Novartis AG Lures Superstar Scientist Away From UCSF

Published: Aug 17, 2017

Novartis AG Lures Superstar Scientist Away From UCSF August 17, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Shaun Coughlin, a long-time researcher at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) is making the jump to Big Pharma, joining the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Coughlin is the director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the UCSF School of Medicine, and the Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine. And although he may have forgotten about the cold Boston winters, he’s not completely unfamiliar with them, despite 33+ years in California. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and medical degree from Harvard Medical School, as well as an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He will be heading the cardio group for Novartis. Talmadge King, dean of the UCSF medical school, said in a farewell statement, Coughlin’s “research discoveries revealed a mechanism by which proteases regulate cellular behaviors including a key mechanism that controls blood platelet activation and clot formation. This work led to a new medical therapy for preventing heart attacks and strokes and has been honored by the American Heart Association’s Basic Science Award in 2003 and its Research Achievement Award in 2014.”

King went on to note that Coughlin had received many other awards, as well as the Bristol-Myers Squibb Cardiovascular Research Award and the Distinguished Career Award from the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

Coughlin’s UCSF laboratory focuses on the mechanisms and roles of protease signaling, and other signaling mechanisms in cardiovascular homeostasis and development. Which essentially means he and his lab have focused on the mechanisms involved in platelet formation, focusing on specific protease-activated G protein-coupled receptors (PARs). This has significant real-world possibilities in regulating blood clotting, inflammation, pain management, and tissue repair. PARs’ role in platelet activation led to the development of vorapaxar (Zontivity), marketed by Aralez Pharmaceuticals (ARLZ) to reduce cardiovascular events in people with a history of myocardial infarction (MI) or with peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

John Carroll, writing for Endpoints News, that Coughlin’s shift to pharma is a little bit of a trend these days. He writes, “Jay Bradner helped make this a trend when he left Dana-Farber and grabbed the top slot at NIBR two years ago. New Dana-Farber chief Laurie Glimcher followed up recently by jumping from the board at Bristol-Myers to GSK, which is amping up its cancer R&D work. Recently we also saw Jean-Charles Soria give up his job as a professor at South-Paris University (he was also a cancer specialist at Institut Gustave Roussy) to run the oncology innovative medicines group at AstraZeneca.”

It’s something of a counterpoint to stories about Google’s parent company, Alphabet, poaching top talent from life sciences and healthcare companies, or for that matter, any of the Silicon Valley tech companies suddenly showing an interest in life sciences. Examples include Thomas Insel, formerly the director of the National Institute of Mental Health joining Verily Life Sciences, and Jessica Mega, formerly at Harvard Medical School, joining Verily as its chief medical officer. She originally left Harvard and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital to head Google X’s Baseline Study. In 2012, Brian Otis, a tenured professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle joined to work on the so-called “smart” contact lens that Verily was developing with Novartis (NVS)’s Alcon Laboratories (ACL) .

In short, the money’s almost always better at biopharma companies than academia, and even better at tech companies. If academics can be provided with the freedom to pursue their interests the way they are in academia with the added financial incentives, the jump doesn’t seem all that hard to understand.

Back to news