ASCO Education
ASCO Education
Jul 13, 2022
Cancer Topics - Career Paths in Oncology (Part 2)
Play • 21 min

In part two of this two-part ASCO Education podcast episode, host Dr. Jeremy Cetnar (Oregon Health & Science University) continues the conversation with Drs. Lauren Abrey and Jason Faris, whose careers have criss-crossed academia and industry. They share words of advice for trainees today. If you liked this episode, please subscribe. Learn more at https://education.asco.org, or email us at education@asco.org.

TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Hello, and welcome to Part 2 of the ASCO Educational Podcast episode focused on career choices and transitions. My name is Jeremy Cetnar. I'm a Medical Oncologist and Associate Professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. In Part 1, Dr. Lauren Abrey and Dr. Jason Faris about their motivations for pursuing medicine, and how they arrived at the different positions they've had. Today, we'll further explore career fulfillment, maximizing impact on patient care, and differences between working in academia and industry.

Dr. Faris, what have you learned from the different roles you have had, and what aspects of your current work do you find most rewarding?

Dr. Jason Faris: So, there's a lot to discuss here. In my academic and patient care roles, I felt extremely privileged to forge strong bonds with patients and their families, to offer support, counseling and hope in the context of making really difficult, challenging decisions... to rejoice in the individual victories, whether that was clean scans and normal tumor markers after adjuvant therapy for Stage III colon cancer, using the neoadjuvant therapy in locally advanced pancreatic cancer and watching them go to resection, helping to maintain quality of life by addressing key symptoms that a cancer patient unfortunately must endure, and providing emotional support when things do not go as hoped.

Whereas the latter times in GI cancer patients are unfortunately all too common. And the moments or clinic visits where the cancer has recurred, or the treatments aren't working really do take their emotional toll on clinicians. I'll just say I took many of those losses personally. And as a general rule in medicine, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, which can be a mixed blessing. But that shared sense of purpose and the many times where you were able to offer something meaningful to patients and families provided real fulfillment and joy. I think at the time of the two transitions I've had, this was fundamentally the most difficult part for me, which was relinquishing these direct patient care interactions.

So, another highly rewarding part of my role in academia was working with colleagues to open clinical trials or conduct clinical research. I had opportunities to be mentored by or collaborate with multiple people Ted Hong, Dave Ryan, Chin Wu, Jeff Clark, David Ting, and others at Mass General, as well as Lionel Lewis, Konstantin Dragnev, and Steve Leach at Dartmouth. Treating patients on clinical trials was always a stressful enterprise but highly rewarding, and I had the chance to be part of some really amazing groundbreaking trials at MGH, in some cases witnessing breathtaking responses in patients who were out of treatment options, in some cases for many months.

Another highly rewarding aspect of my role in academia or my roles in academia involved all of the many opportunities to engage in teaching and mentoring, whether that's with medical students, residents, or fellows, where the enthusiasm for helping patients and learning was always infectious. Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the wonderful nurse practitioners that I've worked with like Patty Tammaro at Mass General, with whom I cared for many GI cancer patients for years, and Elizabeth McGrath at Dartmouth, whose wisdom and dedication to patient care was really inspiring.

On the industry side, on the NIBR side, I've had the opportunity to work on novel therapeutics that are making a bench to bedside transition from a drug candidate to a first in human Phase 1 trial, which to me is a thrilling, complex, and highly fulfilling endeavor that contributes critical knowledge to advance the field. And in the best of cases, identifies therapies that has the potential, that have the potential to alter the prognosis for thousands of future patients. As a clinician or clinical investigators, those times where your patients are responding to their treatment, whether it's on or off a clinical trial are wonderful and so incredibly rewarding. And I would argue that there's a similar phenomenon in running trials in industry, where there's nothing quite as magical as having a cadre of patients who had run out of treatment options, enrolled to a clinical trial designed based on compelling science, go on to experience sustained and significant responses.

