Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Dr. Barbara Weber changed the course of medical history for women. Throughout her 25-plus-year career, from her academic days working in the lab to leading oncology franchises at pharma giants like Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline, and now to her role as CEO of Tango Therapeutics, Weber has focused on working with breast cancer patients and understanding the underlying genetics behind the disease.
Weber was on the ground floor of isolating both the BRAC1 and BRACA2 genes — most commonly affected in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers — at her university lab. Working with other pioneers such as former NIH Director Francis Collins and world-acclaimed geneticist Mary-Claire King, Weber was also instrumental in building out the first breast cancer clinical program in the world.
“This was the time when rapid discoveries were happening,” Weber says. “I was focused on studying cancer cells and the genetic changes in them that might be druggable. Oncogenes were being discovered and PCR was being developed — all of the tools we needed to be able to understand the genetics of cancer.”
Weber says it was at this time that drugs targeting specific genetic changes in cancer were in development, resulting in treatments like Herceptin for breast cancer and Gleevec for leukemia.
By the mid-1990s, Weber realized she wanted to take those tools and apply them on a larger scale, so she jumped from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a professor, to GlaxoSmithKline, where she ultimately led early development for oncology.
“Even though I thought I knew about drug discovery because I had been an investigator for a couple of different industry sponsored studies, including one of the very early Herceptin studies, I got to GSK and realized I knew nothing about drug discovery and development,” she says. “I could barely speak the language. I’m very grateful to a large number of people who had the patience to help me learn this complicated process. Sometimes I think it’s amazing that any drug gets developed because it’s so complicated.”
Weber’s desire to know the full extent of an area of medicine has made her a world-renowned and respected expert in the field of genetic science. She also recognizes that she likes “being the boss.”
As the president and CEO of Tango Therapeutics, a company that is using the genetic concept of synthetic lethality to develop medicines that take direct aim at specific tumors, Weber is leading the charge to bring the PRMT5 inhibitor program TNG908 through development. Recently, the treatment received a fast track designation from the FDA.
In today’s Woman of the Week podcast, Weber details what it was like to be a pioneer in the genetic cancer field, how her patient-based experiences at GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis have shaped her career, and what the next level of oncology science entails.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive. In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice visits with Dr. Barbara Weber, president and CEO, Tango Therapeutics.
Taren: Dr. Weber, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Barbara: Thank you for having me.
Taren: Barbara, you have been involved in the oncology space for your whole career, including as a VP of oncology at GSK and your position as senior VP oncology translational medicine at Novartis, and your training as a medical doctor is also an oncology. Why this field of study?
Barbara: Yeah, I think it’s because from the beginning it was the combination of the patients in oncology particularly breast cancer patients, which became my specialty and the science of oncology, which at the time that I was in medical school and in training, as an intern and a resident was evolving, really rapidly around genetics that appeal to me. So I felt that they were patients that I could help and it was science that I was really interested in.
Taren: Excellent. What drew you to medicine to begin with? Was this a childhood dream?
Barbara: It’s an interesting question. When I was a kid, I used to love to read books about often kids who had medical challenges that they had overcome, sort of Helen Keller is maybe the best example. But there are other examples of kids who were born with cerebral palsy or things like that and then often a physical therapist or somebody like that would really make a difference in the life of those children and in those families. And I think I initially started out thinking that I would be a physical therapist. But as I got older, meaning, sort of high school and college, I realized that I would be much happier being the physician, sort of based on my personality than being a physical therapist. So that is sort of how I got started and thought of going to medical school.
Taren: What is that piece of your personality that you thought would be appropriate to be a doctor? I’m fascinated by that answer.
Barbara: I think my feeling was that I really wanted to know everything that could be known about an area, as opposed to being a piece of it. I also think I recognized that I like being the boss.
Taren: It’s all good curiosity as well as leadership at a very young age.
Barbara: I didn’t know what leadership was back then, but yeah.
Taren: Well, right, it’s part of your DNA, obviously.
Barbara: Yeah, I think so.
