EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: Shahin Gharakhanian

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. Shahin Gharakhanian, a physician and Pharmaceutical Executive with expertise in Pharmaceutical Medicine, Leadership/Management, and operational experience both in the US & in Europe. Shahin is specialized in HIV Medicine and Infectious Diseases has practiced clinical medicine for over 20 years in AP-HP Hospitals in Paris France. Shahin joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1991, progressing to Vice-President of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, with roles in 3 main areas: Clinical Development, Medical Affairs, Strategic Leadership including membership in the corporate Operating Council. Overall, within industry, he has held positions ranging from General Manager of a Contract Research Organization to Program Executive leading product development, regulatory approval/launch in multiple therapeutic areas across the world. Shahin has also founded, built, organized full functional departments/units for biotechnology companies and hospitals as well as two LLCs as an entrepreneur. He is a member of several international societies. His passion is Patient-focused programs for drug & vaccine development, approval, and launch.

Shahin – It is such an honor you with me today!

Shahin Gharakhanian: Thank you for having me in the program.

Naji Gehchan: I would love first to hear your personal story from being a clinician and friends to the pharma industry, and now back with several hearts, including being a clinician in infectious diseases during the Pandemic, entrepreneur, consultant, and many different, several roles that you, uh, you play today.

What’s in between the lines of your inspiring career?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Naji, I can, I can, um, say that probably the guiding. Uh, the red line, as you know, there’s a, uh, uh, uh, expression in French, or the guiding light, if you like. That expression has been, I consider myself as somebody who is in the helping professions, you know, whether, uh, in, as a medical doctor, this was really my initial and more.

The, the core, uh, value. And, uh, some of my colleagues, which I totally respect, they choose the medical profession, for example, because it’s scientifically very appealing. They, they are eminent researchers and they go, uh, through, uh, many phases of their lives discovering it’s, I love seeing, I loved and still love seeing patients.

Uh, I. Love the contact, the human contact, the fact of making a difference in one person’s life, I think it’s a huge, uh, it’s a huge accomplishment. I know there are wonderful, wonderful people who learn, uh, who run philanthropic organizations and through their money and through their efforts, they help hundreds and thousands.

Uh, I silting that when you make a difference in. Person’s life and that person remembers you, believe it or not. I haven’t. I’ve stopped practicing for a decade and some of my patients still write, um, and ask and tell me, you know, how they are doing and how I am doing . So this has been the guiding line at one point, um, in.

Career. I met a gentleman called, uh, professor Mark Tini. Maybe the name doesn’t resign to you. He is, uh, uh, he wa he is, he’s, uh, alive and, and doing well. Uh, elder, a more senior gentleman, a member of the French Academy of Medicine. He is a specialist in tropical medicine. And, uh, you know, there are two schools in tropical medicine, the British and the French, because.

Historical past, uh, they, they have the, they still have the, that knowledge. And he was the person who really, uh, told me, you know, are you interested in epidemiology? Are you interested? Computers were coming. Are you interested in, um, applic, uh, the applications of the computer Science to medicine? And he, uh, had a phrase it telling me, you know, there are people who work with their steth.

and there are people, the by people, he meant physicians. They’re physicians who work with their stethoscope and they’re physicians who work with their, uh, pen and their computer and their, their knowledge. Uh, so he suddenly opened, um, uh, an area of thinking that, you know, uh, sure you can, you can, we are trained, uh, to be, uh, at the bedside or, or to do.

but that’s not the only way. And that actually took me, uh, to pharma. Uh, and, uh, because you, uh, asked me what was the journey, uh, the comp, the, you mentioned in my biography, I was formed essentially in France. French medicine is excellent and, uh, but I have. Long years of, uh, continuing education at Harvard.

Uh, where, where, where the teachers are just extraordinary from my viewpoint. Uh, but, um, from a pharmaceutical base, you know, science and medicine, uh, I am very much, uh, uh, my, I lay learned a trait at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and. Uh, uh, it’s also how serendipity and chance can influence your life. Um, I got a phone call and somebody was looking for, um, uh, an MD for Vertex.