I absolutely love the commitment to patients and to follow the science, the collaborations among our teams, and interactions with our academic colleagues which I really treasure. I'm part of a team whose responsibility is to ensure the development of a clinical protocol to safely evaluate the potential of that therapeutic, carefully monitor for adverse events, evaluate the emerging pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data, and most fulfilling of all, begin to observe responses in patients whose cancers had progressed on standard of care therapies. So I think the chance to have an opportunity to explore new therapeutics that might impact the eventual treatment of thousands of people with cancer is what keeps me engaged and fulfilled. It's been a wonderful opportunity and applies the clinical skills and patient focus from my prior roles and combines this with the resources and expert teams to run and analyze clinical trials.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: If I can opine a little bit and ask you guys some philosophical questions. I think what I'm hearing today and what I've heard from other folks who have made that transition is that in industry versus academics, you work in a team, and you're evaluated as a team. And that's very different than in academics. You're very much rewarded for, whether it's patient volume or number of papers or leadership. That seems to me like a very big difference in terms of academic versus industry. And I'm wondering if you guys can comment on that a little bit more. Then you guys also mentioned, at least you just mentioned this, Dr. Faris, is that some will also say that when you go into industry, you're able to just impact a much bigger population of folks rather than typically in an academic setting where you are working one on one with patients. And yes, you have your IETs and whatnot, but there's just a bigger vision. Would you say that those are two accurate differences that are fairly significant, Dr. Abrey?

Dr. Lauren Abrey: Yes. You are certainly part of a team. But I think if we're honest, you're part of a team when you're in the hospital. So I ran the team of research nurses. I ran the fellowship program. I needed people to manage the patients who were in-patient and to help me look after the clinical trial conduct paperwork, etc. and so I think that does translate into the setup that you find when you move to industry. It may be a little bit that your personal success, and industry can get very sometimes focused on metrics, like what have you contributed? What has the team been successful? So you do need to think about how to set yourself up for success. If you're leading the team, how do you set the team up for success? To me, that doesn't feel terribly different than academic medicine, but I could see where it could be a change depending on what your role was in the academic world. So I think that's reasonable.

The other part of what you said, I struggle with that sometimes. I feel like we tell ourselves, that we're impacting more patients. And I think that's true. If we get a drug approved, and potentially that drug is used, not only in the US, but across western countries, in Europe, potentially in China, you get a sense of that. But it's like how do you feel that? You feel the story of an individual patient. Sensing the scale can be hard. News media know this well. They often tell the story of a particular person in the Ukraine right now to try to help us understand the scale of the war, because otherwise, it's a little impossible to digest. So for me, that doesn't always resonate. I think it resonates when I go out and talk to the different physicians practicing in different parts of the world. And I think that has been an incredibly eye-opening experience for me being in the global organization, is seeing the impact well beyond the US, because I think most companies are very indexed on the US. And we understand US practice well, but I think understanding the impact we can have across the world is also really inspiring, humbling, challenging, and something I think we all have to contend with because it's not the same everywhere. So yes, no, and in between, that's where philosophical lives, so thank you.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Yeah. Well, that's a fascinating perspective, the international perspective. Very interesting. Dr. Faris, how about you?

Dr. Jason Faris: I completely agree with Lauren. I think on the team question, I definitely feel like we worked on teams in academia as well, whether we're talking about the multidisciplinary groups that are needed to take care of GI cancer patients, which always involves multiple specialties. I think at MGH, in particular, we would tend to go see the patient as a group, which is a bit unusual, to try to get everyone's schedules aligned, to be able to go into the room together. But it really presented an opportunity for the patient and the families to ask questions of us as a group and hear any disagreement that's in the room between the providers right there.

