Writers at Women in the Boardroom had the opportunity to sit down (virtually that is) with WIB members involved in the fight against the Coronavirus. We wanted to learn more about what is inspiring them, how the outbreak of the virus has impacted their professional lives, and how they were able to pivot their businesses to manage through the current pandemic. Their stories provide key advice for senior-level executives in the wake of COVID-19.
This week we spoke with Pamela Garzone, PhD, chief medical officer of Calibr. She has been responsible for more than 20 successful Investigational New Drug (IND) submissions in her industrial career. Pamela most recently served as a vice president in Pfizer’s early clinical oncology group, helping to advance multiple drug candidates for cancer. Earlier, with Elan Pharmaceuticals, she held the role of senior director of clinical development, where she designed and led studies of novel compounds in healthy volunteers and patients and informed the design of multiple later-stage trials. Previous roles include consulting and working for leading drug development enterprises, including Genetics Institute (now Pfizer). She has led and managed preclinical and clinical functional lines such as toxicology, pharmacology, clinical pharmacology, translational sciences and clinical research, and has worked closely with global regulatory agencies. Pamela is a passionate supporter of women in STEM and plays an active volunteer role in the nonprofit organization Women in Bio.
As Chief Medical Officer for Calibr at Scripps research, your life must have turned upside down really quickly when covid-19 began to turn into a pandemic. Can you tell me a little about your responsibilities and your company’s products, mission and customers or clients before the pandemic and then, when, how and why you and your company pivoted your work to refocus it to the fight against COVID-19?
I am the Chief Medical Officer of Calibr, a division of Scripps Research in La Jolla, CA. Calibr is a non-profit organization with the mission of leveraging the unique scientific framework of Scripps Research, and creating a portfolio of drug candidates based on Scripps technologies, shaping a new paradigm for advancing nonprofit biomedical research to impact patients.
I am responsible for advancing the investigational assets of Scripps Research and Calibr scientists, leveraging my deep drug development expertise in the therapeutic areas of oncology, hematology, immunology, neuroscience, cardiovascular, and infectious disease to strategically guide Calibr to achieve its mission.
The COVID19 pandemic resulted in delays in enrollment of subjects into our oncology clinical trials as well as site initiation activities. Communication with sites was key during this time as we endeavored to stay on top of the changes that were occurring daily. For the clinical trial that had completed enrollment, we modified the protocol according to the FDA guidance to allow for telemedicine, allowing subjects to go to laboratories for assessments other than the clinical site and other accommodations for the safety of subjects and study personnel.
While the institution itself shifted to identifying potential treatment candidates, utilizing a library of older medicines that could be repurposed as well as collaborating with the scientists of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions to accelerate the development process for potential treatments, I maintained focus on our current portfolio to ensure those studies continued.
In addition to my responsibilities at Calibr, I have been working as a consultant with a company that has identified molecules for the treatment of COVID 19, advising them on their IND enabling studies and the clinical development program. They are working extremely hard to get into patients this summer and I hope that my expertise will help them achieve this aggressive goal.
What key information and considerations were most important in making the decisions to pivot the business and who was involved in these decisions.
The business really didn’t pivot- the tools, the relationships and expertise were assembled. The unified goal of trying to find treatments for COVID-19 resulted in unprecedented collaboration and sharing of information among the academic, industry and government institutions.
The decisions were made at the executive level of Scripps Research Institution whereas my role is within Calibr, a division of Scripps Research.
What do you think are the most essential leadership skills, attitudes and behaviors that have been useful to you during the covid-19 crisis, especially with pivoting your business to address the crisis.
I believe that during this time, remaining calm, optimistic and displaying empathy are essential. In addition, critical thinking skills to solve challenges brought about by the circumstances are key. In particular, the ability to think out-of-the box is so important during challenging times.
How has your work with your Board or Leadership team changed during this crisis and what advice would you give to Board members during this time?
Working remotely brings new challenges in communication-you want to ensure that your messages are received as intended both in written communication as well as using video technology. In many instances, we do not receive the non-verbal communication which is so important in how we react and how we receive and interpret messages.
What inspiration have you drawn from your peers during the current pandemic?
It is amazing how hard everyone is working to resolve the new challenges that have occurred due to the pandemic, to stay on top of the current workflow and their overall fortitude. It is inspiring to see so many people collaborating and believing in the science and their resolve to beat the virus.
What are you doing to stay positive?
I try to maintain my exercise schedule which includes running and hiking. I also enjoy family time by watching a movie together or making the trip to the grocery store a family affair.
What professional advice can you offer to other senior-level executive women during this time?
Be a role model- maintain poise and confidence. Keep a sense of humor, take time to re-charge and be confident that science will prevail and that we will be stronger because of this challenge.
How do you think the pandemic has changed the world as we know it and how has that impacted our future?
I think most individuals will be more cautious, will focus on good hygiene practices and I hope there will be more kindness, respectfulness and empathy towards others.
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