Uh, and I, uh, at that time, point in time, the company was totally unknown. In fact, the person told me, uh, they, they, you don’t know them, you know the name will, will not speak to you. I. Tell me who they are, and he said, vertex. Uh, it’s a company in US called Vertex. And I said, is it the vertex of the book? So there’s a book about Vertex called In Search of the 2 billion Molecule, uh, by, um, by a journalist of, uh, New York Times, I believe, and was, uh, in fact the best seller.

And I was in France, probably one of the three persons in the country, , uh, who had read the book. And I told her, you know, don’t move. I’m, I’m coming over . Uh, and I wa I discovered, uh, Dr. Joshua Boger, uh, um, the co-founder, an incredibly talented group of, um, Professionals and, uh, took me, uh, and, and I learned a lot, uh, and launched two drugs there, um, uh, with, with that wonderful team.

So, um, I would say, um, some of the dec some was some of the journey and who I am was decision making. You know, you you, you apply to medical school, right? You, you make the decision of. Uh, applying for something and, uh, going through, but a lot of it, uh, whether it was, um, H I V, uh, meeting the, the people who discovered H I V and later on got the Nobel Prize of, uh, medicine or meeting Vertex were all chances.

Um, and it’s, uh, it makes you think that, you know, um, how much are, are you really in control of your destiny? You know, you might be, you might not be. Who knows? you.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah, there’s a, that’s a big debate, right? Like, is exactly, is it truly chance, is it a chance that you practically created through your intention, uh, and where you wanna go?

So I, I, I love your humility and stating its chance and serendipity and other things. And I also loved how you said helping professions. Uh, I, I really think, you know, it’s kind of an underlining that you’re talking about. This is what you wanted. So I’m. Did you always wanted to become a physician? Was it something since your childhood?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Yes, I think I was, uh, it came to me, uh, perhaps, um, uh, we had in our family, uh, a family physician, uh, who was a wonderful man, and, um, uh, you know, the, the. The type you see in movies, um, uh, you know, coming, uh, to your house. At that time, physicians used to make house calls. , you’re too young maybe to remember, but, you know, he, these people became friends of the family, in fact.

And, um, um, I was very much inspired by his, um, uh, by his, uh, conduct the way he was. And in fact, I, I went to see, Um, to get advice on my choice. Um, and I, I perhaps, uh, there were, unlike many families, I, we did not have any physician in the family. Uh, so there was nobody, my parents were not, uh, in the medical profession, so there was nobody close I could get inspiration from.

Uh, I don’t, uh, I don’t remember seeing a lot of movies or TV series. I think it was probably this, this one person. That, um, that sort of inspired me. You, you talked

Naji Gehchan: about, uh, h I V and you’ve been part of, um, this, this first public health crisis, uh, through h I v, um, and you were, I think, clinician, but then you also were in pharma during that time.

So I’m interested, I would love to hear your thoughts about really your learning from that time as a leader in both sides as a

Shahin Gharakhanian: clinician and in the firm. Absolutely. In, uh, in the, uh, you, as you remember, in the mid eighties, um, uh, the Center for Disease Control reported several cases of a strange disease, uh, in, uh, young men, uh, in San Francisco, in, uh, Paris, France.

A young physician, uh, Dr. Willie Rosenbaum, uh, was. Uh, talk about chance, right? Was called, uh, from the emergency room saying that there was a young, uh, steward from a major EL airline, uh, flying between New York and Paris, who was very ill. Um, and they, uh, performed the, uh, bronchoscopic lavage on him, and there was, they had discovered pneumocystic screening pneumonia, which is extraordinarily rare.

In normal times. You can see it only in people who go under, who undergo, uh, transplantation. Uh, uh, Dr. Rosenbaum was one of the few peoples in Paris reading the journal of the C D c called M M W R, mortality Morbidity Weekly Reports. And suddenly the light bulb came on. He rushed to the emergency room and he told him, this is the disease that the CDC has just described.