Taren: So you had a really successful career in big pharma. Tell me a little bit about some of those experiences and what it was like to lead some of those areas within oncology at GSK and Novartis, if you don’t mind.
Barbara: Yeah, I think actually, if you don’t mind, it would be perhaps interesting to go back and start thinking more first, about my academic career. Because I spent half of my career in academic medicine, and that’s what really led me to go into the pharmaceutical industry. Initially, I was really focused, as I said, on genetics and cancer and it was at the time when rapid discoveries were happening. Oncogenes were discovered and PCR was being developed. All the tools that we needed to be able to understand what are the genetics of cancer. And then the drugs that initially, were targeting specific genetic changes in cancer were being developed. Now very well-known drugs, like Herceptin for breast cancer and Gleevec, which has mostly cured chronic myelogenous leukemia.
So it was really, the first half of my career, which was taking care of breast cancer patients. Particularly breast cancer patients who had strong family histories of breast cancer and evidence of a genetic link to breast cancer susceptibility tied with my work and my laboratory, which was focused on studying cancer cells and the genetic changes in them that might be druggable. And I think that work of putting together the patients who had genetic alterations that predispose them to develop breast cancer. And understanding that by the mid90s the pharmaceutical company had the tools that were needed to make drugs directly targeted against those genetic abnormalities in cancer was what led me to basically, change direction of my career and move from the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a full professor to GlaxoSmithKline, where I ultimately was heading early development for oncology.
Taren: That is fascinating. Thank you so much for bringing up your academic career there. So, that’s a big leap as you said, to move from academia to big pharma as it were. So why make that decision? You could have then stayed and had a very successful career at UPenn.
Barbara: Yeah, absolutely. I think that I had been, as I said, in academics for almost 15 years. I was internationally known for the work I had done and my group had done in breast cancer genetics. So I had been closely involved in the isolation of both BRCA1 and BRCA2, the breast cancer genes. And I had built really the first clinical program in the world, probably to see women who had a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer and help them go through the process of genetic testing once the BRCA1 and 2 genes had been cloned and were available for that.
But it was really at some point after that, around early 2000s that I began to feel like I had hit a wall in terms of what I could actually accomplish. We and others had done a lot of work describing the function of those genes. We had started doing a lot of additional work on other genes in the labs, but I could see that it was really within the pharmaceutical industry that the drugs were being developed that could be given to the patients to directly make an impact on those individual patients, and that’s what actually led me to start thinking about moving to the pharmaceutical industry.
When I was at Penn, I had a large grant from GSK to study cancer genes and think about how to identify additional new drug targets. And it was through that, I got to know people at GSK and ultimately, was offered the opportunity to move there.
Taren: And it wasn’t so hard because it’s just down the street too.
Barbara: That was a big advantage, I didn’t have to move.
Taren: Absolutely. That was definitely an advantage. So in those early days when you were identifying those genes and setting up those early studies with the women, did you have any idea what kind of an impact this was going to make on the field at the time?
Barbara: The short answer is, I developed it during that time and I had a very profound experience actually, while I was still at the University of Michigan. There’s actually a whole book now that’s been written about this by Mike Waldholz, who at the time was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. But when we started working on finding the BRCA1 gene, Mary-Claire King had published a paper in science showing that there was a gene on human chromosome 17, that was clearly a gene that was a breast cancer susceptibility gene that was BRCA1, but the gene itself hadn’t been isolated. And to do that, to find those kinds of genes, what you have to do is find large families where you can identify people who are and aren’t affected by whether or not they have the cancers of interest. And then you have to do the DNA typing on those patients, those people and those families and identify smaller and smaller region on the chromosome where the gene might be.
So as part of that, I was working with Francis Collins who is now the NIH director or maybe he just stepped down, I can’t remember. I think he did. Anyway, at the time, he was a Hughes investigator, Howard Hughes investigator at the University of Michigan. He’d already identified the gene for cystic fibrosis and for neurofibromatosis and he was working on with Mary-Claire King on looking for the BRCA1 gene. So, I started working with him and identified among others, a very large breast, ovarian cancer family in Michigan that was called at the time, Family 15. And it was around getting to know that family and studying the DNA of the people in those families where I became to really understand the impact of what this meant for individual families and family members.
