Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host for this podcast, having the pleasure to be joined by Dr Pravin Chaturvedi a veteran drug developer, serial biotech entrepreneur, and seasoned CEO/CSO, Board member of many life science ventures. Over his 30+ years in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, he has participated and led the drug development teams for multiple drugs across the several therapeutic areas. He has participated in the successful drug approval and commercialization of seven drugs. Pravin serves as the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) for Napo Pharmaceuticals and Jaguar Health. He is also the cofounder and CEO of IndUS Pharmaceuticals and Oceanyx Pharmaceuticals. He is also the Executive Chairman of Cellanyx and Chair of the Board for Enlivity. He currently and previously served on the boards of several biotech too. Over his career, he has also been a part of multiple national and international strategic partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies as well as governments. Pravin also contributes significant time to teaching and serves as an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown Medical School. He holds a doctoral degree from West Virginia University and has an undergraduate degree in pharmacy from University of Bombay. I could go on and on introducing Pravin but let’s here from him here!
Pravin, it’s such a great pleasure to have you with me.
Pravin Chaturvedi: Thank you, Naji. It’s a pleasure for me to be here. Thank you.
Naji Gehchan: Can you first share with us your personal story and what is in between the line of your incredible journey bringing so much impact in healthcare?
Pravin Chaturvedi: I, a very deep question. Naji, , but, uh, thank you for asking.
I think, uh, from, uh, early days, I’ve always been about, Uh, not, uh, tolerating any oppression of human beings in any form. So, um, illness, uh, medicine was one my way of doing it, but other ways of that is poverty and disenfranchisement and underserved communities. So, over the early days of my life, I was fortunate enough, having been born in Bombay, I had seen both sides of the world, cuz it’s a very large city.
Um, where I could see that, you know, a lot of people do not even have the opportunity to do, um, uh, what they could do, uh, because of the way the systems are set up. So I think, uh, in that regard with my interest in medicine, um, I was fortunate to have. Great mentors through my life, you know, and the first, um, of them was, um, back in the eighties.
Early eighties, and he was a physician pharmacologist, which was what the reason is that I have an interest in pharmacology, uh, because he shaped my thinking about, um, he said something that I will never forget. Back then, I was probably in my high teens and he. Uh, life is really short when you’re happy, and life is really long when you have suffering.
You know, so alleviate that. And so kind of, you know, put me on a path to thinking about this in a way where I could make a difference. And it was not sort of, you know, just giving money here and there for charity, but really making an impact in that regard. So through that journey, I met my second mentor, uh, uh, in West Virginia, who was also a pharmacologist, , and, uh, brilliant man.
And, uh, a very, very authentic person who, uh, basically took me to the next, uh, level where, I had a philosophy that reason is a queen and mistress of all things, and which is normally oriental, people are considered to be fatalistic. And so, uh, his Peter, my mentor, then thought that that was quite oxidental of me, which, uh, basically was a challenge
So we, we had long discussions about it and we started making differences there. So everything comes from reason. And so by reasoning logically, I would start from the patient first, and I would, so, because what you get from the physicians is a perspective of what symptoms are presented. And so the physicians are first doing symptomatic management, but the patient’s journey is far bigger than that, you know, a lot, lot longer.
So I used to talk to the patients and I’d get completely different discussions, you know, uh, from what we were thinking in the ivory towers of academic institu. And so that, that was very telling for me. So that helped me a lot. And then, um, um, by, you know, I was surely going to be an academic na but um, I got plucked because I speak the way I sound right now to you, like a conversationalist.
And so I was giving a talk somewhere. And some executive at large pharma, uh, saw me speak and decided that I was gonna work for her. And that large pharma was called Park Davis at that time. Now it is Pfizer. And so as soon as I graduated, I was bought into New Jersey and thrust into the late stage development programs, uh, because I was trained in epilepsy on the CNS side, but also oncology.
And so from there, um, I, I got this, uh, intoxication , almost addiction for making medicine because it was very, um, satisfying naji to see a drug get approved by the fda. And to go to the pharmacy and see the shelf, the name over there, , even though it was not my name, it was a company’s name. So, so then I came to, uh, Boston.
From there I was recruited to Boston, uh, to early state startups. And then I met my third mentor over there. This third mentor of mine, John, he. Spent his entire career at Lilly, your place, you know, as along with Ray Fuller, pretty much the father of depression. These two gentle, and John and Ray, um, had developed the Hamilton scale and everything.
So he had developed Prozac and Zyprexa and all these drugs. John also pharmacologist. Imagine that . So John and I. We would talk about these chronic illnesses that would afflict human beings because we are living longer. So I come from a place where India, you know, we have more infectious diseases because it’s endemic.