And from there started the, the incredible adventure. Where he took the, um, uh, lymph node from this patient, uh, to the pastor in Paris. And, uh, professor Mont, uh, Paris and their teams discovered, uh, hiv. I met Willie in, um, summer of 85. Uh, he looked at me, uh, and he told me I was looking for a fellowship and said, you know, if you’re looking for a ordinary.

Fellowship. Um, you don’t come here if you are looking for something extraordinary in the true sense of the work. You can start tomorrow morning. He looked at me in the, Ima imagine this is August of 1985, where very few people were talking about this disease. He looked at me in the eyes and said, this is the biggest public health crisis of modern times.

So with that, um, I started working, uh, with H I V and to answer your question, uh, Naji directly, 2, 2, 2 things. One will interest you because I understand it’s the thematic of your podcast. You talk about love. Um, it is, uh, the love of patients and the love you get from patients, uh, was an extraordinary lesson of humility to me as a young.

Who was not prepared, A young physician who was not prepared to see a lot of people in his age range die, which h i v was, um, at the beginning a hundred percent mortality rate. But it also a, um, lesson in leadership in people who, um, pushed away, um, the discriminations. The stigmatizing, uh, for who said, you know, you can be from Haiti, Haiti from you can be, uh, gay, uh, et cetera.

It doesn’t make a difference. We are supposed to treat people and, uh, pushed away all of those taboos to show leadership and take charge of people. And I think, uh, those were things which.

Sort of were totally inspirational. Uh, and I learned, uh, how, and then of course there were, uh, leaders among patient advocacy groups. There were leaders among doctors in hospitals, among the nursing, um, staff. Very important. I think the women play the major. And in society. And that was, um, a fantastic, uh, uh, lesson, uh, for me that later on inspired me.

Um, inspired

Naji Gehchan: me a lot. Those are really super powerful, uh, learning in in leadership. Thanks for her.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Shane shapes you? Yeah, a lot. Uh, well,

Naji Gehchan: the, it’s, and it’s not over, right? H i v We’re way better now.

Shahin Gharakhanian: No, we are way better. Thanks. Thank you to the pharmaceutical industry who produced over 30 or probably the, the count is higher.

32 maybe drugs. Uh, and the formidable collabo. Between academia, industry, uh, public health authorities. I would’ve liked to see this more. During the Covid area, people started, uh, setting up barriers again, and this was a big deal, um, in those times. And of course, later on in Africa, uh, philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation, different funds, everything came together to, to beat, uh, this, uh, this incredible, um, pandemic.

Naji Gehchan: So, so that, that was my follow up question. Um, actually, did you feel we learned from this h i V era going through Covid and, and I’m interested also, you, you bring a very important point, which is, uh, really the stigma, uh, diversity include like, it touches really very social, social issues. Unfortunately, we saw resurface again in.

even though it was not a particular gender, race or nationality, whatever exactly you want. Right. So I, I’m intrigued. Like did you, were you frustrated?

Shahin Gharakhanian: How was that? Yes. And, uh, the, the no part is that, um, we didn’t see that sort of international collaboration. Every country started saying idu. Even the Europeans were, were supposed to have, um, uh, sort of a more uniform approach.

Of course, you remember, uh, you, if you’re coming from this country, you’re coming from that country. You need to test and you need not to test. And everybody started. I, I won’t go into ugly incidents like. People fighting over masks, uh, in international airports and things like that, uh, to, uh, in, uh, when, when there was a mask shortage, everybody was fighting over that.

Uh, what did carry over was, uh, I believe, um, I can cite, uh, uh, I, I remembered, uh, data I saw from Dr. Tony fci. Who said that roughly 50% of people engaged in Covid care and research are from the HIV background. So they brought, uh, and we brought, uh, all of that, um, more scientific knowledge, uh, on resistance on, um, uh, mutations on.

variance, uh, et cetera, the public health also knowledge. So yes and no. Yes, yes. In the terms that if the world mobilized because, uh, the experts were from that background, no. Uh, we would’ve liked to see more, uh, more empathy, more, uh, more solidarity between the countries, rather than people saying, you know, I’m, I’m shutting a down and don’t come and see me, and, you know, If you’re coming from, uh, from this country or that country, then you’re not really welcome.

