With nearly 30 years of experience in biopharmaceutical research, Dr. Henrik Klitgaard has dedicated his life to pursuing new and better treatments for patients with epilepsy. After earning his Ph.D. in Human Physiology from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Dr. Klitgaard conducted his postdoctoral work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Harvard Medical School. Motivated by a desire to see his research translated into workable solutions for patients, Dr. Klitgaard then joined the biopharmaceutical industry and eventually found his way to UCB, where he is currently Vice President and Fellow within New Medicines.
For the entirety of his nearly 30-year career, Dr. Klitgaard has focused on finding treatments for epilepsy patients. In 2013, he was awarded a lifetime award from the Epilepsy Therapy Project and Epilepsy Foundation due to his contributions to the discovery and development of new epilepsy therapies. Epilepsy is a neurological condition marked by unprovoked seizures, which range in frequency and intensity depending on the patient. The disease affects nearly three million Americans and 65 million people worldwide (one in every 26 people). This year, another 200,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with epilepsy.
Currently, close to 70 percent of epilepsy patients live seizure-free with the help of treatments that are available today. Dr. Klitgaard focuses on finding solutions for the remaining 30 percent who live with seizures that are uncontrolled or to wipe out the disease with a cure.
“One seizure is one too much, so every victory is important,” says Dr. Klitgaard. “We have to find solutions for 100 percent of the patient population. It’s not a question of if. We have to. And we will.”
The Driving Force
The drug discovery process is extraordinarily difficult, as only around 10 percent of clinical drug candidates make it through the development and trials process to enter the market. Most biopharmaceutical researchers have to accept the reality that it is possible to spend an entire career in the field and not see a single candidate achieve success.
“My work has taught me that drug discovery and development is a tough business,” says Dr. Klitgaard. “There are a lot of ups and a lot of downs. And it requires a lot of patience to succeed because it can take around 15 years to go from initial idea to final product.”
Luckily, Dr. Klitgaard’s patience and hard work have paid off, and he is one of the rare scientists who have seen not one but several of his ideas make their way to patients.
“That has been a tremendous privilege and encouragement,” he says.
Challenge and Collaboration
Looking forward, Dr. Klitgaard is excited about the potential advance in genetic and molecular sciences will have for epilepsy research. Traditionally, epilepsy treatments have been able to counteract symptoms of the disease but not the underlying cause. With the progression of genetics and our further understanding of pathological disease mechanisms, that is changing.
Yet challenges still remain and always will, which is the nature of innovation.
“Innovative research has to break the logic of a certain scientific discipline, and that’s hard to do,” he says. “Because not only do you have to become successful, you have to also do it in an environment in which there is a lot of skepticism. But if you are a passionate scientist and understand what you can bring to patients, it is much easier to overcome the hurdles.”
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