But in us, you know, we were living longer, we were having different illnesses which were cardiometabolic and cancer and cns. And so with him, I learned about that. So got a couple more drugs, but in that journey we had HIV drugs that we were being developed because patients were dying. And that’s when I met this really ill population Naji, uh, who had T-cell counts of two who were unable to even drive by a Dunking donut sign without throwing up.
That’s how sick they were. That’s how grateful nausea they. And so by talking to them and finding out their journey, uh, we developed, uh, HIV drugs and we changed the face of aids, um, obviously as a community, you know, and, um, and so we, being a part of that 30 years ago was another, uh, learning curve for me.
And then, um, I left Vertex, uh, uh, and in 2001 started my first company, cion, which was a neuro company, neuroscience company, iron Channel company focused on neuropathic pain. And I met my fourth mentor there who was a worldwide head of r and d. At Ciba GGI Novartis, their gift is the entire field of kinase inhibitors, you know, uh, two aminos that they had been working on forever.
And so, George, uh, he was a chemist, so the first non pharmacologist mentor, at, uh, so many drugs in George’s, uh, uh, time. So he shaped me thinking about solving complex problem. Of diseases that we could not just apply, you know, because some of the parts is not the whole. And having been fortunate enough to be trained holistically treating the phenotype, I knew not to fall in the DNA RNA protein trap because then people try to add up one plus, one plus one.
One plus one plus one does not equal trillion cells, you know, which is what constitutes a living organism, a living human being. And so, um, tried to work backwards and, and, and George’s gift was, you know, how to analyze what was presented as symptoms and then try to work backwards and get drugs done. So that led me to, uh, starting many companies and I can never come back now, uh, to working for anyone unless there’s a real unmet need, a real patient and a patient who’s going to feel the benefit of what we do.
So that’s sort of a seven minute long answer to your question. Hope that’s. Oh, I, I love
Naji Gehchan: it. Thanks for sharing this, and obviously the impact, as you said, of what we do in, in the biotech pharma where is just massive. I, I feel the same joy when, you know, we work hard on a molecule and then we see it getting to patients hands and then benefiting from it.
I think it, that’s why we wake up every morning.
Pravin Chaturvedi: Yeah, I agree. Absolutely.
Naji Gehchan: You, you built companies, you participated in building, uh, several biotech companies now over the years and managed to bring, uh, to patients seven drugs. Uh, what are your key learnings and advice for those building their biotechs
Pravin Chaturvedi: today?
Yeah. Um, you know, so I, I think my advice is always what I follow, which is I. Um, make sure that we are solving a real problem. Um, so it is not a, you cannot fall in love with the technology or the latest, uh, trend that we read in science or cell or nature. It has to be a real patient that does not have any available therapies or diagnosis.
It can be any. On the entire continuum. It can be anything between diagnostics, treatments, management, doesn’t really matter. So that should be the first, uh, rule that you have to do. That. Second one is, um, um, I do not believe that a single person can solve 6 billion people’s problem. So it should always be
Your thesis has to be pressure tested. With, uh, at least a few people not related to you , so that because they want to please you, it has to be independent people. So if you think that you have an unfair advantage because you have some technology or some breakthrough that is going to make a difference, then you should be able to convince another human being about both the problem and the unfair advantage that you might get.
So that’s the second thing I look for is the unfair advantage. And if you have convinced, uh, one or two other people that that’s the correct unmet need and the unfair advantage, then those two or three people together, not the first person, but all of them together, need to then build the third thing, which is board of advisors and mentors.
Because, um, uh, you cannot know, you cannot predict the future, but you can certainly prepare for it better. If you have wise people to advise here, and the advice has to be related, The fiduciary responsibility of the organization, which is what is correct for that organization rather than this, uh, mechanical thinking about how much money to raise or what partnering to do or which forum to go and present at, or the go to market strategy and all that stuff that people hear about.
That’s not mentorship, that’s just process. Process is not knowledge. So the advisors can do that. And if you get those three, uh, things settled in, then you really have to think about and it. It takes about 40 years realistically to see the true impact of your innovation. And there are three legs to it.
Innovation, translation, commercialization until it’s, so if you’ve just innovat. And not translate it or commercialize. That’s just something, that’s what I call bench to bookshelf research, you know, and I believe in bench to bedside, which means you have to fulfill all three and one cannot do all of it, and one cannot live for 40 years and try to see this many drugs.
So you have to always understand what are value inflection milestones. So what is really going to be a disproportionate increase in value? And so focus on those. So with your advisors and your board members, if you’re lucky enough, you know, some wise investors talk about value inflection milestones, and then really build the budget to those milestones, keeping in mind that you have to have longer budgets as well.