Taren: Fascinating. And tell me the name of the book.
Barbara: I cannot remember the name of the book. I’m going to have to look that up for you. But anyways, it’s by Michael Waldholz, and it was written probably 15 years ago on looking for the breast cancer genes.
Taren: Got it. That’s very exciting. And I can’t even imagine at the time you were really being a pioneer in this space. It had to be energizing working with Francis Collins, all those wonderful prestigious scientists and just to now as you look back go ‘wow, we really changed the course of medical history.’
Barbara: Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. There was very fundamental things that happened as a result of that. And in fact, it goes all the way to Tango because those genes, BRCA1 and 2 are not oncogenes. So oncogenes are those genes when they’re activated cause cancer. They’re sort of like the gas pedal of cancer. And those oncogenes are the things that you can develop drugs directly against to inhibit. So Herceptin inhibits the oncogene HER2, and in melanoma there’s a gene called BRAF and there are a number of BRAF inhibitors that are making a big difference in patients with melanoma and so on.
But those genes, BRCA1 and 2 are what called tumor suppressor genes are and instead of being activated in cancers, they’re lost. And so, when those genes are lost, you cannot make a drug against them; you have to find a separate way to target those kinds of cancers. And it was also that, that got me started thinking about, how would you do that? If you don’t have a gene that you can turn off and you can’t turn missing genes back on, how do you do that? And that’s what Tango does.
Taren: Interesting and we’re going to get into Tango in just a minute, if you don’t mind. We went from your academic career and now, we’re at your time at GSK and then Novartis. So, given the fact that you have this opportunity now to work within a larger organization that can impact so many more patients. Tell me about what some of those experiences were like.
Barbara: I think the first experience was and I realized, even though I thought I knew about drug discovery because I had been an investigator for a couple of different industry sponsored studies, including one of the very early Herceptin studies. I got to GSK and realized, I knew nothing about drug discovery and development. I barely could speak the language. So the first thing was, it was an enormous learning process. And I’m very grateful to a large number of people there who had the patience to sort of help me learn. It’s a common thing that happens when people from an academics move to a pharmaceutical company. But you just have to really sit down and learn it because it’s complicated. And sometimes I think it’s amazing that any drug gets developed because it’s so complicated.
Taren: It’s fascinating. Yes, the drug discovery process and drug development process are so much different within big pharmaceutical companies than it is an academia. So it is sort of a transition and was that humbling for you or did you adapt pretty quickly?
Barbara: Hopefully, both. It was very humbling for me, but it was also exciting. I mean, one of the things I’ve liked about my entire career has been that I’ve always been learning things. And I think it’s when I feel like I’ve sort of stopped learning things that I’ve thought ‘okay well, maybe it’s time to do the next thing. What could I go to?’
But you also asked, for some other examples; I’d say the other example besides just the enormity of the challenge of drug discovery and development that I discovered when I moved to industry, was also how to work with teams and how to lead teams. Because I think in academics, I had a fairly big lab and I led a big clinical program, but it’s still somewhat isolated. And I think when you move into a big company, you really have to learn how to work with all kinds of people, how to be in one setting a team player or in another setting a leader. And really recognize that you need to learn how to work with all kinds of people who may be similar to you and may not. And that is I think initially, a challenge for me and for other people coming from academia sometimes.
Taren: Certainly, I think that there is a piece of that where you go from the comfort of your own lab into a really large organization that you have to knit together those different pieces.
Barbara: Sure. I mean, I picked every single person who worked in my lab and my clinical program. Trust me. I did not pick every single person who worked at GSK or Novartis, but they’re all good, smart people. I think that’s something that is important to learn.
Taren: Absolutely. After your really successful career in big pharma, you moved on to become a venture partner at Third Rock Ventures. This is a fascinating move for me to understand as well. So what was that experience like? And then, well talk about what that meant for you while your time there too.
