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Speakers help students visualize careers

When they can, Mercer Island High School teachers reach out to community members who are professionals in their field, to talk with their students. For science teachers, Larry Bencivengo and Jamie Cook, parent Mike Gallatin offered students a real world look at a future career in science.

“Students want to know what a career or job in science is like,” said biology teacher Jamie Cooke. “What are the skills needed to enter such a field? And, to ask the question; will there ever be a cure for cancer?”

For more than 30 years, Gallatin, a chemist and immunologist, has been involved in the research and development of new drugs. In particular, one drug that he has helped develop is poised for approval by the Federal Drug Administration. He has a lot to tell the students.

But it is a challenge to distill such a process into a half-hour talk. The topic begs for listeners to hold at least a Ph.D or M.D. to understand the basic mechanisms. But the message Gallatin wants to get across to students is clear. It takes skill and knowledge, but also teamwork and communications skills.

Gallatin spoke of the drug, CAL101, that he helped develop at Calistoga Pharmaceuticals now on its way toward approval. It is part of a new wave of cancer drugs referred to as targeted therapy. The drugs are “designed” to seek out and destroy just certain cells that a cancer tumor needs to survive — rather than also destroying good cells and healthy tissue at the same time.

The development of a new drug is a high stakes endeavor and requires many types of expertise, he said. There are biologists, chemists, medical doctors and legal experts.

It is not enough to simply design a new drug; it must be considered safe as well as effective. The processes to ensure both of those goals is expensive and lengthy. Someone has to find an investor willing to risk millions on a new compound, he added. Throughout it all, everyone needs to work together.

Gallatin, a co-founder of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, knows his business. He has been part of other companies in the ever evolving drug development world including as ICOS Corporation and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. He has also been a member of several advisory boards including the Benaroya Research Institute.

Gallatin received his Ph.D. from the University of Alberta’s Department of Immunology and was a research fellow at Stanford University.

To excel in such work, there are three prerequisites he told the students.

“First, one must possess a high level of curiosity; next, a good deal of patience, for the process moves slowly — and finally, the ability to be an articulate advocate for what you are doing within a team and with investors and regulators,” he said.

Pay attention in English class, he told students. You need good communication skills.

“You need those skills to work with your team and to find investors” he explained. “You need to be an articulate advocate for your work and your drug.”

Cooke said that having speakers like Gallatin are a great resource.

“Not only do students get to hear about the work that these people do - but also hear how they got there,” he said. “We would love to have more speakers with these kinds of backgrounds talk, to students."

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