11 to Watch in 2011: Scientist giving local vaccine sector his best shotStep into Satish Chandran’s office to ask him about the work he’s doing to jumpstart Fargo-Moorhead’s vaccine sector, and the director of North Dakota State University’s fledgling Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production goes out of his way to make one thing clear: “I haven’t done it yet. You know that?” he says.
By: Curtis Eriksmoen, INFORUM
Step into Satish Chandran’s office to ask him about the work he’s doing to jumpstart Fargo-Moorhead’s vaccine sector, and the director of North Dakota State University’s fledgling Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production goes out of his way to make one thing clear:
“I haven’t done it yet. You know that?” he says.
That’s not entirely true – the former Pfizer executive and biotech start-up guru has already rallied considerable support for his efforts – but it’s easy to see where Chandran might want to duck the spotlight a bit. Since his arrival in May, he’s become something of a celebrity among academic and business leaders, who see him as a key part of the region’s strategic goals.
His goal is an ambitious one: Marshal the area’s existing scientific and business talent, attract a handful of existing companies, and put it all together in a dynamic biotech sector that specializes in vaccines.
NDSU and area business leaders lobbied hard to bring him here in the spring, eventually selling him (and his family) on Fargo-Moorhead. He says he was encouraged from the sidelines by Michael Chambers, a former colleague and the head of Aldevron in Fargo. Chambers has said the region needs more “Satishes to come here.”
In turn, Chandran is working to lure colleagues and companies to the area himself. He’s in the process of assembling a staff – for months, the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production was effectively a one-man operation in a sparse office – raising funds and talking to existing biotech firms about relocation to Fargo. He’s got three of those in the mix now – one from each coast and one from Canada – and thinks at least one is close to pulling the trigger.
Bringing in that kind of external talent is important for a few reasons, he says. He wants to make sure science and business students in the region have landing spots that will keep them here when they graduate (a goal that’s doubly important in light of the new vaccinology program he’s working to develop for the Tri-College University). He also needs to fill in the gaps in the existing talent pool to ensure the region has all the expertise necessary to take concepts from the research stage all the way through to product development.
“If I don’t sleep at night, it’s because I’m thinking about talent,” he said.
Given the breakneck pace of his work to date and the scope of his objectives, one begins to wonder if Chandran sleeps at all. Indeed, when The Forum met with him for this interview, he was coming off an all-nighter with a regulatory document. He wasn’t happy with how it turned out, so he tinkered with it until 5:30 a.m.
Then again, that’s how he likes it. “It keeps me awake,” he said, “but I want to be awake.” He recalls in fond tones his nights in Cambridge, Mass., while he was working for Pfizer. He and his colleagues would walk into a bar and spend hours talking about science.
“That’s the kind of culture I want to build here,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502
About this series
Starting Sunday and running for the next nine days, The Forum is featuring area people to watch in 2011. We expect these people will make news in the coming year.