CHAPTER 
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Thursday, June 8, 2017
 

“I just knew that I was going to be a road chief and a
good part of the support crew, and that could mean
almost anything.” Steve Kuehn, Reporter

Cambridge, MA

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Finding themselves at the crossroads of American history and biotechnology before daybreak, Nigel and Eugene washed clean the dew that had formed on the Lamborghini as they would do almost every morning for the next 12 days, spending a little extra effort this morning on the wheels to remove some tar specs that had accumulated on the trip up from New York.

With the car in shape to make its debut as the vehicle for future Road to BIO insights, Nigel picked up David Kudla, Unither Pharmaceuticals’ General Manager for North America, from his Boston hotel at 5:30 a.m. The two followed the sun as it rose over the Charles River to Boston Commons Park, scene of the campaign’s inaugural interview.

At the park, excitement and anticipation filled the morning air as the film crew worked to set the stage for what would be an important discussion with David on single-unit dose technologies, and a tone-setter for the journey that lay before them. Brian and Wei had been out until 1 a.m. the night before, scoping out the scene, and were running on fumes after just three hours of sleep. But no one noticed, including, it seemed, Brian and Wei.

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“We just jumped right into it,” Brian said.

Steve, whose industry background was primarily in print journalism, had served as reporter for Pharma’s Almanac TV—an online video platform—since its inception in 2016, and was excited to get into the groove as the on-air correspondent for the Road to BIO.

“My role had been ambiguous leading up to the journey because the frame of it was very loose,” said Steve. “But my journalist job started right away at Boston Commons Park, and I said, ‘okay, this is how it’s going to go.’”

It was as action was called on Steve and David that the team realized the first mishap of the journey—a forgotten prop microphone. But with a 25-minute drive back to the hotel, there was no choice but to roll with it.

The Single Best Way to Deliver | Unither Pharmaceuticals

Unither Pharmaceuticals established its North American presence in 2013, settling as many European pioneers did in Rochester, New York, a city whose rich manufacturing history dates back to the 18th century. A European leader in single-unit dose technologies, Unither has made it its mission to “make affordable and user-friendly products that everyone in the world can use to improve their lives,” revolutionizing the way medicine is administered to align with the needs driven by today’s ever-evolving lifestyle.

“People today are more mobile,” said David Kudla, General Manager for North America at Unither Pharmaceuticals. “They’re traveling all over the place, and so to have a unit dose that’s portable, convenient and easy to use—that you can stick in your purse or coat pocket and know that you have the right medicine at the right time—is critical.”

Unither is a global leader in blow-fill-seal and liquid stick pack technologies, working to meet an increase in demand for these dosage forms. According to David, up to 50 percent of prescribed medications are taken incorrectly, contributing to 125,000 early deaths and costing the healthcare system over $200 billion in needless medical costs annually. Two of the most critical populations, David says, are pediatric and geriatric individuals.

“Sometimes children aren’t the easiest folks to dose, and so to have a convenient-to-open package and know that that dose is accurate every time is really important,” said David. “Likewise, on the geriatric side, you have a lot more self-administration but perhaps some degradation in dexterity, mental acuity or even eyesight. For the geriatric population to have that easy-open dose available and know that they’re getting the right dose of the right medicine at the right time is really important in terms of compliance.”

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Equal parts intellectual and engaging, David fired the starting gun on the Road to BIO with confidence and enthusiasm, which left a lasting impression on the road trip team, especially a slightly out-of-his element Steve.

“David was excited to be doing it and his energy was great,” he said. “That buoyed me up a bit and started building my confidence.”

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Across the Fort Point Channel, the team was delighted to discover that what has historically been known as Boston’s Seaport District has taken on a new distinction for its concentration of innovative businesses enhancing the local technological ecosystem. Dubbed the Seaport ‘Innovation’ District in recent years, the area along the Boston Main Channel is home to a cluster of firms contributing to the city’s emerging biotech climate. Among them is M+W Group, a leading global high-tech engineering and construction company and the next stop on the Road to BIO.

