As a child, Dr. Roland Kolbeck loved nature and science and this passion eventually led to an academic career studying neurobiology in Munich, Germany. Patient need, however, soon pulled him from academia to industry, along with a desire to contribute to the drug discovery process in a more direct way.
Today, he is vice president of respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity at AstraZeneca. During his tenure at the company, Dr. Kolbeck played a critical role in developing what has become AstraZeneca’s first respiratory biologic treatment, and he continues to search for new treatments for severe asthma patients.
“My great grandfather suffered from severe asthma, and while I didn’t comprehend it at the time, I remember a person who was bedbound due to his difficulty breathing,” says Dr. Kolbeck. “It was tragic because he was a great musician, and this disease affected his ability to do something that he loved.”
Approximately 10 percent of people with asthma have severe asthma, which results in constant or nearly constant difficulty breathing and an ever-present risk for an asthma attack. Severe asthma patients are extremely limited in their physical capacity, and many report being unable to ascend stairs or bend down to tie their shoes.
“When we talk about cancer, we tend to talk about the worst-case scenario that a patient can face,” says Dr. Kolbeck. “When people talk about asthma, it’s the opposite. Severe asthma can be fatal, but the general public views it as a condition that can be easily controlled. In reality, the disease can have a massive impact on a person’s personal and professional life.”
The Driving Force
Dr. Kolbeck is driven by a desire to develop the next medicine that will help patients.
“Every day I feel motivated to come to work,” he says. “Our cause is a noble one. We are advancing science and applying the results to help patients, a process that is extremely rewarding.”
Drug development is inherently difficult, but while the business is tough, says Dr. Kolbeck, the personal satisfaction can be great, “especially when you get to talk to patients who use the medicines you helped develop.”
Challenges and Collaboration
Biologics have infused new life into the drug discovery process for respiratory conditions such as severe asthma, and the impact of these new treatments is only just beginning, says Dr. Kolbeck. Today, severe asthma patients have more options, allowing treatment regimens to be increasingly tailored to the patient’s unique needs and response to a medicine.
“Innovation doesn’t stop,” says Dr. Kolbeck. “Even 15 or 20 years ago, people thought biologics wouldn’t work. After a worldwide effort, we’ve proved otherwise, and that path is only going to continue. When you fail, you learn, and you incorporate that learning into the equation for next time. And then, you keep going.”
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