But remember, time is the most precious commodity. It does not come back. So try to hit the short winds. On target, on budget and make the milestones be meaningful in terms of value inflection. So, so that’s what I’ve been able to do with those six points that I just told you. Those are
Naji Gehchan: great advice. I would love to continue on this and more from a leadership standpoint.
You as a leader, uh, have you, what, what are your key learning, uh, from a leadership
Pravin Chaturvedi: stand? Yeah, . So, you know, it’s, it’s a very lonely position. Naji, because, um, um, you’re supposed to do the right things as a leader. Managers do things right. They can, you know, jiggle the process and get it right, but leaders have to set the right vision and, uh, the right, uh, goals.
And so you have to really think about, you know, what are you going to. Um, um, in 10 years, what are you gonna do in five years? What are you gonna do in three years? What are you gonna do in one year? What you gonna do next quarter? So you kind of work backwards from your label, right? So as a leader, you have to always keep that in mind that, um, um, you have to think about what is the right thing to do when you have set that up.
Then the second thing is how are you going to basically, Your colleagues, because you know, all of us, the sun will set on all of us, right? It’s our descendants who will bring it forward, right? So, and our descendants can be our peers, our superiors, our our junior people. It doesn’t really matter. You have to inspire them.
So you have to win their hearts and minds. How do you win people’s hearts and minds is by basically telling them the truth. So you have to be honest, authentic, and truthful. So you should be able to say, you know, um, we are going to do. None of us have a blueprint. There is no roadmap. Uh, and it’s going to be, uh, sort of an expedition.
But, you know, come on the journey with me, right? Because think about the founding fathers of United States. Ji 12 people signed their names and there were death warrants issued on them in 1775, right in the Declaration of Independence here in Boston. And now we have a 19 trillion country from those 12 signatures, and the return on capital invested that time is infinite.
Nobody can calculate, right? Because if you do the right things, the right things will happen. So it has to be timelessness. So the third thing you have to be is remain relevant. So timelessness of your decisions are very important. You cannot make decisions to solve yesterday’s problem. You should make decisions that allow the future, your descendants to be able to solve the problems that therefore they have to encounter that you can’t think about right now.
So you have to give them that wisdom to recognize it. So as a leader, if you can do those three things, then the most important thing against people, cuz you’re inspiring people who are going to basically carry your baton and then, um, and, and if to, in order to do that, communication becomes very important.
You have to speak and, and, and not exchange long emails. Don’t send emails because the written word is harsher than the spoken word, you know, because when I speak, you can see my face, you can see my voice, you can see my hands. And you can see that I really believe in what it is. So when you inspire people and you communicate that, then they understand and they’re not afraid to tell you.
Cuz you can’t terrify them, right? You cannot tell them, don’t tell me any problems, just tell me good news. Right? No, I, I, I always tell them, you know, escalate bad news faster. That’s not a good bottle of wine, bad news. It doesn’t get better with time, it gets worse . So when things are not working, come and tell me, you know, and we’ll solve it together.
Don’t hide it. So those things become, you know, transparency becomes very important. And, and people, authentic people will get people to talk to them and, and they will have great convers. Yeah. Building
Naji Gehchan: the safe space, obviously for, for people to speak up. And when you talked about people, you obviously built teams, scaled companies, joined boards.
Uh, what are the key capabilities or traits that you look when you are hiring or growing a team in a biotech
Pravin Chaturvedi: company? Yeah. Um, it’s a good question. And so really ask them, you know, you know, what is the, uh, what is it that they know, right? Because I think people tell you their skills. Um, but for instance, if you woke me up at three in the morning and say, what is it that I know?
I’ll tell you, I know drug development. I’ll go back to sleep. So the more you know, the more succinct you are. You’re kind of very confident about what you know, and you don’t pretend to be anything else, right? So I want people to have that authenticity about them, that I’m, I’m good at this, you know, I can do this, you know, and, and not say I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done that.
Activities don’t make up residual intellect, which is what I look for. That’s the first one. Second thing I look for is why are these people really building an enterprise? Are they doing it because of their ego? Is an ex is an expression of their narcissism? You know? Or are they really caring about something?
Is there a significance to why they’re doing it? Because naji all, uh, entrepreneurs and medical scientists are narcissistic. They firmly believe they’re smart kids. They’ve always been top of their class wherever they were, they competitive. And arrogant. And, and, and so that is, and that is a price to pay.