Uh, which, uh, which, uh, which is not exactly, was not at all helpful, you know, uh, in, in fighting the epidemic.

Naji Gehchan: So do you feel, I, I have to ask you this question, I feel with, with, we’re, we’re seeing that pandemic, most probably experts like yourself are saying they will come at a faster pace potentially in the future.

Uh, what, what are your thoughts about our readiness as a human beings as humanity towards this? And

Shahin Gharakhanian: if you had asked me the same question a year or 14 months ago, or 18 months ago, I try to look at this scientifically and not with emotion. I would’ve been probably, uh, I would’ve sort of politely brushed away.

But, um, uh, I have seen during this past 18 months numerous publications and I can provide that to your, uh, auditors and, uh, to people who listen to your programs in major journals such as science, et cetera. Uh, uh, very well. Thought through experiments, um, explaining how, uh, virus, uh, viral diseases, uh, will and infectious diseases in general will spread, uh, because, um, of the, of the ecological DYS Caribbean that we currently have.

Let me give your auditors a. Relatively simple scenario that, uh, I witnessed, um, through the rep, uh, through the reporting of a, um, of a journalist. Uh, there has been massive, uh, um, forest cleaning. Uh, and, uh, cutting down of trees in the Congo. Congo is republic. Uh, areas which have been cleaned out were the sanctuary of a certain type of, uh, monkey.

Uh, the monkeys, uh, were therefore had no dwelling anymore, started going into villages. Uh, and, uh, because they were, uh, one can, I think one can put oneself in their situation. Uh, their homes were destroyed. They go into villages. You shouldn’t expect them to be very friendly. And, uh, by biting, uh, especially children, they have transmitted viral diseases to these.

So it’s, it’s a scary se scenario, but it’s, uh, this is from last year was, uh, reported by, um, uh, news reporters, not scientists, news reporters. Um, so, uh, it is just one of the examples of how, uh, we are, um, Ma man is facilitating. Yeah. And again, there is a mounting amount of evidence, uh, in this direction.

Hence, you see that certain organizations or startups are being created to be able to respond by producing antivirals more quickly and things

Naji Gehchan: like that. Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately, as you’re saying it, it’s another, it shows us, again this system and system functioning and the system dynamics between, between things, right?

Like it’s, it’s an interconnected web, even though we exactly always wanted to think about it, like as we human being, and unfortunately some would think even some of us are better than others as human beings are like on the top of the, the. The other species, but unfortunately we are an interconnected web and it’s a great reminder.

Totally. It’s such a great

Shahin Gharakhanian: example. Totally. And travel, air travel, uh, interconnects us and we saw how efficiently during the Covid area air travel was a vehicle of transmission. In fact the c d C, uh, uh, in, in Atlanta, one of the, one of the data pieces that they look when there is an international outbreak, they look at connections, air connections between cities.

Cause you can almost predict , uh, what will happen, uh uh, and where it’ll happen. Yeah.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. That was a great, that was a great article, uh, on Covid actually with the first, how, how flights out spread everyth Exactly. Everything. Exactly. You, you talked Jane, about, um, startups and, and I, I know you’ve been heavily involved in, um, the different biotech ventures at different stages and development.

Uh, I’m intrigued now more, uh, from this, What, what would be your advices for biotech companies starting up? You’ve been involved in companies starting, building, growing, scaling, uh, and you’ve been helping and consulting also some of the smaller biotechs and larger ones. Uh, I’d love to ha to hear your thoughts if you have one or two advice for those.

Uh, you know, the first

Shahin Gharakhanian: thing I would say is, you know, if you’re mo motivational, your, your motivation is uniquely to make money. Uh, very sophisticated financial, uh, people have explained to me that, you know, going into biotech business is probably not the best route. You can very quickly make money in.

other areas of economic activity in a shorter period of time, rather than go into a business where 10 years later you might or you might not , you know, uh, you might or you might not, uh, uh, make a lot of money. So, uh, great leaders, which I have observed, like Joshua Booger or hen tier me, or people who have been, um, at the helm, uh, of large companies, even, uh, the founder of.

