeting they have each year, but it's also the smaller meetings they have throughout the year. And so constantly supported that companies put colleagues in my organization to attend as well, because I know I gained so much from it APS. I certainly was involved more often when I was in the U.S. than I am now. But nonetheless, I attend every couple of years or so when I can. I'm looking forward to the opportunity I'm looking forward to and like I spent a few years since I've been there. So that's another one that's exciting to me. But there's also, you know, I sit on the board or I did sit on the board of the European emergency platform. And again, that was another sort of really strong group of scientists focused on emergency focus on, you know, cell mediated response. And I always think that it's part of my job is to bring in science from outside and challenge ourselves and challenge our thinking by gaining from the relationships built within the community. And that's I've been a strong proponent of that. So I've always felt that that was the right thing to do. And fortunately, my company supports that, which is great.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Yeah, it's exciting. You mentioned that I went for my first time when I was last year right before covid. So I was fortunate to attend and I heard I heard is a great meeting again this year. So that's that is another another big meeting that you mentioned. So you mentioned Howard Hill. Howard is somebody certainly if you've been around by analysis for a while, he was maybe one of the I don't know if I could call him a grandfather, one of the pioneers in sort of modern bio analysis, along with a few other folks. He was a mentor to you. Can you talk more about maybe other mentors or Howard's mentoring and how you sort of tried to carry on that legacy in your current roles?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yeah, I was a little bit more on Howard again. He just he offered that opportunity. I think one of the reasons that he was willing to give a guy a shot. Right. So he was willing to say, let's you know. And through that, I learned so much. And I think that's something that I carry through today as well. I think part of my role today is to make opportunities for young scientists to understand what we do to get they may go in and build a whole career in bio analysis. They may do it for a short time and find it's not right for them. But I think that's a really important opportunity. As far as other mentors I've mentioned, this shift that went and this is probably a little bit outside the Pioneer community, but this shift that went into clinical pharmacology, I had a great opportunity to work with the gentleman called Kourosh Parivar, who may not be known, very well known in our community, but he's a very impressive clinical pharmacologist. And I learned so much about the context of what we do by that relationship and working with him. And I had links to him when I was in Chicago. He went over San Diego. We were together in San Diego because he was a clinical pharmacologist. I needed someone to bring by analytical content. It allowed open opportunity. And he was willing to if I came up with crazy ideas, at least put it on the table, we'd have a discussion about them. I think that's really important and that works well for me is, hey, no idea is too crazy.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Let's get it out there and let's see if it holds water or if it doesn't hold water. So get a great car like my current boss. I must be a very strong and he's been really continues to help me as a coach and mentor in terms of thinking broadly around our community of development scientists. So we're talking about a dynamic organization, a toxicology organization, clinical pharmacology organization and the Translational Biomarker Analysis Group. And what I've learned over recent years has much more to do with drug development and how you bring all those disciplines together. Besides, of course, still pursuing my career in bio analysis, I get and I think that goes back to the culture of UCB. Got an idea. Put it out there. If it holds water and you know it makes sense, then someone's going to, you know, likely get people to think, let's give it a go, let's give it a crack. That's partially why we're able to build what we have done because. Go back years ago, it was very much a laboratory that was focused on give me a number of samples and I'll give you some numbers, I'll give you some data. But now we're interacting on eye level with a clinical pharmacologist, with our toxicologist. We have people who are biological scientists who are leading the entire development program from a developing science perspective. So bringing in all those different elements of toxicology and they're responsible to the project team to bring in the contribution from more than 100 people. So I think it's just a whole different type of opportunity

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
That is, and that that knowing how pharma works, that's a really unique opportunity for bio analytical scientists to take more of a leadership role and not just be the guy who gives away some data. But if you get those people with the right opportunities in the right places, then the whole company is better. And that's that's incredible. I was going to mention one anecdote. It's kind of changing here to a couple of fun questions I have for you. But, you know, I visited a couple of times down in Bahrain. And, of course, I have to admit, I'm not sure if I enjoyed the visit to the lab or the visit to Waterloo because I stayed at the the hotel that's right there in Waterloo. And I remember getting getting up at like five o'clock in the morning so I could see Waterloo before we went and visited the facility at the brain. But that's kind of cool. Some cool history right there in your backyard. But, John, I wanted to ask a couple of fun questions, if you don't mind, maybe try to see if we can get to know you a little better. So New Jersey guy Springsteen or Bon Jovi and why.