I’m going to inherit those kind of people. So then I want to know the significance, what inspires this person. And if that person cares about someone other than themselves, , uh, then that’s an important character in them. And I will actually partner with them despite their, um, ego in arrogance. So that’s the second thing I look for.
And third thing is motivation. Yeah. You know, uh, 98% of success is from execution. Execution with discipline. And it is very hard to see progress when your nose is so close to the grindstone and, and board members can see that. And this person has to wake up every morning and go do the same thing over and over.
Inspire the people work the people run, and try to raise money, pay bills, , make sure that the rent is paid on time, electricity is not lost, and that that requires a daily grind and that person has to be motivated and a self starter. So I look for those three characters characteristic.
Naji Gehchan: Thanks for sharing, uh, from your broad experience.
And I know this question, uh, you kind of mentioned it in the beginning that you look for problems and how to solve them specific for patients, but I’m gonna try it. Mm. You have such a broad experience in different top science, uh, uh, companies today. Uh, what is for you the next best problem that we’re solving or the next.
You know, think in science that will come up when you’re looking at the biotech field.
Pravin Chaturvedi: Yeah. Um, it’s an excellent question. Naji. It’s unanswerable, honestly, but I think, um, um, there are, there are black swan events that I have experienced, uh, in my life, right? So, um, obviously HIV epidemic, uh, in the nineties was a Black swan event.
Um, unforeseen, unexpected. I didn’t know the first thing about biology. Right. Uh, but I didn’t need to know virology. I knew there were plenty of biological scientists. They were somewhere in the shadows. But with HIV and with retroviruses, um, it was completely antithetical. You know, DNA to RNA is what everybody knows.
RNA to dna, nobody knows, you know, and HIV is a retrovirus, you know? So, uh, so to, to think about it that way, uh, was, um, antithetical for people. So it’s a Black swan event. Um, when we, um, Sort of solve that, uh, epidemic over time. Took us over 25, 30 years to do that. But we did ultimately people became part of the workforce and became almost healthy.
Um, HIV patients today are not as sick as what they were in the eighties and seventies, eighties and nineties. Then, um, September 11th. Uh, and that was a Black Swan event because it changed the world. Um, uh, basically the geopolitical crisis that was created by September 11th, uh, created this whole infrastructure change and, and we got exposed to, um, everything from military.
Uh, department of Defense initiatives to what was, what was troubling the Middle East or what was troubling Africa, because now all of a sudden this coalition had gone to Afghanistan and, and done that. Uh, and, and, and it was all well and good from a military standpoint, but it changed the world forever.
So that was a Black Swan event. Um, the subprime mortgage crisis was the third Black swan event. Because basically wiped out 60% of the world’s economy, from that crisis, and everybody kind of went into, um, abject poverty. And illness and malnutrition. So then you, you did that. Natural disasters happen every year anyway, earthquakes and floods and everything, so you’re dealing with that as well.
And then the fourth one that I have witnessed in my life is covid And, uh, covid came unforeseen and, uh, without firing a single bullet changed the world forever. And so, um, uh, the pandemics, uh, naji are happening faster now than they used to in the previous century. And that’s because of globalization.
Bad luck, , that you get in contact and you travel more and more crowded because the population of the earth has grown, you know, to 6 billion. So I think we are living longer, but we are living more crowded, less resources. Climate change. All of these are having an effect on us, any, any living cell. So adaptive response.
So I’m not going to say that there is a technology today that’s gonna solve every problem tomorrow. So when I, you know, CRISPR came out in 93, gene editing became the, uh, flavor of the month. I’m completely unprecedented by that because that does not mean anything. Because by the time you edit the gene and put that back in to translate to a protein, the species has evolved or become extinct,
So you’ve gotta solve real problems in real. And not sell hope. And so one has to remember, hope is not a strategy, you know, to solve problems, you know? Yes. And people who sell hope are basically just interested in being narcissistic and talk on media circuits. We have to solve real problems. If there’s a chole outbreak in Haiti, we gotta really contain that.
Or if there’s a viral crisis, Ebola crisis in West Africa, we gotta solve that. So I don’t, um, somehow problems emerge. I don’t go looking for them. But when they emerge and they come in my, uh, eye line and I feel like we should do something about it, then I will collect a group of people who know more about it and then, and try to listen to them and say, what can we do about it?
And then try to influence everything. So policy influence is very important. Science alone cannot solve the problem policy and the market conditions have to be solved. So then you have to bring all those people into the equation. So that’s how I.
Naji Gehchan: Yeah, I’m, I’m with you. We, you know, so many times we hear that we wanna do things, but actually do not act and just fix the problem.
