Ted Johnson has spent his career working to find better and more innovative treatments for cancer. A Pfizer employee for the last 17 years, Ted joined the company as a biopharmaceutical researcher following the completion of his PhD and post- doctoral programs. In his current position, he designs medications for oncology patients, with most of his work pertaining to lung cancer.
The Driving Force
When Ted lost his mother to colon cancer, he felt a personal inspiration to get involved in research to make a difference. At that point in time, just under 20 years ago, treatments were limited and usually involved painful surgeries followed by traditional chemotherapies. “This is really something I’m passionate about,” Ted says when he made the decision to go into the medical field as an oncology researcher. His work led him to Pfizer to allow him to make the biggest impact for patients who needed it most.
The working relationship he has developed with clinicians while completing his research sometimes leaves the lab. “Connecting the patient to the doctor or the clinician to the researcher is very important. Sometimes they call it ‘bench to bedside.’ It’s making sure that patients and the clinicians or academics that are treating the patients really have a good relationship with the researchers that are doing the research. There’s a clinical physician that will email me and write, ‘I have a patient that has a specific mutation that’s not responding to this medicine.’ This type of ongoing interaction is very helpful for scientists to inform their research projects.”
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward
When asked to describe the challenges and opportunities Ted sees in his work, he finds that hearing from former patients he’s helped to be the most gratifying. “I work with a patient who was diagnosed at 24 years old. He’s 27 now, and he’s on a medicine that I helped to develop. His wife told me that I helped save his life. That is powerful. Obviously it’s a big team of people working on it, but when you can extend the life of someone to give them more time with their family… its motivating.”
When asked about the future of medicine, Ted describes a bigger push to personalized medicine and the future of immuno-oncology research. “Personalized medicine has been going on for years, but I really see it becoming much more prevalent in the coming years. Immuno-oncology uses a persons’ own immune system to treat them…we’re in a whole new era of medicine.”
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