Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive


Persistently Doing Things Differently


Anthony Caggiano, Vice President of Research and Development, Acorda Therapeutics
Halfway through undergrad, Anthony Caggiano, vice president of research and development at Acorda Therapeutics, was walking around the University of Virginia thinking that he needed to get a job. In a hallway, he noticed an announcement about a National Science Foundation summer research fellowship, which paid undergrads to do research in a lab. That experience indirectly led Caggiano to where he is today.

Caggiano liked the lab, and when it came time to graduate, he considered applying to graduate school in science, or maybe going to medical school. But then he found a program that offered both—a federally funded Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Chicago. The program paid for medical school, and also offered a stipend for students to live on. Caggiano was accepted, picked up a PhD in neuroscience, and spent the last year of medical school going through radiology rotations.

But he didn't understand why every medical institution had it's own team of radiologists. "I looked around and thought it was silly that all of these people were reading films," says Caggiano. With a radiologist friend, Caggiano started a business—Remote Diagnostic Imaging—that assembled a staff of highly trained radiologists from top institutions to essentially freelance radiological services. "We were coordinating image distribution and reading services for hospitals that were in remote locations, or in cities that could not staff sufficient radiologists," says Caggiano. Excited by the business, and presented with a clear problem to solve, Caggiano decided not to attend Cornell, where he'd been accepted into a radiology residency.

Unfortunately, the company fizzled. "We never really got over the initial hump, to get fully going, and I knew I needed to find a job that paid and had benefits." Acorda Therapeutics was doing work in neurological injury, which was a match with Caggiano's PhD studies. Caggiano thought he could use his medical and scientific training at Acorda, and was "interested in the idea of being in a company, having tried to start one myself." He's been climbing the corporate ladder at Acorda ever since, from bench scientist to VP.

Persistence is a critical attribute for anyone working in R&D. Caggiano says he likes to "try and do things that haven't been done, and that seem to be difficult or impossible," which requires "a high tolerance for listening to a lot of people saying, 'This isn't going to work. That isn't going to work,'" he says. "And you have to be able to tolerate failure over and over and over again because, most of the time, things fail." But persistence is a double-edged sword, because "you have the responsibility to identify, as soon as you can, when things shouldn't be pursued so you don't waste money on them." But on the other hand, "if nobody champions a project, then it'll never go anywhere," says Caggiano.

Acorda licensed two growth factor drug candidates from CeNeS plc in 2002, as potential MS therapies, but then external research started to build around the Glial Growth Factor 2's (GGF2) heart protective capabilities (GGF2 has potential in neurological disease as well). Acorda was exclusively dedicated to neurological disorders at the time, so Caggiano conducted research outside of the company, in a lab with the correct models for assessing the drug in heart failure. The results were "very encouraging," and Caggiano went back and "made the case here at Acorda, 15 times over and over, that this is a massive opportunity." Enrollment has now begun for a second Phase I studies of GGF2, giving Acorda a potential to partner, or commercialize a cardiovascular product for the first time.

Caggiano stays busy with two young and athletic daughters—he coaches his youngest daughter's lacrosse team—and he's also into woodworking. Caggiano built his family's dining room furniture, but he says that's slowed down some with his kids and other responsibilities. Caggiano says his work-related stress levels are relatively low, because the company is "very supportive of our programs, from the earliest to the latest," and "everyone is driving toward the same goals." What keeps Caggiano up at night is the chance a drug toxicity might harm a patient. "At any point, we could identify toxicities that are intolerable, and all the money and time we've put in would be wasted." But even when things don't work out, "it really helps to let you sleep, knowing everyone's behind it, and that we're all trying to get to the same place."

—Ben Comer


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