Peter Cramer, AIA, NCARB and Vice President, Life Science Facility Design at M+W Group, is in high demand in the industry and is on the verge of a quarter-billion-dollar deal that will give stability to his emerging team. With everything going on at the firm’s Boston headquarters, Nigel and the team were lucky to score an interview with Peter who, at the time of the meeting, was focused heavily on managing projects at the forefront of the “new pharma reality” with nanotech, bionano, cell therapy and industrial biotechnologies.

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Ensuring Project Success | M+W Group

A global operation with 6,000 employees in more than 30 countries, M+W supports clients in taking novel technologies to market through the most efficient means possible.

“We’re working with some really new and novel science, and we’re working at very different scales,” said Peter. “It’s an exciting time in the market for me as a process architect.”

Ultimately, Peter says, it is M+W’s responsibility to create solutions that allow organizations to bring their products to market efficiently and cost effectively. To accomplish this, M+W employs a holistic solution that balances facility, production and equipment costs while implementing scalable designs and platforms that meet the needs of global clients, especially in terms of risk and cost.

“We know firsthand that we can’t develop a one-off solution every time we get involved with a project,” said Peter. “We’re really trying to take advantage of lessons learned, letting the system integrator do as much of the detail design as possible, and making that value proposition to the client that his or her project will be a combination of state-of-the-art process knowledge and systems that are available on the market today.”

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M+W’s unique position in the pharmaceutical supply chain is not unlike its physical location, which was accentuated as roughly 50 M+W staff emerged from the building to take pictures and interact with the Road to BIO crew and its signature vehicle. The organization’s Boston headquarters is situated below an overpass, giving a fishbowl effect as passersby took photos of the commotion from the street above and consequently brought traffic to a standstill.

As the crowd dispersed, a gentleman approached from the street and wise-cracked to Nigel, asking if he could clean his car and have it ready for him after work—a joke that would be heard 20-30 times during the journey. Remembering he passed the famous Laugh Boston comedy club just before pulling into the M+W parking lot, Nigel figured this guy’s “work” must not be too far away.

Getting out of Boston took a few tries, which is to be expected with a traffic grid perhaps better described as a labyrinth and a support vehicle doubling as a building on wheels. In the Lamborghini, Nigel and his copilot Steve had a slightly easier go, leaving time for a bit of bad behavior as the Aventador met its closest match on the Road to BIO—a black McLaren Convertible. Unable to resist temptation and knowing full well that Steve would be up for a touch of speed, Nigel accepted the challenge on behalf of his passenger.

“That was my first Road to BIO rule broken,” said Nigel. “Racing on Boston streets.”

Once Nigel had sufficiently expelled the need for speed from his system and Albert had successfully steered the RV out of the city, both vehicles headed south on I-90, known as the “Mass Pike” to “Mass Natives”. It rained for about 15 minutes just outside of Boston, the first and only precipitation the crew would encounter on the entire trip.

“We opened the roof at 5:30 that morning,” recalled Nigel. “It would be another 2,600 miles before we drove another mile with the roof on.”

It was as the Mass Pike met I-84 in Connecticut that the team made its first of many memorable encounters with those who helped pave the Road to BIO—the various people lining the journey. This early interaction, on the heels of the first two sponsor visits and bound for the third, was with a group of guys at a rest stop off the highway. While their rapid-fire questions and rapid-sequence photography may have told of their supercar enthusiasm, there was one sign in particular that confirmed it.

“One guy was wearing a Lamborghini tee-shirt,” Nigel exclaimed.

Waiting for the Road to BIO just off I-95 in historic Norwalk, Connecticut was Bill Pasek, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of Avara Pharmaceuticals, an expanding global CDMO founded by a team of industry veterans well-versed in both sides of the manufacturing process. A 25-year pharmaceutical sales and leadership veteran himself, Bill shared the importance of navigating pitfalls across the development pathway to deliver on commitments, reinforcing a lesson learned by the That’s Nice crew as they approached Avara’s global headquarters: that the Aventador’s low-sitting frame was no match for the relatively steep incline leading to the building. The first of many compromises and lessons to come, the car was parked in a strip mall across the street and interview number three was underway.

