Dr. Benjamin Cowen is the CEO of ImmunoMet, a clinical stage biotech company developing anti-tumor and immune-metabolism therapies. Holding both a PhD and an MBA, Cowen has worked across the spectrum of companies, including large pharma, mid-sized pharma and small venture-backed companies and his career includes roles in Business Development, Finance, R&D Portfolio Management, Marketing, and Sales.
During the upcoming BIO CEO & Investor Conference, Cowen will speak on a panel about expanding the toolkit for fighting solid tumors and will give a company presentation. BIOtechNow (BTN) spoke with Cowen about his background and the focus of his work at ImmunoMet
BTN: Have you always loved science or are you just good at it (or both!)?
I would say I have always loved science and worked hard to be good at it. My first career was as a research scientist. I got my PhD in Biophysics and then was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at Univ. of Penn. Both my PhD advisor and my postdoctoral advisor were members of the National Academy of Sciences and for a long time I planned to be a university research Professor.
BTN: Can you identify one pivotal moment in your life that drove you to your career?
I can definitely identify the one pivotal moment that drove me to my second career in Pharma. When I finished my Postdoctoral Fellowship, there were essentially no university faculty positions in biophysics available. The mandatory retirement age for faculty members had just been lifted and biophysics was a relatively new field then. I had always done administrative work as a scientist and at the end of my Postdoctoral Fellowship I attended a joint science business seminar at Penn. There I met the Dean of Warton Business School. He told me of the need in business for PhD level scientists and convinced me to attend Business School.
BTN: You have worked for large, multi-national firms and small venture-backed firms like Immunomet. Explain the pros and cons of each.
One terrific advantage of a large multi-national firm is the breadth of experience and development one can gain there. I was at Merck & Co., Inc for 14 years and had seven different positions across four divisions of the company. I led Business Development activities both search and evaluation and transaction. I was Merck’s Oncology R&D Portfolio Director and in Marketing I was a Product Manager in their anti-bacterial marketing team. I also was a Sales Representative and a Medical Science Liaison in HIV.
What I love about small biotech companies is the broad scope of responsibilities that can exist in one position. I also like the nimble decision making that can, and actually has to occur, in biotech companies. Finally, at a small biotech company there are relatively few employees and you can feel the impact you are having in the organization. Now in biotech companies, your position with the company can end for reasons that have nothing to do with your individual performance.
BTN: With both a PhD in biophysics and an MBA, you have the educational background to tackle both the science side and the business development side and you have done both in your career. Is there one you prefer, or do they go hand-in-hand, especially in an emerging biotech company?
I enjoy doing both and I feel that having a background in both the science side and the business side helps make me be a more effective CEO.
BTN: Your website says that Immunomet is a “cellular metabolism” company. Can you explain what that means?
ImmunoMet targets the metabolism within the cells. Our biguanide molecules, including our lead compound IM156, all target the energy generation that occurs in the mitochondria of cells. Specifically, our molecules inhibit Protein Complex 1 of the OXPHOS energy production pathway.
BTN: What do you hope people will take away from your panel session at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference?
I hope people take away that there are a number of new emerging approaches to treat cancers and in particular that cellular metabolism is one of the promising approaches.