Barbara: Well you’ll see there’s a theme here, right. So when I was in medical school, I decided I want to have an academic career having no real understanding of what that meant. And as I got quite advanced in my academic career, I decided I wanted to make drugs in a pharmaceutical company and did that – again, having no idea what that really meant. I loved it actually. I think my time at Novartis was particularly fantastic working with really amazing people and many important drugs there. But again, by about 2015, I had sort of gotten to the point where I was feeling like, not that there wasn’t anything else to be accomplished, there was plenty to be accomplish, but maybe I was ready to do something different. And I had met the people at Third Rock from a deal that I did with Foundation Medicine, the company now that does cancer diagnostics, genetic diagnostic testing while I was at Novartis. And at some point, just literally called them up and said, “you know, I’m thinking about making a change. What do you think about me coming to Third Rock and learning how to start companies?” And they said, “sure.” And that’s how it happened.
So again, I moved to Third Rock, thinking about learning to make companies in general, but having the idea of what became Tango in my head as well. And again, moved into Venture Capital, not really knowing anything about Venture Capital or how to build companies.
Taren: What was it that you thought would be so exciting about these launches and startup companies?
Barbara: I think for me, it was really being able to bring together everything about what I had done before that I really loved. Working with a group of people at Third Rock, who really were extremely good at it. The Third Rock companies that they had built so far, I thought were companies that were addressing really important medical problems that were run by smart people who were good leaders and were making a big difference. And so to me, that was the beginnings of why doing at…I could also take the basis of everything that I liked about academics – the science and then my pragmatism of how to use it along with what I’ve learned about how to make drugs after 12 or 13 years in the pharmaceutical industry. And bring that all together in a company that was really focused on something I was very passionate about was, how do you make drugs that are made for tumors that have tumor specific, tumor suppressor gene lost going all the way back to my long involvement with BRCA1 and 2.
Taren: So let’s get into Tango. So why Tango? Why the name? And why this particular area and talked to me about how you set up the company and the pipeline?
Barbara: Yeah. So Tango is a company that was built to take advantage of the genetic concept of what’s called synthetic lethality. And what that is, it was discovered actually almost 100 years ago now in fruit flies, where fruit fly scientists discovered looking under microscopes, even before DNA was discovered that there were certain strange-looking fruit flies later understood to have mutations of different kinds that they could see into the microscope. So, some fruit flies would have strange-looking eyes. Like this particular, one was called glass-eye, and another one would be called, say bar-eye, which was really just a description of what those eyes look like under the microscope. But those fruit flies with those different mutations were completely healthy and could breed more fruit flies. Unless you bred them to each other in which case, all the offspring would die. And that is what synthetic lethality is. It’s when you have an alteration or a mutation in one gene and you have a second mutation or you inhibit with a drug another gene and that particular combination kills the cell.
And that’s what Tango does. We look for tumor suppressor genes that are lost in cancer, like, BRCA1 and 2 or one that we’re working on now, which is called MTAP. And we use CRISPR screening, very big functional genomic screening to look for other genes that when you inhibit them will cause only those cells that have that tumor suppressor gene lost to die. And what that does is it may allow you to make a drug that has a profound effect on the cancer cell, but does very little to the patient’s normal cells because the normal cells don’t have that tumor suppressor gene loss.
So that’s what synthetic lethality is, and it means that you need two things. You need the tumor suppressor gene lost and you need the drug and drug target that is the synthetic lethal partner of that tumor suppressor gene lost. And that’s where the name comes from, it takes two to tango.
Taren: Fascinating. That is so interesting. So tell me a little bit more about what the pipeline of Tango looks like right now. I understand you recently received an IND clearance and a fast track designation from FDA for TNG908 and your lead, what is it, PRMT5 inhibitor program?
Taren: What are those milestones need for the organization?