Uh, had a famous saying, saying, doing, doing well, uh, by doing good. Uh, the, they have been consistently motivated by something which is above and beyond then. Um, I would say, you know, in, when, when you are leading, um, a biotech company, there are three facets you have to take into consideration. One is being a leader.

Where you need to inspire, you need to mobilize. You make people work long hours. You have to be able to get them the inspiration they need. You have to be a good administrator and you have to be a great manager. These are three dis distinct. Qualities. And then the question is, what is the right mix? You can take, uh, you know, 30%, 30%, 30%, but some companies may need.

um, 70% of management and just a little of the others. Some need a little at, at various times. Also, the needs change. The sometimes at one point you do need to be a great administrator because you have maybe things going on in that field, which are very important. At the end of the day, uh, you do need, um, it’s, it’s such a tough area where you need, um, a, a, a lot of inspirational leader.

by somebody who can just pull you because it’s, um, it’s, it’s, look at all these brave CEOs trying to raise money right now, uh, in the middle of an economic crisis in, in Europe at war. I mean, I, um, I really have a lot of admiration. You, you see them, they tell you they’ve done like 40 pitches in one month or, uh, 38.

They go to bio, they meet, I dunno hun, 120 meetings in five days, , you know, it’s, um, you have to have a lot of, um, stamina, uh, to be able to, to get there. I would love now to

Naji Gehchan: give you a. Sure. And get your reaction to it. I know you love this game. , .

Shahin Gharakhanian: If I have a blank, everybody will, excuse me. .

Naji Gehchan: So the first word is leadership

Shahin Gharakhanian: on anticipation.

Naji Gehchan: What about innovation?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Daring

Naji Gehchan: I. Okay. Can you say a little bit more about it? I love this, this

Shahin Gharakhanian: definition. You, you have, um, you have to have the guts to come out of your, um, uh, comfort zone and, uh, to be beaten, uh, on the head by stick because what you’re saying or what you’re trying to achieve, nobody else has done. Um, uh, I think, um, I think, uh, without getting into any cliche or but from public and personal, Personal, um, information.

I, I think, uh, the team at Moderna, uh, was, was able to innovate, um, because believe me, you know, um, every, the doors did not open at the first day . So, um, um, so you have to dare, uh, you have to dare.

Naji Gehchan: Uh, the third one is Boston Biotech Summit Collaboration. I, I’d love for you to pitch briefly to our audience cause it’s one of those great summits when you’re bridging Paris and Boston.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Um, Naji, I think we, a number of thanks to many, many people around the world. A number of medical problems have been resolved. Uh, with new drugs, new innovation, uh, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, uh, new devices, everything you want. Now we are at the, you know, uh, a core of remaining problems. Uh, if I may, I can, uh, compare hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B, which is currently the, the target, hepatitis sees an easier disease. In many ways, the target finding the drugs was difficult, but Hep B, because it, it integrates, uh, it is an integrated virus. It’s much more difficult. Curing HIV is very difficult. Some cancers, we have progress, but other cancers are very tough.

To cure. And finally, uh, if you take, uh, rare disease of children, some of them there is, there are breakthroughs, but others remain psychiatric disease, which is a big unknown un un uh, unmet medical need. Uh, finding better treatments for tuberculosis. Number one infection in the world. It’s, it’s, it’s a shame, uh, on humanity that, you know, we are in 2022.

TB is still out there. Getting these problems solved, will need know-how from everywhere. No company, uh, not even the, the, the big ones. They notice, by the way, the Pfizers and, and the GSKs and the Sanofis, they notice. Uh, but I think even if you have a smaller biotech, you need to understand that you, you cannot do it.

This is the, uh, this is the idea behind the, the summit is to build bridges. Ours is across the Atlantic. Uh, but, but you can imagine all sorts of bridges between people, uh, between labs, between, and if we try to bring people together in a small scale meeting, We respect the big meetings. They’re, they’re essential, but ours is a artisans meeting, we call it.

