5 Questions with Byung Ha Lee, Director, R&D at NeoImmuneTech, Inc.
“5 Questions With……” is a new BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. We’re happy to have NeoImmuneTech’s Byung Ha Lee as our 2nd guest.
Byung Ha Lee is the Director, R&D at NeoImmuneTech, Inc. With degrees from Korea University, and his Ph.D. in Medical Sciences-immunology and microbiology from the University of Florida College of Medicine. He has extensive industry experience over 15 years in translational research, business development, field KOL interaction, leading strategic and research planning of drug development. Byung Ha finished his postdoctoral training at the NIAID at NIH.
Before joining NeoImmuneTech, Inc. he was the principal investigator of first-in-class pipelines and Senior Manager of Strategy planning in Genexine Inc. (a public biotech company in Korea). He is known for his strong scientific knowledge in immuno-oncology and immune cell biology in diseases.
1. What was your first job/role in biotech?
My first biotech job and role was as a student researcher AND a co-founding member at a venture company that my mentor started from his academic lab. I performed research to develop crystalized therapeutic protein for pulmonary delivery, such as insulin. All employees were students and gained their experience together by starting from scratch. Business operations, budgeting, patent filing, research, and even learning how to hold meetings. Our company ended by licensing-out our pipeline to a more prominent pharmaceutical company. Unfortunately, the product could not be launched in the market. However, through all this, I learned lots of essential concepts and field experiences for the biotech and pharmaceutical industry.
2. What can you tell us about your current role and company?
I’m currently R&D Director at NeoImmuneTech, Inc. (NIT), a clinical-stage T cell-focused biopharmaceutical company, dedicated to expanding the horizon of immuno-oncology and enhancing immunity to infectious diseases. NIT is led by the scientific founder and inventor of our lead asset, NT-I7, which is the only clinical-stage long-acting human interleukin-7 and is uniquely positioned to address unmet medical needs in immuno-oncology. Our company is complemented by a strong executive team with rich industry experience at companies. NIT is expanding rapidly in personnel and operations, as well as partnering with industry and academic leaders to investigate NT-I7 in combination with various immunotherapeutics, including checkpoint inhibitors, vaccines, and CAR-T. NIT is currently performing clinical collaboration with three major big pharma to evaluate NT-I7 in combination with its checkpoint inhibitors in multiple cancer indications. Our headquarters are located in Rockville, MD.
3. What do you think is the biggest gap in this industry, and how would you suggest closing it?
One of the biggest gaps in this industry, especially in the BioHealth Capital Region, could be the human resources to retain and recruit from other regions. Although we have major biotechnology-related federal agencies and excellent schools that produce many of the talented industry professionals in the region and world, we still could do better in the BioHealth Capital Region to identify these people and keep them satisfied with more and better opportunities.. With so many people still seeking their opportunities in Boston/Cambridge, San Francisco Bay, and New York/New Jersey areas that are traditionally known as great biopharma clusters with lots of biotech, it’s never been more important to keep and recruit the talented human resources in this region. I would like to see more opportunities to print people in this region together to exchange information along with government agencies, private sectors, and academia. Maybe a non-profit organization rather than a commercial one to fulfill the needs of the government and private sectors.
4. What advice do you have for somebody looking to get into your field in this industry?
Be willing to look at a wide range of opportunities in this industry. The possibilities are endless when you are open to trying something new and exciting when you begin your career in biotech. Because there are so many smaller companies who need employees who can and will wear different hats. The skills you’ll pick up doing something you didn’t think of when completing even an advanced degree, will serve you well in the long run. Being flexible while you work towards your focus is an important trait.
5. Name one place you’d like to visit and why?
Yellowstone National Park is on top of my list. Our family loves camping and used to visit the national park when the spring came. With so much to see there from rivers, canyons, forests, hot springs, geysers, and so many different animals. This is a place we’re all very excited to visit one day. Especially with the current health crises, I find myself dreaming about visiting more and more.
Thanks to Byung Ha for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region.
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