There's absolutely a ton of teamwork that goes into taking care of patients. But what you were alluding to, I think, is also right, which is your promotion, your opportunities for advancement are sometimes couched on or developed from accomplishments on the individual side. And I would say more so than is true in industry. I think that's correct as well. I mean, certainly there are multidisciplinary grants that I was a part of, of course, publications that had multiple authors to which I was a contributing author. Sometimes I was first or last author, sometimes I was in the middle, but contributing to the paper. So there was teamwork there, but no question that there's an element of individual accomplishment. How many first- and last-author publications do you have? What's the grant situation look like in terms of ability to supplement the RVUs that you need to generate your clinical…? There's no question that there's an element of that that's not a present to the same degree in an industry role.

And I just wanted to speak to the impact side, because I also agree with what Lauren said here. I think the idea and the hope is that in industry, we have an opportunity to potentially affect the lives of many, many, many patients, thousands of patients potentially, with a given cancer type if a new therapy is a homerun and takes off and is approved. That's a huge draw and I think something that motivates all of us is to be a part of something like that. But of course, not every drug, far from it, unfortunately, is going to end up as an approved drug that impacts thousands of patients.

So I think it requires some recognition of that fact and patience and continuing to work on multiple projects, and always under the prism of doing the right thing for the patients while those trials are open. And I think that's the key, as well as working on scientifically exciting projects, really proud to say in NIBR that we follow the science. If there's an indication to be explored, based on the science, it may not be the most common indication in cancer, but if the science leads us to that place, that's what we work on. I think that decision making gets tougher, obviously, as you move through the system into a later stage, more commercially informed decision.

But I think and certainly on the early phase trials side, that's something that's really exciting. I think on the academic side, taking direct care of patients, you have incredible impact on individual patients, and there's a lot of individual patients. I think you have tremendous opportunity for impact there as well, and your impact can be measured by those that you mentor and teach as well, the committees that you serve on influencing other trials that may be open at your institution. So I would in no way suggest that the impact is less in academia. I don't think that's true at all. I think it's just a different approach.

And it is true that if you're lucky enough to work on a program in industry that ends up being an approved drug, you can help thousands of future patients or your team has helped thousands of future patients. That's also true when you're on the academic setting, serving as a PI, contributing safety data and efficacy data, really giving the best information back to the sponsor that you can or maybe you're running your own investigator-initiated study that can change a standard of care down the road. So that's the homerun. That's kind of the Grand Slam of situations that might develop as a medical oncologist on either side of the divide.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Thank you. I'd like to shift gears just a little bit and ask you, for people who are deciding for a transition in their career, what are some characteristics or skills or other attributes that you think would make one successful in industry? What are some things that are really, really important to be successful? And that might be different than in an academic situation or not? I'm not sure. And maybe that's another question is, you know, what are some of the things that make people successful in a career in industry? Dr. Abrey?

Dr. Lauren Abrey: So I think there are so many things that you can do in industry that depending on what your strength is, I think you have the opportunity to play to that. So again, I think if you are very entrenched in the science, and that is really what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, being in the early research group, whether it's Novartis, Roche, other companies or small biotech, you can really dig in and spend time thinking and contributing in incredible ways. And if you're the person who is much more interested, perhaps in finding out, what's influencing the patterns of care and why people are using certain drugs or certain treatment paradigms, you could absolutely work on the absolute other end and work in medical affairs and be the person who's out there, who's the critical partner to whether folks at MGH, OHSU, major cancer centers around the world, to figure out how do we bring those two together.

And I think the group in the middle typically, like the drug development group that's getting the approval, so running the large Phase 3 studies, that requires people who are in it a little bit for the long haul. Those tend to be large studies. They run over several years, you're constantly looking at the incoming data, and yet you're blind to the results. So you have to be pretty diligent while you're in that space and willing to just buckle down and work hard. But I think there are things for everyone. And I think it's a little bit similar to what I discovered when you went into medicine. Not everybody's going to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Only a few of us end up in this weird oncology space. But I think it does give you the chance to reinvent yourself and explore a few things.

So I wouldn't say you have to have something. I think probably what you should do is talk to a lot of people. I think people make a lot of assumptions about what a change to a career in industry is or means. And you probably don't know what you don't know. So call people like me or Jason or someone who's done it and talk to people, because I think that's probably the best way you can make an informed choice.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: What do you think, Dr. Faris?

