Among his many accomplishments in biotechnology, Dr. Nils Lonberg pioneered the use of genetically engineered mice for antibody drug discovery, which led to numerous FDA-approved monoclonal antibody treatments, including several novel cancer therapies. Now, more than two decades later in his role as senior vice president of oncology biology discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dr. Lonberg leads a drug discovery group responsible for identifying potential immuno-oncology (I-O) treatments and furthering the scientific understanding of I-O to help reach more patients.
The Driving Force
Dr. Lonberg’s interest in science developed at an early age when his father, then a graduate student at the University of California, would bring him into the lab. He recalls that, “from a very young age, I was fascinated going into the lab with him. It was always an exciting time, and it really inspired me.”
As Dr. Lonberg recounts in the below video, this experience led him to follow a similar path with his own graduate studies. Years later, while working in the lab at Harvard University, he took an interest in a new technology that could manipulate the genome of mammals.
Determined to work in a laboratory where he could learn these techniques, Dr. Lonberg launched what is now a 25-year career in drug discovery that has allowed him to “have a real impact on the world and on patients’ lives.”
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward
Dr. Lonberg calls this a historic time in cancer research, with I-O at the forefront, but advises that with any new advancement, “you have to be willing to take risks and move forward with something that is potentially a breakthrough.”
In particular, Dr. Lonberg points to partnerships with outside academic groups as a way to mitigate those risks and overcome potential hurdles in drug discovery. For instance, centered in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, his relationships with local academic institutions have allowed him to recruit talented scientists and build a stellar team in one of the most competitive biotech hubs in the country.
Additionally, partnerships are especially important in a new field of discovery such as I-O, because they allow for much greater progress in innovation.
“We’re just beginning to uncover the basic science, and we all need to pool our resources and talent to understand this new landscape,” he says. “If we can do this, we can learn from this scientific endeavor how to better classify cancers so that we can better pick the right therapies for the right patients.”
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