Dr. Rogers received his Ph.D in Toxicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989. At UNC, Brian studied neurotoxicology under Dr. Hugh Tilson. After UNC, he was a study director at Chevron, where he established a neurotoxicology testing laboratory, and a toxicologist team lead at Genentech. In 1996, Dr. Rogers cofounded the drug development consulting firm Pacific BioDevelopment, with offices in Emeryville and in Davis, California.
Pacific BioDevelopment is a multi-disciplinary consulting firm that assists companies of all sizes through the drug development and FDA approval processes. The company designs and implements Research and Development activities and provides strategic regulatory guidance and services to a wide range of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies both in the US and abroad.
In addition to his role as Principle and Cofounder at Pacific BioDevelopment, Dr. Rogers is also the CEO of SenzaGen Inc., a subsidiary of Senzagen AB, an immunotoxicology company specializing in in vitro assays to rapidly and effectively test chemical safety. Dr. Rogers has been a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology since 1993 and earned an MBA from the University of California at Davis in 1999.
How did you land your first job after your Ph.D?
When I graduated in 1989, the internet wasn’t around yet, so there was no such thing as Linkedin, the SOT job bank, or job boards. Just before defending my dissertation, I looked through the Society of Toxicology directory for neurotoxicologists, and compiled a list of people to send letters and CVs to. I probably sent letters to close to 200 people this way. One of the individuals I heard back from was a Toxicologist in the pesticide division at Chevron, who was looking for someone to run neurotoxicology studies. I took a very quick break from finishing up my dissertation to fly out to California for an interview with them. After the interview, they thought I would be a great fit, so they offered me the position. It was a great feeling to have a job lined up before I graduated, but it put that much more pressure on successfully defending my dissertation! Thankfully everything went as planned and I started the position just a week after my defense.
What made you decide to start your own consulting firm?
I had always had it in my mind that I eventually wanted to have my own company, so it was really just a matter of when. During my time at Genentech, I learned a lot about the drug development process and the FDA regulatory requirements of each step of drug development. I started considering forming a consulting company to advise both small biotech and larger pharmaceutical companies on these matters. I had discussed the idea of forming a consulting company with a few of my more experienced colleagues who were nearing retirement age, but weren’t quite ready to truly retire. Then when my wife started graduate school at UC Davis, we moved to Davis to be closer to the University, which made the concept of starting my own company and centering it closer to Davis that much more appealing. Finally, in 1996, four of my colleagues and I cofounded Pacific BioDevelopment.
When you first started the company, how did you find your clients? How do you find them now?
When we first started, one of my primary clients was the company I had just left. There were still some projects I was involved with when I left, so they asked me to stay on as a consultant. However, the bulk of our early clients were through connections my cofounders and I had established during our time in the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to starting Pacific BioDevelopment, I had just over 5 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, but most of the other cofounders had 30+ years and had well established reputations in the field. So some of our clients actually came to us for our expertise. Today, much of our work comes from clients that we’ve established a strong rapport with over the years. Additionally, oftentimes small biotechnology companies will have funding and oversight from venture capital companies, who often reach out to us for services.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of running your own consulting firm?
One of the greatest benefits of running your own consulting company is the independence that comes along with it. You can work when you want and need to work. For instance, my son had a last-minute basketball scrimmage earlier today, which I was able to make since I more or less make my own hours. Another benefit is the amount you put in directly correlates to the compensation you receive. Lastly, there is a relatively minimal amount of bureaucracy that I have to deal with at Pacific BioDevelopment. I really enjoyed my time at the companies I worked for before starting Pacific BioDevelopment, but large companies often have quite a bit of bureaucracy, which can get rather frustrating over time.
However, there are some drawbacks to running your own consulting company. One of the biggest drawbacks when I first started was making sure I had a sufficient workload, so I really put a lot of effort into making sure I had work lined up for the foreseeable future. Also, unlike most federal or private sector positions, there is no retirement pension or employer contributions into a retirement account, so you have to be very diligent about your own retirement savings. Another big drawback of having your own consulting firm is that you have to deal with all of the overhead issues that are not typically addressed by scientists at larger companies. These tasks can include IT, healthcare issues, taxes, budgets and business development. However, these tasks can also introduce variability into your day, which has its perks.
Are there any skills you’d recommend for current graduate students to work on while in school?
If you’re interested in going into consulting, having a familiarity with basic business principles would be very helpful. No one is expecting a scientist to have the same understanding of the business side of a project as someone with an economics degree, but it would certainly be helpful to have some exposure to a business class or two, if possible.
Also, if you’re thinking of going into the drug development field, exposure to clinical pathology would be really valuable. I don’t recall having much exposure to that when I attended UNC, but I’ve heard clinical pathology is now part of the toxicology curriculum, which is good to hear.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?
I love sports, though it’s primarily as a spectator now, with the exception of golf. I have a daughter who plays soccer and a son who plays basketball, so I stay busy attending many of their games. Also, our family loves to spend time in Lima, Peru where we have an apartment and a veterinary diagnostic business that my wife manages.
About the author: Brett is a third-year Ph.D student in the Curriculum in Toxicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works in the laboratories of Dr. Michael Madden and Dr. Joachim Pleil where he is researching High Throughput Screening techniques. In his free time, he enjoys fly fishing, backpacking, and watching Carolina Basketball.