Portfolio Rockstars of the Month: Immunophotonics
For the month of September, we are excited to feature not one, but two Portfolio Rockstars of the Month. We shine the spotlight on Immunophotonics employees, Joe Raker, Chief Drug Development Officer and Samuel Lam, VP of Research and Science. Immunophotonics is a St. Louis-based biotechnology company that has developed an in situ therapeutic cancer vaccine (inCVAX) for solid tumor cancers. Check out our interviews with them below to learn more about their work and how they’re pioneering the fight against cancer.
Name: Joseph Raker
University: Ph.D. – Penn State University, B.S. – Utica College of Syracuse University
Class of: Ph.D. – 2002, B.S. – 1997
What did you study in college? Undergraduate major in chemistry. Graduate major in synthetic/bio-organic chemistry
What is your position at Immunophotonics and how long have you been with the company? Chief Drug Development Officer. Start date – May 2014.
What are you currently working on? I currently oversee all aspects of drug development for the company. We are in the final process of releasing a clinical batch of drug product and initiating a pre-clinical safety program.
What’s next on your list to learn? As my next major focus is pre-clinical safety, my learning list revolves around the design and evaluation of pharmacokinetic and toxicology studies. From a CMC (chemistry, manufacturing and controls) standpoint this will be the design, manufacturing and analytical testing of radiolabeled materials.
What do you like about working at a startup? Having come from a corporate setting, I relish the fast paced environment of a start up. The goals are generally larger and more broad with the freedom to explore solutions outside of corporate restraints.
What do you find to be the most interesting part about your job? By far it is the science. Having been given the initial goal of “release a clinical batch of drug product” I have thoroughly enjoyed the formulation development and analytical method development that was required to complete the task.
What advice would you give to college students or recent graduates who are considering pursuing a career with an early stage life science/health care company? While I value the experience that I gained during my 12 years in a corporate setting, I would encourage any recent graduate to seize an opportunity to work at a start-up. The need for large scale problem solving in a start-up is the fastest way to gain a broad and relevant knowledge base.
What do you like about working in the Cortex district of St. Louis? The Cortex district is unlike any environment that I have worked in before. Being surrounded by a community of entrepreneurs invigorates you and promotes the required outside-of-the-box thinking.
How do you like to spend your free time? While working at a start-up does not provide a large amount of free time, I do take any opportunity I can to spend time with my wife Theresa and my son Aaron. Additionally, as all of those afflicted with the same disease, I try to sneak onto the golf course when I can (it is definitely my passion)
If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why? Definitely Batman! For many reasons, including: it is physically possible; I admire his sense of right and wrong; the scientific manner in which he solves problems; and who wouldn’t want to be a billionaire when they weren’t working.
Name: Samuel S.K. Lam
University: Johns Hopkins University (B.S.), Washington University in St. Louis (PhD.)
Class of: 2006 (B.S.)
What did you study in college? Molecular and Cellular Biology (B.S.), Immunology (PhD)
What is your position at Immunophotonics and how long have you been with the company? V.P. of Science and Research
What are you currently working on? I conduct and coordinate all the research of our company. We also work tightly with our numerous academic collaborators all over the world to develop our product.
What’s next on your list to learn? There are so many things I am trying to learn, especially in the area of cancer research. I can’t wait to further study the synergistic effects of different cancer therapies (immunotherapy in particular).
What do you like about working at a startup? I love the constant energy, enthusiasm and optimism. People work at a startup because they like what they do. We work as a team to achieve the same goal and I absolutely love this kind of environment. If you have seen the movie “Social Network”, you can see the fire that is propelling everyone. That fire makes me feel alive!
What do you find to be the most interesting part about your job? This might sound funny but I did not expect the number of conference calls involved! My old P.I. asked me “yup, did your ear start to get red from wearing the headphones?” Having said that, it is very interesting to communicate with people of different expertise. It feel like talking to people who speak different languages. It truly is an incredible learning experience.
What advice would you give to college students or recent graduates who are considering pursuing a career with an early stage life science/health care company? It’s exciting, but it could be scary. If you are a risk-taker, you would love it. You might fail, but you are given a chance to WIN. Do you dare? If you don’t know, do an internship to find out.
What do you like about working in the Cortex district of St. Louis? I like it because it is a vibrant community. All the construction indicates rapid growth. The whole area is like an exciting start-up!
How do you like to spend your free time? Go for a walk with my family. Netflix. DOTA2 (don’t’ judge me….)
If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why? Phoenix, if I can control myself. The reason is simple. Phoenix is just SO powerful!