Barbara: Well that’s a huge milestone for us because that’s our first IND and that’s our first clinical trial, which is now open for enrollment. It is exactly as I was describing, a synthetic lethal pair. So the deletion that occurs in cancers, which is a very common one, it occurs in 10 to 15 percent of all human cancers is the gene MTAP. And the synthetic lethal partner of that is PRMT5, the gene PRMT5. And when you inhibit PRMT5 with a drug, our drug is called TNG908, that’s what causes those cells with the MTAP deletion to die without harming normal cells.
Taren: Tell me about this part. Is this new science? Are we talking about a breakthrough here?
Barbara: I hope so. I think the very first example of a synthetic lethal drug targeting is what’s called PARP inhibitors. PARP inhibitors are now broadly used for patients whose tumors have BRCA1 and 2 mutations. That means that BRCA1 and PARP are synthetic lethal pair. And that interaction was discovered by a long-term friend and colleague of mine, Alan Ashworth, which we were both, back working on BRCA1 and he is one of the founders of Tango and still actively working on this. We believe, as do others, that we can expand that concept which he first showed with PARP inhibitors and BRCA1, that almost all cancers, if not all human cancers have at least one tumor suppressor gene that’s lost that we hope that we can discover a whole new wave of precision oncology targets by using this synthetic lethality approach.
Taren: So it’s the precision piece. So really being able to target very specific tumor types. Is it tumor agnostic or are there certain tumors that are more adaptable to this approach?
Barbara: Well that’s a very good question. For PARP inhibitors, it turns out that they are tumor agnostic. The key thing is whether the tumor has a BRCA1 or 2 mutation. Not whether it’s a breast cancer or an ovarian cancer or prostate cancer. Based on the preclinical data that we have, we believe that PRMT5 and MTAP may be tumor agnostic also. So we’re testing in our clinical trial any patient who has an MTAP deletion, regardless of what their tissue of origin of their cancer is. So we’ll find out.
Taren: Fantastic. How are you going about identifying patients for your clinical trials? This feels very specific.
Barbara: It is, absolutely. Patients tumors have to be tested before they can go on the trial with a DNA test to show that the tumor has actually lost both copies of the MTAP gene. Many, many patients, especially those being seen now in academic medical centers are having their tumors tested genetically to identify which targeted precision oncology therapies might be applicable to them. But being able to target MTAP is new, so we’re putting a lot of effort into helping people understand that as a physician or a patient, if you know that a tumor has an MTAP tab deletion, this is a potentially important therapy for you.
Taren: Understood. When you have to explain this technology story to investors, what has been the reception in the funding environment? Is their excitement around this? Because it’s still so new.
Barbara: Yeah. Exactly. Well, you’re right. It’s a sort of a double-edged sword. So people do find it very exciting. On the other hand, they’re sort of waiting for the clinical data to be convinced. We’ve been very, very fortunate. We have a group of investors that have been very supportive from the beginning, starting with Third Rock and through our lead investor for our series being with our public debut at Boxer Capital and the group that they have assembled. We’ve been very, very fortunate with our group of investors.
Taren: Well, you have such a legal world renowned leadership team yourself, as well as your colleague, that your reputations might be part of the sell here, I would think.
Barbara: It is an interesting point. That I don’t think I fully understood, although I should have which is that investors do in fact, look at both of those things almost equally – the leadership and the science. I think that both of those are very, very important.
Taren: Very good. Let’s talk a little bit about your leadership style and how you are defining the culture of Tango. Early on, we talked about the fact that you liked to be the boss. You’re extremely curious. You’re very pragmatic. So how do you go about leading the team? And in your lab, you got to appoint everybody. So how are you setting up Tango?
Barbara: Well Tango is now five years old. So it’s almost a 100 people. Interestingly, there are more than a few people there who have worked for me before. In fact, one of the people at Tango was a technician in my lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Several other people who were there who are people who work for me at GSK and a number of people from Novartis. So I think that my leadership style is, I think on one hand very open, transparent, non-hierarchical and sort of clear. On the other hand, I think I have very high standards for people and I think everybody recognizes that. But I think that the ability, hopefully, to make everybody feel that they’re valued and being heard is important.