Dr. Jason Faris: Can I offer some advice? So are we in this kind of advice section?

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Absolutely. Please do.

Dr. Jason Faris: Yeah. So I would say my advice to oncology trainees would be to keep an open mind and stay flexible. I've got a Wayne Gretzky quote that I'd like to bring into this here, which is 'You miss 100% of the shots that you never take'. And I feel like I've probably taken that flexibility to a bit of an extreme with my career path and transitions. But ultimately, it's really enabled me to experience diverse career opportunities that I might otherwise not have had the chance to really experience. I think sometimes there can be assumptions or negative stereotypes about moves from academia to industry. But my own personal experience, now twice, at NIBR has been overwhelmingly positive. I've learned a tremendous amount from both environments, which I think provides me with a different perspective on design, conduct, and analysis of clinical trials and allows me to bring a patient-centric view into clearer focus in my industry role.

I think it's also really critical to recognize that there are significant stressors and positives to each of these career paths. And they're not necessarily one way. I know multiple colleagues who have made a transition from academia to industry. Other colleagues like me who did return to clinical practice in a clinical investigator role or returning from industry to an academic lab, I've seen that happen multiple times, and multiple colleagues, of course, that have transitioned to other industry roles.

So regardless of which path someone ultimately pursues, the real critical thing to me is to remember what brought us to medical school in the first place, which is a commitment and focus to patients above all else. I believe this can be achieved in many career options, direct patient care, teaching and mentoring, clinical investigator roles in the academic setting, or in industry by collaborating with academic colleagues and patient groups, focusing on programs that have high potential to advance treatment options for diseases with high unmet medical need. I happen to think GI cancers are the poster child for that, but you know, I'm a bit biased, and designing trials that are as patient-centric as possible. So that's the kind of advice that I would offer to people is not to think of these as mutually exclusive or there's only one way forward or if I make this decision, it's irreversible. I don't think any of those things are true. And I feel like I'm living proof.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Dr. Abrey, back to you. Any advice?

Dr. Lauren Abrey: I can only agree with Jason, and I know a number of people who've gone in both directions, including some who have been in pharma for quite a long time, and then make a decision to go back to patient care. Sometimes, I'm going to say, like as a final career chapter, but it has been a bit like that, including in countries where it's quite difficult to return to practice, that they need to go back and redo some training.

So I think, move forward, do things that make you want to get out of bed in the morning, and that probably will change over the course of your career. But I think don't be afraid to try something because the worst thing that could happen—that's always a good question to ask yourself, right? What is the worst thing that could happen? If it doesn't work out, you can probably make another choice.

I also think you should, you know, I already said talk to lots of people. But pay attention to that network that you have and nurture it, cultivate it, because some of those people in your network might become mentors at some point, might become advocates or sponsors at some point. And always, always, always take the opportunity to mentor somebody else, including if you're young, do some reverse mentoring. I have gotten some of my best mentoring from somebody that I agreed to mentor, but he really ended up reverse mentoring me. And he's actually now leading a very small biotech and you could argue has leapfrogged part of my career. And that's a fantastic dialogue that I get to have. So, great fun. We only go around this once. So have some fun while you're doing good things, too.

Dr. Jeremy Cetnar: Ain't that the truth? And I'll tell you, this is a small world. It does feel like the more people you talk to, all of a sudden, we all are connected. And so I just want to thank you, Dr. Abrey, Dr. Faris, for your time today, for your perspective, your interesting stories. And to all the listeners, we appreciate you tuning into this episode of the ASCO Education podcast.

Dr. Jason Faris: Thank you very much.

 

Thank you for listening to the ASCO Education podcast. To stay up to date with the latest episodes, please click subscribe. Let us know what you think by leaving a review. For more information, visit the Comprehensive Education Center at education.asco.org.

The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions.

Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. Guest statements on the podcast do not express the opinions of ASCO. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.

 

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