The VIC Fellows Program provides an opportunity for individuals with relevant expertise and interest to learn how to identify and evaluate promising innovation from global sources. We are pleased to highlight the members of the 2021-2022 class of Fellows in our ongoing series of interviews, such as this recent discussion with Secondra Holmes, PhD.
Please tell us about yourself and your background.
Professionally and personally, I take on many roles. I’m a chemist, pharmacologist, budding technology transfer specialist/consultant, community volunteer, dancer, foodie, and family woman. At Texas A&M University and Sam Houston State University, I received an undergraduate and graduate chemistry degree. During that education, I took all available opportunities to relate my work to medicine. I’m now completing my official studies in the Pharmacology department at Baylor College of Medicine. I have a long-standing interest in the development of drugs, their mechanisms of action, and methods we make improving adjustments to both.As you are just getting started in your professional career, what are your long-term goals, and/or where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
This fellowship is strengthening my previous experience in intellectual property management, regulatory affairs and the business of healthcare startups. As a student, it’s more than I could ask for. I believe there are positions available for me in these fields where I can serve and learn simultaneously. Though I currently study drug development at the bench, a secret businesswoman lives inside of me and wants a career in life-science entrepreneurship. Over the next 5 to 10 years, I want to get to know and develop her. I want to help budding therapeutic companies take their innovations from the bench to the bedside. I’m confident that in the future, I can lead one of those companies through the process.
Given your interests, what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Houston lifescience ecosystem? What about the local community is particularly helpful or challenging for those just getting started on their entrepreneurial journey?
Houston is the fourth-largest city by population. We have the largest medical center in the world. I’m a native Houstonian, and I’m proud of the potential that my city has to offer. Houston’s biotech scene is finally taking off, and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I may attend events as a busy student, but I want to use my talents to serve and build the community. Boston and San Francisco are usually the first cities many think of when pondering healthcare entrepreneurship. There are professional networks and financial support there that, until recently, Houston didn’t have. Houston has many resources that can help entrepreneurs; here is just as good as elsewhere in the country.
What drew you to the VIC Fellows Program, and what are you hoping to get out of this experience?
I love, to a great extent, VIC’s mission to commercialize technologies developed in academia. A lot of outstanding inventions end up in “the valley of death.” Many see it and may write opinion pieces about it, but VIC is doing something. Their model is perfect for getting novel care to the patients who need it, and it builds a bridge of support for medical devices and therapeutics with potential.
Since you are a VIC Fellow while—at the same time—completing your Ph.D., how do you think that affects your learning experience?
The lab that I work in primarily focuses on early-stage small molecule development. Working with VIC, greatly diversifies my training. It lets me experience what happens to a project after it has met the limits of the lab, without ever having to leave the lab. There is a delicate balance required to complete the workloads of both commitments, but I’m determined to reach my goals.
What do you see as the primary challenges facing those transitioning from traditional academic roles to private-sector opportunities?
What you prioritize in academic research is very different from what is prioritized in the private sector. Academic researchers get lost in science and love to ask and answer the questions that arise. Tangents push our understanding of projects and their mechanisms but focus on proof of efficacy and safety is the drive behind projects in the private sector. Scientists are curious by nature, and the biggest transitional challenge is understanding that you won’t always be able to immediately feed that curiosity.
Which life science trends are you most excited to see become real-world products?
Personalization. I know the development and regulatory hurdles slow how quickly the biotech community adapts to personalized care. Still, biology is complex and diverse enough that personalized medicine can save lives. I like the apps designed around algorithms that help people tailor their fitness, diet, sleep, and more to their DNA, health, and lifestyle.
What would you like to see changed in academia to better prepare biomedical students for non-academic career paths?
I don’t get academic credit for my VIC fellowship, but the experience is invaluable. Biomedical Ph.D. training is traditionally built upon developing students for academic careers and focuses heavily on publishing first-author papers in top-tier journals. While many schools are making changes, there is still room for improvement. BCM supports my career goals and the IDP of my peers with its Career Development Center, but like many schools, it hasn’t made changes to degree requirements. I’m prepping for two careers at once.