Taren: Excellent. When you’re thinking about building your teams, 100 people in, now five years old, as you said, and you have to put together a variety of teams now to move the science forward in your clinical trials and you need to build these high performing teams. What are those characteristics you look like in your new hires, in the folks you bring in to lead the organization?
Barbara: Yeah, it’s a very good question. And I think it starts with two things and they are again, equally important. One is through your intellectual capability. The group of people at Tango are incredibly smart and they’re all, whatever their jobs are, they’re extremely good at them. So that’s the first thing. But you also have to be somebody who is kind and respectful for others and is committed to what we’re doing in a somewhat unselfish way. And I think that everybody at Tango recognizes that at Tango, there’s no one smart enough to be a jerk. You can’t be smart enough to behave badly. That’s not how things work at Tango.
Taren: I love that. That’s fantastic. So no jerks allowed at Tango.
Taren: So through your career, you have no doubt, mentored others and been mentored. Is that fair to say?
Taren: How does that relationship work for you now? Are you in a position where you are mentoring up-and-coming talent?
Barbara: I would say, mentoring, both for me when I feel I’m being mentored and when perhaps, I’m able to mentor people is somewhat more experiential than structured. I think the people that have had the biggest influence on me are people who I’ve worked with and been able to sort of watch what they do. Go to them for advice when I need it, but as much as just paying attention to how they do what they do and what works and what doesn’t work has been fantastic for me. And there’s a few people I would call out, John Glick, who used to be the cancer center at the University of Pennsylvania. I thought he was a fantastic leader who showed me that it’s possible to be deeply influential without actually controlling much of anything. He wasn’t a department chair. He didn’t control directly all the people that made the cancer center work, but he knew how to put together a team of people that would be very effective in any case. And he really believed in me as well, so I think that was the first person.
I would say also, David Epstein who was the president and founding president of Novartis oncology. The person who really, obviously, with the fantastic team, but almost, without him it wouldn’t have happened, I believe, put together Novartis oncology and made Gleevec happen when nobody thought that you could make a drug for CML. Because the patient population was too small and people didn’t believe in targeted therapy then. So I think David and his belief that good science had to be coupled with the right talent to make things work was similarly important.
And then finally, Alexis Borisy who was a partner at Third Rock when I went there, really the person I went to work with, who was fundamentally important in helping me build Tango. And is still the chairman of the board of Tango is another one who literally by watching him do what he does and asking for advice for Tango has been very influential for me.
Taren: Fantastic. And through those mentoring opportunities and those who have influenced you, is there any key piece of leadership advice that was provided to you that has resonated with you over these years?
Barbara: Oh my gosh. I think there’s been many. I’m not sure, could be a particular piece of advice. There is one thing that somebody said to me once that I say to other people all the time now, which is sort of the opposite probably of what you’re asking but I always remember it. Which is, well two things I’ll say. One is when I’d been offered job at GSK and I was needing to resign from the University of Pennsylvania to do that, I had worked out where everyone in my lab could go, so they wouldn’t be without a PhD advisor. And I could figure out who would then take care of my patients and who was going to take my grants and who was going to manage the big DNA database. I had all those kinds of things so that that work could all go on. But I felt my biggest concern was when I was going to be deeply disappointing John Glick, who I was just describing as someone I greatly admired. And somebody said to me, “Barb, do you think that if John Glick just got offered a job he really wanted that he would stay at Penn because of you?” And I thought, “well no, of course he wouldn’t.” And that has nothing to do with whether John Glick believes in me or not, it has to do with the fact that I have to do what’s right for me and do that.
And so that’s what I tell people now too – do what’s right for you. Make those moves when you want to make them and make them because you want to make them, not because somebody else thinks you should or shouldn’t. So, I think that was very important to me.
Somebody else said to me once also, just don’t forget you’re a physician. You have a unique perspective on what you do because you’re a physician and that has been profoundly influential for me also.
Taren: Excellent. I was going to ask you about that. And I do that first piece of advice because as you have demonstrated through our conversation, it’s a long career and while you may change jobs, but it’s also a small industry. And you’re going to end up bumping up against folks that you have worked with in the past and…
Barbara: It’s a huge advantage, absolutely.