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Oh, wow. There you go. A big Springsteen. And I'm the kind of guy who, when I was a kid out there looking getting a ticket to be online at midnight to make sure I was, you know, in the beginning of the line to get tickets when he was in the Meadowlands or some of those places. So, you know, I was a bit kooky that way, but I was quite happy to do that. So, yeah, where I grew up, Springsteen was just down the road. So literally free old where he's from, what, probably 20 to 30 minutes from where I sort of have many of my formative years. Bon Jovi was just down the down the line and in Centerville as well. So not very far. However, my best friend is definitely a Bon Jovi guy. And so we would we'd have a few laughs over that one. Yeah, I still I still listen to Springsteen was doing some work out here and, you know, I had this Springsteen crank and even even despite its whatever heck of a long time since that music first came out.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Yeah. Yeah, sure is. But I'm with you. I think I would go Springsteen as well over Bon Jovi, so I have to throw a couple more at you. So what's your favorite meal? You have breakfast, lunch or dinner guy?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
I'm a diner guy, I'd say. Yeah, I'm kind of I'm also King Cook, so I like to just, you know, experiment and do I do some chemistry in the kitchen and I do a lot of sort of cooking and yeah, I definitely. What's my favorite meal? Oh gosh. I think, you know, for like lunchtime meals, it's something like a pizza's great. It goes back to Italian heritage. Right. So maybe something like an awesome Butko or something along those lines. I grew up on that food. It's it's part of who I am. And so I just love all kinds of Italian food.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
You're making me hungry. It's almost lunchtime here and you're probably waiting for dinner. One one more question for you. So to the end, do you do you have any advice that you would want to leave or a model that you live by that you might share with everyone before we close out?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
As I suspect it's two things that link back to our earlier conversation. One, links to the need to just give yourself the space to put the work in. You learn so much. You develop so many ideas and thoughts. And the diversity of thoughts when you're working with different people is really something that has held me in very good stead. It's made me a far more effective scientist and leader. You know, sometimes you just got to get in there and not be afraid to roll your sleeves up and get on and you gain so much to do that. So I think it's that one. And the other thing links back to is and this is really an important model for me, especially these days, is about giving people opportunities. I was given opportunities. It helped me out tremendously. I'm a real advocate of trying to, you know, bring in students into the laboratory, bringing PhDs into the laboratory. You know, people who may not be sure if by political is the right career for them, but they're early and they've done it for a year, a few years. They get a real taste for it or not. And that's great, too, because then it helps them to develop whatever their passions are. So, you know, follow that passion, give it a try for me. That's been it's worked out very well and I'm loving what I do.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
John, thank you for giving me the opportunity to to do this podcast. Really. I know how busy you are. And, you know, I reached out and I said, John, I feel like I'm always reaching out to you to ask for this. Ask for that. And you're always so gracious. So thank you so much for being on. I appreciate it. Any any last words you want to offer?

Dr. John Smeraglia:
Yes. But say thank you to you. And this is a great little vehicle. I love these podcasts. A fabulous idea, I was listening in to a few of them, and I, I still sort of listen to them from time to time. So it's just my thanks to have this conversation. And for me, it's a great opportunity to connecting with with our community in a different way, especially nowadays with covid being what it is. So I'm still looking forward to getting over to meeting face to face as well and having having some more scientific conversations.

Dr. Chad Briscoe:
Hey, you know, I got vaccinated last week, actually, so I'll be in Europe before too long. I was I was fortunate. So that's all for this episode. If you enjoyed today's episode, be sure to subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or your favorite podcast app. So you never miss a conversation. If you'd like to hang out with us outside of the podcast, we have many webinars and other presentations available for your enjoyment and education. Visit Biogenetics Dotcom to see what's coming up and how you can stay in touch. And don't forget to keep an eye out for more episodes coming soon. We're looking forward to some great guests will have world renowned experts talking about rare diseases. Vaccine experts discussing the next generation of MRSA vaccines, more new and exciting technology experts in a conversation with a patient who's benefitted from the recent tremendous developments in our industry. Molecular moments would not be possible without the support of our sponsor, Biogenetics Labs Biogenetics is a global contract research organization specializing in large molecule bio analysis based in Durham, North Carolina, with labs in Hamburg, Germany, and Boston, Massachusetts. Biogenetics provides high quality bio analytical services to leading pharma and biotech companies around the world. They offer assay development, validation and sample analysis under Nanji, l.P, JLP and GCP, as well as GMP quality control testing. If you are looking to work with a team of highly experienced scientific and kuai professionals through all phases of clinical development, look no further than biogenetics. For more information or to speak with their scientists today, visit their website at Biogenetics Dotcom.

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