Eytan Abraham

We are delighted to interview Dr. Eytan Abraham (Product Innovation Research Manager at Pluristem Therapeutics Inc.)

Dr. Eytan Abraham joined Pluristem Therapeutics (http://www.pluristem.com/) in 2010. Pluristem is a publically traded bio-therapeutics company dedicated to the development and commercialization of allogeneic placenta-based cell therapy products for the treatment of severe degenerative, ischemic and autoimmune disorders.The company is currently in Phase II clinical trials in the US and EU for treatment of critical limb ischemia (CLI), and is building a state of the art, 40,000 square feet, cGMP manufacturing facility in Haifa, Israel.

The Product Innovation team at Pluristem, led by Dr. Abraham, is in charge of researching and developing novel cell therapy products. The team uses novel cell culture techniques and scaffolds to alter the biology of Pluristem's proprietary off the shelf cell product, thus tailoring the cells to treat a variety of clinical indications.

Dr. Abraham has extensive experience in molecular and developmental biology, in vitro assays, and animal models as well as 2D/3D cell culture, bioreactors, bioprocessing and commercialization.

Dr. Abraham conducted his post-doctoral training at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and at Harvard Medical School, supervised by Prof. Elazer Edelman. He holds a PhD and MSc from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, supervised by Prof. Yonathan Zohar, and a BSc in Life Sciences from Tel Aviv University.

How did your professional career begin?

My post-doctoral training was focused on translational biology, specifically cell therapy. I was fascinated by the use of live cells as interactive therapeutic drugs and decided to pursue an industry position in this area. Since we decided that after 9 years in the US it was time to return to Israel, I examined several cell therapy companies in Israel and was taken by Pluristem's approach and technology. My next step was to approach and then to meet Zami Aberman (Chairman & CEO of Pluristem). Although Pluristem was not looking to fill a position at the time, we understood that this was a great fit for both sides. I was fortunate that Zami offered me the opportunity to establish a new research team at Pluristem.

Did you plan your professional career? How to pave the way to reach a senior position?

I started planning my professional career, to the extent that this is possible, towards the end of my PhD. At that point I became very interested in the vast potential of cell therapy and was leaning towards a career in industry. Although my PhD was in neuroendocrinology, I decided to find a post-doctoral position in a lab that works on translational cell biology. I was fortunate to be able to join the Harvard-MIT medical engineering center led by Dr. Edelman. There is an understanding in academia and also in industry that interdisciplinary research is important. Therefore switching areas of research between one's PhD and one's postdoc can be beneficial, especially if the PhD is in basic research and the postdoc is in translational science.

Completing a postdoc is a good way of distinguishing yourself and increasing your chances of attaining a desired position in industry, although a PhD is certainly sufficient in many cases. The primary consideration in choosing a postdoc should be that you are passionate about the subject and that the topic is relevant to current or emerging industry. Joining a small company that is growing is also a good way of attaining a senior position relatively quickly.

What was the most influential experience in your career?

Although I experienced many influential moments, I really can't distill them down to one or even two. The most influential truth that I have come to recognize is that I can use the tools of scientific analysis and understanding that I acquired throughout my career to tackle any objective in the realm of biology. This understanding opens up endless possibilities. That being said, recently critically ill patients were successfully treated with Pluristem's PLX cells under compassionate use protocols, being part of that was certainly profound.

Do you have suggestions for graduates of advanced degrees who wish to join the biotech industry, especially to those who do not have experience in the industry?

Be proactive and don't give up; these are clichés but are true, and it's easier than it sounds. Figure out what you're passionate about and take the steps needed to get a position in that area. If you want to switch fields this may require a postdoc (a prestigious institute won't hurt). During your PhD or postdoc try to collaborate with industry, build a network, go to conferences, and get people to know you. When you decide to make the move to industry be proactive, go knock on doors, use your network, highlight your industry relevant skills, when you interview be well prepared. Most importantly, enjoy the road…

How do you view the future in of the biotech industry for the coming years?

The biotech industry will continue to grow and prosper. The population is aging; millions in China and India are joining the middle class and will want access to pharmaceuticals. Biological drugs will be a big part of the future; these drugs offer to treat root causes rather than symptoms. The FDA understands this and will adapt to regulate biological drugs. Large pharma understands that acquiring small companies with good IP is in many cases cheaper than developing in house, so biotech startups have promising prospects.

The Israeli industry has an equally promising future. There is great R&D being done in Israel in academia and industry. There will be small biotech company buyouts by big pharma, hopefully the development of some large Israeli based biotech companies, and eventually big pharma R&D centers.

But one must remember that inherently the biotech bench to bedside process is expensive, long, difficult at times, and involves significant chances of failure, which makes it all the more interesting and challenging for us scientists…