Um, and so they, they can talk to each other and from there can come, uh, synergies because we are firm believers. Now I know we are swimming, um, against Tide. When you hear. Countries shutting down and telling, you know, stay out. I’m going to do my own thing. You know, um, uh, it’s, it’s not always easy, uh, but, um, but we’ve been, we’ve been doing this for six years and I think, uh, uh, we have data now showing that there is, uh, uh, there are projects that sparked up.

So your, your answer is on our website. It’s the bridges you can see on our website, which is, uh, symbolizes collaboration really.

Naji Gehchan: Yeah. And even if it’s against, you know, tide and current, uh, this is crucial. Collaboration is crucial, and we saw like the success we can

Shahin Gharakhanian: get from. Absolutely, absolutely.

Naji Gehchan: The last word is spread love in organizations.

Shahin Gharakhanian: I, I like your, uh, applying the word love in a corporate setting is not, uh, an easy task, but, uh, there is an word in English, which I like very much, which is, Uh, which is another way of saying love. Um, and, um, uh, I also, um, want to remind your, um, auditors, um, and I can, um, I can look up, uh, the exact references, but there is a, uh, there was a former, uh, Boston Scholar who’s now retired, uh, who has a whole theory, uh, around the big, uh, social movements.

and the, that their foundation is in, is a, is a sudden burst of love. He has written several books. I can try to find the references for you, but, uh, I hope we are entering an era where, um, our leaders, uh, whether they’re political or corporate, will understand that, uh, their, their teams have evolved. The population has.

And the more, uh, the world is now full of people like Ji, where, which are highly educated, highly motivated, come from different backgrounds, uh, are very autonomous in their thinking, and, uh, leading people of this phenotype is very different from the past. So you need to have that empathy, uh, built into your, uh, leadership model, I believe.

But of course, I’m sure it’s a big debate in management schools . Sure. . Well, well, you

Naji Gehchan: know, uh, first I would love all your reference and we’ll make sure we’ll have them for our audience on your, uh, on your page. Um, and yeah, obviously this is something that have been studied. It’s not always called love, genuine care, servant leader, psychological safety, empathy, as you said, compassion like.

Hundreds of words. And really what we’re trying to bring here is incredible leaders, thinkers like you, who actually have done it and believe in it. Uh, because we, we would never do enough, uh, to, uh, again, emphasize exactly what you said. We, we need this type of leadership for us to be able to collaborate, move forward, and actually deliver for the different, uh, uh, stakeholders in, in our organizations.

Any final word of wisdom shaheen for healthcare leaders around the world?

Shahin Gharakhanian: Um,

probably a plea, uh, to, to pay more attention to this interface between health and our environment. Uh, a plea that in order to, um, be able to contribute to he. Uh, it is better to have peace than war. Uh, war is extremely costly in, in many ways, human, uh, but also, uh, finite. It’s a huge, I’m very worried that, uh, conflicts a across the world will drain countries energies.

Uh, uh, and, uh, uh, you have to, I mean, you cannot. Print money indefinitely, you need to take from somewhere to give to somewhere else. Uh, it’s just as basic as that. Uh, but, uh, but taking this interface between, uh, uh, our natural environment and, uh, our health seems to be rising really to the top, um, of the agenda.

I mean, uh, just looking at from, from HIV. to Covid, to Monkey Parks with Ebola, Zika in the middle, uh, coming and going. Uh, uh, you know, uh, I, I, I hope the covid, um, the covid crisis will make everybody think twice, because here you have a disease where everything stopped, , cities emptied, everything stopped, life stopped, and we, we probably cannot have one another one of these crisis.

It’ll be very tough to manage. So, uh, uh, that also calls for more empathy and love, probably . Yeah. And it’s such

Naji Gehchan: a powerful, uh, please Shaneen, thanks for sharing this, and thank you again for being with me today.

Shahin Gharakhanian: Thank you, Naji, for having me on this program. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform

Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.