Naina Bhasin, PhD
Vice President, Business Development, SciFluor Life Sciences, LLC
Naina Bhasin has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. But when she uses words like "motivation," "embarking on a new adventure," "passion,"
"challenge," and "quest," she's not outlining what it takes to get to the summit of a mountain that's 19,341 feet above sea
level—she's talking about leading a team that focuses on adding fluorine to pharmaceuticals to increase their efficacy and
safety, and to create radiotracers that enable PET imaging.
Bhasin took some time out of her African safaris, kettlebell instructing, and charity involvement to sit with Pharm Exec and explain the science behind what's going on at SciFluor Life Sciences, and what her role as vice president of business
Essentially, fluorine is an atom that SciFluor is adding to therapeutics during drug development in order to increase potency,
enhance drug delivery to target, improve drug half-life resulting in less frequent dosing, or reduce drug side effects and
interactions. Additionally, SciFluor is able to add the radioactive form of fluorine to compounds to enable tracking of the
drug via Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging. PET imaging can lead to "new insights into a drug candidate's potential
efficacy, safety, and optimal dosing strategies," according to a fact sheet on the SciFluor website. "These insights may result
in shorter development times, improved clinical trial designs, and ultimately deliver more effective drugs to patients."
At SciFluor, Bhasin is responsible for identifying biopharma partners that are interested in working with the company as it
utilizes its technology and expertise to harness the transformational power of fluorine to create new therapies.
Bhasin credits her entrepreneurial spirit and her ability to wear many hats at a moment's notice for her success not only
at SciFluor, where she's been since the beginning of 2012, but for the successful roles and many opportunities that have led
her to where she is today.
While enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's graduate program in cell and developmental biology, Bhasin
got involved with individuals who were starting a small company out of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. "I was writing
my dissertation during the day, and in the middle of the night I would go help them isolate liver cells," she remembers. "That
was my first exposure being part of a really small biotech startup. The great thing about being in a startup is that you get
to wear lots of different hats—when you have a limited group of people, there's opportunity to learn many things and make
significant impact." When the same small startup needed someone to develop relationships with physicians and surgeons, Bhasin
was asked to forge those relationships. So—much like climbing a mountain—she climbed her way up in the industry one step at
One small startup role led to another, and so on, until Bhasin found herself more on the business side of industry than the
bench side. "In pretty short order, I was negotiating contracts, working with clinicians to get through the IRB process, and
learning about informed consent and how to enroll patients in trials," she says. "And over time I realized, while I love being
at the bench and the science is what drives me, I had other skill sets that could allow me to impact science in a broader
Bhasin emphasizes that being passionate and inquisitive are two traits that have been invaluable to her in her climb, along
with the ability to appreciate and leverage the strengths of those around her. Being able to adapt as the industry changes,
she says, is also key. "In times of transition, too much of what happens is, 'We're doing it this way because it's the way
we've always done it.' and that mindset doesn't work." But Bhasin says that working at SciFluor, which was founded in 2011,
is "an opportunity to re-evaluate how we can be more effective in creating drugs, and that requires some new thinking."