Taking Direction from Industry Veterans | Avara Pharmaceuticals 

Brought together by pharmaceutical industry trailblazer Timothy Tyson, Avara is comprised of a complementary team of individuals with 30-plus years of pharmaceutical industry experience, all in key leadership roles.

“This brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to our organization,” said Bill. “But it’s not just about that knowledge and experience, or the number of years you have in the industry. It’s about packaging all of that and being able to deliver on our commitments to our customers.”

Noting the significant and rapid change impacting the pharmaceutical industry, Bill stressed the importance of a great business partner equipped to handle the inherent complexities of drug development to achieve speed to market and, ultimately, provide critical therapies to patients in need.

“Our commitment is to honor our commitment,” said Bill. “If we can deliver on time, in full and at a fair price, we know that that’s what our customers are looking for. We’ve been able to do that so far, and we’re going to continue to do so.”

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Nigel Walker, Bill Pasek and an an Avara employee are pictured around the glitter-wrapped Lamborghini Aventador. Surely they must be talking speed to market. 

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The wealth of knowledge shared by Bill Pasek set the Road to BIO back about 60 minutes, which put the crew on Connecticut’s notoriously gridlocked Merritt Parkway at rush hour. Speaking of commitments, the crew had one more to meet before day one came to a close, and Nigel himself had two—a dinner date with one of his oldest friends and influencers of the journey, and a daughter celebrating her 12th birthday at the family’s Bronxville home.

Falling increasingly behind schedule would soon emerge as a secondary theme of the Road to BIO, as three interviews paled in comparison to what was to come the following day. But on this evening, the crew was intent on making it to their final destination, and with Albert at the helm, they could count on just that.

“I had downloaded a navigational app that is just for truckers,” Albert explained. “It was pretty efficient.”

Day one’s closing engagement took place in Manhattan’s West Village, and presented an opportunity for the entire That’s Nice team to come together one more time before the Road to BIO headed southwest for good, not to return until after BIO. The setting for this fleeting reunion was Tea & Sympathy, a British restaurant that serves afternoon tea and traditional British comfort food (think bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and rhubarb crumble)—a much-welcome indulgence to a group who in its haste had managed to survive the day on gas station food and Dunkin’ Donuts.

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As everyone noshed, Steve sat down with Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett, one of the proprietors of Tea & Sympathy. Sean is a colorful character—an English ex-model and actor—and one of Nigel’s first friends in New York. The two met in 1992, the year of Nigel’s initial aborted cross-country attempt.

Despite sitting at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sean openly discussed issues of healthcare under the current US administration with a fully engrossed Steve who, for the first time on the Road to BIO, began to feel the pulse of what this trip represented—the different personalities the crew would encounter across America, and the dissipation of the line perceived by many to be dividing this country amid a polarizing political climate.

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Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett, owner of Tea & Sympathy, and Nigel Walker, founder of That's Nice, chat about US healthcare, the subject of  a Road to BIO side story that will feature commentary from people across the country.

“There we were, not knowing what to expect,” reflected Steve. “I was starving, and we pull up to this fish and chips place and then all of a sudden I’m talking to this person who turns out to be one of those fascinating people in New York.”

Across the Hudson River, the sun was setting over Hoboken, New Jersey as Nigel drove north. He called Brian to tell him to run over to the waterfront and capture the shot (“we call that ‘chasing unicorns,’” he explained). Nigel made it to Bronxville in time for birthday cake, and he and the Lamborghini spent one last precious evening at home—just half a mile away from the site of the now-shuttered rental car company that turned him down 25 years earlier.

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The Aventador is in the garage for the night, and with good reason. Its owner, Nigel Walker, is celebrating his daughter Misaki's 12th birthday before hitting the Road to BIO again tomorrow. 

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NEXT | Chapter 2: Day Of Reckoning On The Road To Bio