Taren: Right. And make those moves when it’s advantageous for you. I think it’s an excellent piece of advice. I was going to ask you about being a physician in the position you’re in because it does give you a different kind of perspective.
Barbara: It absolutely does. I think that, I mean, literally, when we do preclinical studies, the FDA has very strict requirements of how you have to test drugs in animals often in mice, sometimes in dogs and in nonhuman primates. And before you can file an IND, and I was explaining to someone literally just yesterday. The way I look at those data is every one of those mice is like a patient to me. And if I can understand what the drug is doing to that mouse forgetting about the tumor, how it’s affecting the healthy mouse’s body. I literally think of them as patients, which I think is probably something that most non-physicians don’t do.
I also tell people, and this is really important. When you go to a company, I say, if you can’t decide what to do, take that decision all the way to a patient and decide what’s best for that patient. And I don’t care if you’re talking about target validation or high-throughput screening or biochemistry assay, just go all the way to the patient and think what the right thing is. Don’t make a decision for the program. Don’t make a decision because it’s the right thing for the company. Make that decision because in the end if you followed all the way there, it will be the right thing for the patient.
Taren: That’s a great piece of advice, Barbara. Thank you so much for sharing that. As we get near to the end of our time together today. I’d like to ask you if there is a moment in your career that was, a wow moment, that either change the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression upon you? I would imagine through all the successes you have, it’ll be hard to pinpoint one, but I’m going to ask you to try.
Barbara: Yeah, there have been several and I wish I could tell you all of them, but I’ll go way back and tell you what I still feel, like I can see myself sitting there today, even though it was a long time ago. I told you that back when I was at the University of Michigan we were collecting families for the BRCA1 gene cloning project and we identified Family 15 and we identified that family because of a woman who was a breast cancer patient in my clinic. And I was seeing her in clinic one day, she was getting adjuvant therapy for her breast cancer. She’s alive today and fine. And she said to me, “I don’t know if you know this, but our families in your research study, because so many people in my family have had breast cancer. She said, my mother died of breast cancer. My sister,” and she started listing out and I thought, “oh my gosh,” I literally was looking at this family tree yesterday and studying it with the genetic markers we had done. And the whole thing just like came into my head, I could see the family tree and where she was on it based on her description. And she said to me, “my sister has decided that she’s going to have both of her breasts removed because now there’s just so many of us that she can’t live with the risk and the fear anymore. She’s got young children and she’s having her breasts removed next week.” And I said to her, “I know that you’re not going to believe this. I said, I can barely believe it myself. But I do know that you’re in our study because I can see the family tree in my head. And I know based on genetic markers we’ve just finished running, even though the gene has been isolated. I know who in your family is a carrier of that gene and who isn’t and if your sister wants that information before she has her surgery, we will give it to her.” No one had ever done that before. And they decided that they would do it. So, I saw her sister a couple days later and told her sister that she was not a carrier of the gene.
And then Francis Collins and I, a week or two later organized a clinic at the University of Michigan on a Saturday, a whole bunch of people, radiologists, pathologists and everybody came in and we saw like 30 members of the family and we gave them all that information. And it was really profound to think that you could see this multi-generational family who’ve been living with this fear of breast and ovarian cancer for several generations and be able to actually now tell them what it was and who is at risk. And what they could do to reduce that risk, who wasn’t at risk and had just a normal risk of breast cancer was truly a profound moment. And as I said, literally leads me to what I do today at Tango.
Taren: That is Barbara quite the wow moment. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like on that Saturday morning. Giving that family welcome and unwelcome news at the same time.
Barbara: That’s the story that’s in Mike Waldholz book.
Taren: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that, that is truly illuminating on the power of science and information and innovators such as yourself who have moved medicine forward at such a pace that you are now truly making a difference not just for that one family, but hundreds and thousands of families. So thank you so much for all you have done and thank you for being a part of our WoW podcast program.
Barbara: Thank you so much for asking me.
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