According to Dr. Niranjana Nagarajan, a principal scientist at Celgene, “sheer curiosity” drove her into biopharmaceutical research. Constantly fascinated by the inner workings of systems and machines, Dr. Nagarajan soon found this interest spread to the human body, including the ways medicine can provide solutions to disease.
“After that, it was a very natural progression into the biopharmaceutical industry,” she says.
Dr. Nagarajan’s area of focus is immunology, which examines the way in which the immune system responds to external threats. The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from harmful substances, ranging from acute problems such as poisonous chemicals or bacteria, to chronic issues such as the growth of cancerous tumors.
While vaccines for conditions such as polio and hepatitis comprise a large swath of immunology research, infectious diseases are only one of several treatment areas. CAR T cell therapy, a newer type of cancer immunotherapy, works with a patient’s immune system by using T cells, or fighter cells, to attack the tumor.
In short, the ultimate goal of researchers like Dr. Nagarajan is to provide supporting mechanisms that help the body fight disease on its own.
The Driving Force
Dr. Nagarajan points to her work on immunology technologies as one of the most rewarding parts of her career.
“I was one tiny cog in a huge team that is working toward creating a ground-breaking type of therapy,” says Dr. Nagarajan. “In clinical trials so far, the treatment has saved the lives of two small children. Learning about that kind of success has hands down been the best moment of my scientific life.”
Challenges, Chance and Looking Forward
Biopharmaceutical research teams must constantly balance risk and reward during the pursuit of a new treatment. Medicine development is incredibly challenging, and an extraordinary level of focus on the safety of medicines is necessary to ensure patients receive only the best, most effective treatments possible.
“As researchers, we constantly ask ourselves ‘Is this standard high enough that we would be willing to give this treatment to a family member?’” says Dr. Nagarajan. “On the other hand, we want to make sure that when we decide to move on from an area of research, we haven’t missed something that could be truly transformational. It’s a balance in figuring out where to be persistent.”
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