So this getting things done, I’m feeling is one of the toughest things, unfortunately, in, in today’s where a lot of people wanna do things, but actually those who really take a problem and fix it, or a few. I, I will go into giving you a word now and I would love your reaction to it. Uh, The first word is leadership.
Pravin Chaturvedi: decisions.
What about impact value,
Naji Gehchan: I manage the bet for you to speak more than three minutes. , can you tell us more? Can you tell us more about your philosophy on PowerPoint? I think
Pravin Chaturvedi: many will benefit from it. Well, I think, uh, I think PowerPoints are visual aids, right? So, uh, people use them as a way to, uh, create a, um, um, a monolog. Because, uh, you know, it’s like watching television or watching these, um, um, um, what do they call binge watching all these shows on Netflix.
You know, you get transfixed to the, uh, stimulus to your eye and your brain, and you basically are no longer thinking you suspend everything else. So what PowerPoints are meant to be is, you know, I have a 10, 20, 30 rule for PowerPoint. So if you work with me Naji, it’s 10 slides, 20 minutes, and 30 point font.
So not six point fonts with 9,900 words in a slide. You know, cannot have more than 10 slides. If you cannot speak to me in 20 minutes. What you want to talk about should be usually two minutes. But if you can do it in 20 minutes with 10 slides, with 30 point font, I will listen. But as soon as somebody comes in and there are so many words on the PowerPoints line, I stop reading and I basically either leave the room and get a cup of coffee.
Or I just go outside, you know? So that’s my philosophy on PowerPoint .
Naji Gehchan: What about spread love in organizations?
Pravin Chaturvedi: Well, I, I am fascinated by what you, uh, the preamble that you gave, uh, I think it’s a very interesting, um, um, way to present. Um, in our industry, which is a technical industry. Correct. So, so the way you have decided to spread love and you are making your point that we learn from each other, that human beings learn from each other and we grow and grow together.
Um, which is, you know, is my philosophy about mentorship. Right? That’s why I’m so grateful to my mentors. I’ve been lucky to. Many, obviously my parents and my friends and new friends, uh, such as you, Naji, you know, they’re all become my mentors because we learn from everyone, including our children. And so I, I feel like the way you, your thesis of, uh, spread love.
I, I loved it. Thank you for including me. Oh, thank you. It’s such,
Naji Gehchan: it’s such an honor Pravin hearing you say this and, and I know you’re passionate about it. I remember the first time we met you made sure that everyone connects humanly with others. Yes. And, and this is, I think you’re genuinely caring about people just talking to one another
Pravin Chaturvedi: for us to grow.
I think otherwise we would, you know, we can cannot, we live in isolations and we, we, we, we do not solve anything. Cause you know, it becomes an echo chamber if you only hear yourself all the time and there is no dialogue in it. You know, cuz the purpose of a talk and education for that matter, maji, is to provoke a response.
And so when I give a talk, I expect two responses. I expect you to either hate what I. Or love what I say, the people that I get upset by are the ones who are apathetic to it, who basically don’t listen, have no reaction to it. That bothers me a lot because that means that I did not influence them. I would, I would provoke an anger in you.
I would’ve influenced you because my purpose may well have been to annoy, you know, in my talk. You know? So I think that’s the purpose of human interaction. We get better when we actually provoke a reaction, you know?
Naji Gehchan: Any final words of wisdom, uh, Pravin to healthcare leaders around the world?
Pravin Chaturvedi: Um, they should always remember that they have to be mission oriented and the mission has to be about patient impact.
Unfortunately, our world has become, we have replaced the word impact with seven letter word called impress, and they try to impress you with wealth and their balance sheets and, and when you are a healthcare leader. Take that position with great responsibility because the patients rely on you to basically help them get better.
And a healthy society is a productive society. And just if 10 people have wealth, but 90 people are sick, that’s not a society that is going to be productive. So healthcare leadership take. Responsibility very, very seriously. Otherwise, they should not be healthcare leaders. They should be investment bankers, or they can be involved street, but they should not be running healthcare, biotech, leadership organizations, that is not their role.
And biotech companies should always be led by scientists, medical physician scientists, biological scientists, because it is a scientific game. And that has to, that’s the unfair advantage you have to bring the unfair advantages of people. Intellectual property is not a patent, it’s the people, you know. So that’s my advice to them.
Naji Gehchan: so much. It’s such a crucial advice for us as healthcare leaders to make sure that it’s patient, as you said first, and being oriented to this, uh, to this mission, uh, and impact we bring to the world. It’s such a noble and responsible, um, purpose that we have.
Pravin Chaturvedi: Thank you, Naji.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you so much for being with me today.
Pravin Chaturvedi: a pleasure. Likewise. Thank you for inviting me.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
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