The BRET Office of Career Development presents Alumni Spotlight, an interview with a former BRET PhD student or post-doc and written by a current BRET trainee. Hear how Vanderbilt has shaped an alumnus’s career path, skill set, and network, as well as what career advice they have to give. For more information or if you are interested in writing an Alumni Spotlight, contact Kate Stuart.
To read other Alumni Spotlight articles, visit this page on the BRET Office of Career Development’s website.
Written by Wenyue Du, Graduate Student, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Ray Price is a Pharma/biotech business development executive with extensive R&D experience. He has a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt University and an Executive MBA from INSEAD, with work experience in Japan, the US, and France. Dr. Price specializes in business development, strategic partnerships, project management, competitive analysis, partnership management, and negotiations. He and his family now live in San Diego. On a side note, his son was born at Vanderbilt, so he truly calls Vanderbilt home. In this interview, Dr. Price shares his valuable professional experience with us.
Wenyue: Could you please describe your current job?
Dr. Price: I'm working with a company called DiscoveRx. We are the service provider to primarily pharmaceutical and biotech companies. We have three technology platforms. My primary responsibility is to generate sales and revenue for one of those technology platforms, in a division called BioSeek. I'm on the team that does sales/marketing with pharma/biotech companies, primarily on the west coast and Asia/Pacific area. Our team reports to the Vice-President of sales in our geographic region, and he is in charge of all DiscoveRx products and services.
Wenyue: What does your week look like in your current job?
Dr. Price: I'm in my home office. I do a lot of "prospecting:" identifying companies that might be potential clients. I also spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and networking. I put together business proposals for work with potential clients. On average, 60% of my time is traveling. I present technologies to potential clients and schedule phone calls and meetings to discuss projects, or deliver the data that we produced.
Wenyue: What was your career path since Vanderbilt?
Dr. Price: I graduated from Vanderbilt with my PhD in Pharmacology in 2001. My first position was a research scientist in a Japanese company named Astellas. I worked on research projects that later went into clinical development. I was asked to do a lot more than just scientific bench work. For example, we built financial models and analyzed statistics for our drug. I also had exposure to the business side. I then moved to Acucela which is based in Seattle. Some investors and CEOs were Japanese, so my previous international experience was a plus. They hired me as a research scientist, and within a couple months, I was promoted to be a technical specialist for our business development group to identify pharma/biotech partners for a technology platform and an asset in clinical development. I did that for almost two years before being recruited by a start-up company, Biocortech. I met someone in their company back in Japan when I was in Astellas. Their technology was also relevant to my graduate work at Vanderbilt. In fact, in one of their pitches, they cited my research papers. And then in 2008, the economy went down and the start-up collapsed. I then took this opportunity and did an EMBA at INSEAD in France. After that, I worked for another drug discovery company before working at my present company.
Wenyue: Could you please comment more on your international experience?
Dr. Price: My Japanese language skills and networks developed while working in Japan, besides the technical aspect, gave me great advantage for my first few jobs at Acucela and Biocortech. During graduate school, I did a summer internship with a pharmaceutical company Eisai in Japan with the sponsorship of a Japanese government grant agency similar to NSF in the US. My MBA education in France and my international network from my class also gave me great experience with the European culture.
Wenyue: You made a perfect transition from science to business. For students interested in the business career route, how should we make the transition? What do you think of working as a scientist in industry and then trying to switch to a business role in the company?
Dr. Price: It depends. This may be harder in the current economy. If you go into a large company as a scientist, you will need to spend a few years there. It may be tough if this is not your career goal and what you enjoy doing. Internal transfer from a technical position sometimes can be hard as the company values and needs your technical expertise. One way to do this may be to get a job with more customer interactions, such as field application scientists and technical specialists, who demonstrate and trouble-shoot for customers. In small start-ups with fewer employees, the company relies on your technical expertise when they recruit you. The training for the business side may be a little challenging just due to the size and resources within the company.
Wenyue: What do you think about getting an MBA right after receiving your PhD?
Dr. Price: It increases your business knowledge and can help you step forward to the business world. But at the same time, you also need to consider the time and money investment as well as the opportunity cost. I did my MBA at a later stage after a couple years of work experience. I find it a very valuable experience in growing my business acumen and developing my network.
Wenyue: What advice will you give Vanderbilt students for those interested in business?
Dr. Price: Try to get some business experience while you can at school. Talk to people and explore the opportunities—perhaps audit a business/financial class (when I was at Vanderbilt, staff/students could audit classes for free). This is important to decide whether this career route is truly what you are interested in, and also helps the hiring manager to assess whether you will be comfortable and succeed in the work environment.