“5 Questions With……” is a weekly 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. This edition features Shruti Abbato, EVP, Business Development, CARMA Cellular Therapies at MaxCyte, Inc.
Shruti has 20 years of business development experience in the biotechnology industry. She is currently responsible for building and growing MaxCyte’s CARMA Cell Therapies business. Before MaxCyte, she worked with Celdara Medical, Millendo, Medigene, Deciphera, and Human Genome Sciences. Shruti holds an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and a BS in Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry from the University of Maryland.
1. What was your first job/role in biotech?
My very first role in life sciences was also a first for the company involved. I along with four other undergraduates made up the first class of interns at EntreMed, Inc., which at that time was young start-up biotechnology company in Rockville, MD. My internship came about as a recommendation from a professor. We did everything from in-vitro to mouse experiments in cancer research and also took away a unique experience of working at a pioneering start-up. EntreMed was founded to advance a breakthrough scientific discovery in cancer treatment – inhibition of angiogenesis or cutting off of blood supply to cancer cells. EntreMed had acquired rights to Dr. Judah Folkman’s breakthrough anti-angiogenesis research and would lead this emerging drug development field. While EntreMed’s pipeline didn’t triumph, other companies pursuing similar research have since prevailed in the clinic and made multiple anti-angiogenic cancer therapies available to patients.
2. Tell us about your current role, your current employer, and any projects you wanted to highlight. (e.g., How does CARMA Cell Therapies™ relate to MaxCyte?)
I joined MaxCyte last November to lead the business development and financing activities for CARMA Cell Therapies™, a wholly-owned cell therapy subsidiary of MaxCyte, Inc. MaxCyte is an established Flow Electroporation® cell engineering company based in Gaithersburg, MD. Leveraging its flow electroporation technology, MaxCyte researchers conceived of CARMA®, a novel, and proprietary technology for development of non-viral, mRNA-based, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) or T-cell receptor (TCR) redirected immune cell therapies to solve problems facing conventional cell therapies. This became the basis for founding of CARMA Cell Therapies and the advancement of the CARMA technology platform. Our platform enables autologous manufacturing in one-day of novel cell therapies composed of multi-effector cell populations to drive activity and transient expression to offer a better safety profile. Our lead cell therapy, MCY-M11, is in its first Phase I study. MaxCyte is seeking independent financing for CARMA Cell Therapies to establish it as a standalone company.
3. What advice do you have for somebody looking to get into business development in this industry?
There is no one-size-fits-all advice to starting a business development career in the biotechnology industry but there is one constant factor I believe that is worth noting – a desire to create product value. In any business development role, be it buy-side or sell-side, the ability to judge or position a product’s or technology’s value is essential to attracting and negotiating any deal or transaction. The best business development colleagues I have observed are scientifically proficient and have had early careers, as researchers, as analysts at a consulting firm or investment bank, or in strategic marketing functions. In every one of these roles, product / technology creation or assessment are core job functions that are excellent “sister-skills” for a sure fire launch in one or more business development-type roles.
4. Working in this region for a while, you have seen it grow. What are the biggest changes that you have noticed?
One of the biggest changes I have noticed is the steadily increasing focus of Maryland companies on development of cell and gene therapies. While the cell and gene therapy industry overall has seen substantial growth in recent years, a number of notable companies, e.g., Gilead/Kite, Autolus, RegenxBio, have entered or established themselves in the BioCapital region. This list of cell and gene therapy companies is much, much longer when you start to include smaller or emerging companies like CARMA Cell Therapies. I might be biased, but this is an exciting change. This evolution of the Maryland biotechnology ecosystem is also creating a significant need for a specialized workforce in the region. Expanding the experienced cell and gene therapy scientific and manufacturing talent will be important to drive continued growth of this industry in the Maryland region.
5. What is the most interesting place you traveled for a job/work assignment and why?
Not surprisingly, I have traveled a lot to Boston for work, but I don’t get tired of it. Boston is one of my favorite cities in the US during all seasons except winter. I appreciate the density and liveliness of the biotech infrastructure in Boston, but also look forward to the chance to visit or re-visit the city’s historical sites, museums, and eat at some amazing favorite or new restaurants. More so than ever now, I await the next trip.
Thank you to Shruti Abbato for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region.
Andy has worked with BioBuzz for the last decade to help spread the word of the BioHealth Capital Region even before it was branded with that name. His background includes years at MedImmune supporting the Commercial Operations Organization before becoming a BioHealth Nomad working with various clients in Operations, Communications and Strategic Services.