Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pere Santamaria/ Rita-Rose Gagne

Nov. 13, 2017 The Ladder: Pere Santamaria: Today I found this article in the Globe and Mail:

Spanish-born Pere Santamaria, 57, is professor, immunology and infectious diseases, in the University of Calgary's microbiology department, and chief scientific officer with Parvus Therapeutics Inc. He's developed an engineered nanoparticle that changes the way T regulatory cells operate and potentially halt the autoimmune response.

My parents were factory workers who worked for Pirelli Tire in a small town outside Barcelona.

When 15, I became sick. My parents were poor and didn't know what to do. I will never forget the fear in their eyes. I spent half a year in the hospital on high-dose corticosteroids and was finally diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease.

I became a doctor and did a residency in immunology and a PhD in Barcelona. I worked by myself in a lab on artherosclerosis. It was not a very good PhD if I compare it with what my students do now.

I idealized the world of an investigator. You saw a man landing the moon and all these medical discoveries on TV. I thought the United States was the research mecca.

I went to the University of Minnesota as a post doc and worked for a clinician – not a PhD – so I wasn't told what experiments to do. I published. I had a few patents but became frustrated and realized we knew nothing about Type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease).

In 1992, I was hired at the University of Calgary. They said: "To come here you have to have funding from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. Oh, for sure, you'll get it." We drove across the country. I called my contact from a pay phone at Market Mall and said, "I'm here. I can start tomorrow." He said, "Sorry Pere, they [the AHFMR] turned you down." My wife was crying, my baby was crying. It was the worst day of my life.

The U of C gave me salary support for two years but said that after two years if I didn't get the grant, I'd be gone. I had no lab. I had no money to buy equipment. Here I was alone again. So I went to my department and [asked for] $10,000.

I developed a mouse with a simplified genetic immune system to study diabetes. That mouse was the best thing I ever did. All the good things in my career were linked to that mouse. I got a Canadian Diabetes Association scholarship that paid my salary.

In 2000, we published in Nature, the best thing you can do as a researcher. But it wasn't a game-changing discovery. It didn't cure anything. Then a radiologist colleague read my paper and wanted to use nanoparticles to visualize diabetes. We started seeing really strange things that made no sense whatsoever. The nanoparticles were having a therapeutic effect. I had potentially an important discovery but very little data.

I get a physical feeling when I'm on the right track … it's like my back brain is overtaking my front brain.

I went to the university and said: "I want to file a patent and build a company around this"… because if you license tech to a company they won't have the stamina or the patience to develop it further. Parvus was started in 2004 and incorporated in 2009.

[The journal] Immunity agreed to publish the research but I had to answer questions within 24 hours including: Explain why no one discovered this before? I said: "A discovery is called a discovery because no one has seen it before. Otherwise why would I send this paper to you?"

We secured a partnership with Novartis, which was a big break for us. They will do the clinical trials (for type 1 Diabetes). Our discovery stands to change medicine altogether in a radical way, and displace current drugs.

There is a possibility we may fail because that's part of the game. By then, this will mean we learned something more about the immune system.

I get many, many, many e-mails from people from all over the world. I can't write to them because I would spend all my day writing. But I am sympathetic. Autoimmune diseases are chronic and the treatments are tough. I've lived it.

My own health is stable. I have had Graves' Disease and had my thyroid irradiated. I've had arthritis that went away after a year.

Looking back, the things that make me a good scientist are the failures, not the successes. There were days when I thought: Maybe they're right, maybe I'm a loser, not working on a fashionable theme.

I enjoy describing the setbacks. Being successful was not my goal. I was curious, like a kid, nothing more than that.

As told to Janice Paskey. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Nov. 20, 2017 The Ladder: Rita- Rose Gagne: Today I found this article in the Globe and Mail:

Rita-Rose Gagné is executive vice-president of growth markets at Ivanhoé Cambridge, a global commercial real estate firm.

I grew up in Quebec City, the seventh kid in a family of eight. I was raised with English as my maternal language. I was in English school up until secondary school, but because schools started closing in Quebec City, I switched to French. Now I'm more French speaking.

I was into competitive sports – a lot of alpine skiing and soccer. But the other side of me was music. I played 12 years of cello very seriously. My career was supposed to be going into music or continuing into alpine skiing. I was very focused, and then had a serious skiing accident when I was about 18 years old. I couldn't ski or play cello for a year. It was a tough year. But I already had the idea of becoming a lawyer in the back of my head.

My father was a very strong figure in my family. He was a lawyer and a businessman, and formed his own law firm in Quebec City. It had a strong influence on the family for sure – six of us studied law and some have practised. It did influence me, although my father always said that I shouldn't do it, that it was a hard profession. It inspired me, looking at him.

Naturally, I'm attracted to building things up, building up partnerships, building up strategies. I practised law for 16 years. When you're on the legal side, you may achieve that sometimes, but you're in a different mindset – you solve legal problems. I like finance, and that was missing in my legal career. So in my MBA at McGill-HEC, I really got into knowing more deeply the financial side of things.

I'm an ambivert, but I think that it depends on the setting. For example, if you ask me a question, I don't pop up with the answer, which means I'm a bit ambiguous about it. If I'm in a room or meeting, I may be very extroverted. If I'm in a different setting I may intentionally be more introverted. If I am with my team, I often want to listen and take up no space at all. In a negotiation, I might speak less when I want the other party to put it all out before me. So it's a bit of both.

My leadership style has evolved over time. I was naturally very results-driven and thought everything was geared towards getting the result and winning. Now, it's changed a bit more into – yes, the result – but also creating the vision, creating the strategy, thinking more long term, looking forward. An additional layer of the result now is getting a good strategic plan versus just getting stuff done every day.
During the week, my focus is on my work. I naturally wake up at about 5 a.m., and since I cover Asia and the Pacific often, sometimes start calls at 6 or 7 a.m. I have long days and it's intense. But then, from Friday night to Sunday morning, I really try to disconnect from work.

When you work around the world, you have to be open and non-judgmental. You have to take a step back. Sometimes they will want to talk a lot before getting into a given topic or negotiation, and things might be slower.

A mentor helps you at critical points to step forward. I've had some mentors in my career, and I tend to do that myself especially with younger people. It's not a matter of being in a constant specific weekly relationship with someone, it's having people who make some key gestures.

I find that young women work hard, but we have to remind them to ask for the promotion or to ask for the salary increase. I find that I had more opportunities to give that type of feedback to younger women than to young men, who seem to more naturally think about that.

The advice that I'd give to younger people is "no pain, no gain." If you want an extraordinary gain, you have to make an extraordinary effort. You need to absolutely work hard. Then you do have to establish, look for, or develop relationships that are meaningful.

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