Gary Takher is a recent addition to the Lilly Clinical Open Innovation team. He is part of Lilly’s Visiting Scientist Fellowship Program, which is designed to allow recent doctoral graduates the ability to learn and apply their experiences in focused areas within the organization.
Gary brings scientific and business knowledge with him to the team, as well as some valuable new perspectives. Over the past 4 years, Gary has constructed healthcare models that seek to improve patient health outcomes while lessening their overall healthcare cost burden. Gary has a BS in Biochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and recently earned his executive MBA from California State University, Sacramento and his Pharm.D from California Northstate University. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Gary’s passion is to optimize patients’ health outcomes by coupling genuine engagement with expedient decision-making.
You have a unique educational background with a BS in Biochemistry, an MBA, and a Pharm. D. What motivated you to pursue this education path?
Two of my grandparents passed away from cancer, and I found myself with the classic “what if” question: What if the treatments we have today had been available when my grandparents needed them the most?
I also volunteered in the American Cancer Society’s “Road to Recovery” program several years ago and my job was to drive patients to and from their chemotherapy appointments. I talked quite a bit with one elderly gentleman who was a baker. I was amazed to discover that his bakery had been serving my family for years, and likely made every one of my birthday cakes! But we had another connection as well. The pain medication that helped him the most during chemo was a medicine I had helped to produce at a pharmaceutical company just after my undergrad at UCLA.
I realized that I could make a difference. And I decided that helping to provide accessible care and accelerate the drug development process were two ways that I could contribute so that families have a better chance to survive.
Later, during my Pharm. D. work, I began advocating a concept called the Patient-centered Medical Home (PCMH) Model. Models like this promote strong collaboration between patients and patient advocates. I think it would be a powerful thing to link the collaborative insight of the PCMH model with the drug development process so that collaboration extends beyond the patient’s room.
How did this lead to a Lilly connection and the Lilly COI team?
I found out about Lilly’s Visiting Scientist Fellowship Program during my last year of Pharmacy school. It is a 12 month track that matches post-doc scientists with an area of the business that will both benefit from their “fresh eyes,” and give them practical work experience. The combination of my pharmaceutical, business, and technical experience turned out to be a really good fit.
So coming into this team, I initially thought, “Wow! We’re making free apps for the public to use and build off of! Can someone pinch me?” But as exciting as thatis, it’s just a portion of what we’re working on. The last few weeks here have shown me that the goals of this team as well as my role could be much more impactful than that. We’re looking to literally change the models of drug development, which has a direct influence on disease and the care of patients everywhere.
What are you hoping to learn during your time on the team?
In school, we were given a very basic, bird’s-eye view of the drug development process. Getting exposure to the knowledge and experience of the people on the Lilly COI team, I am hoping to gain a better understanding of the subtleties involved in clinical development decision-making. I’m also excited to explore how open innovation can help us to discover valuable, new business models and solutions, when we start looking at patient needs as well as tools and applications through the lenses of many contributors. I really think being in this environment will teach me how to do that.
What do you foresee as your unique contribution(s) to the team?
Lilly COI has an excellent vision for gaining collaborative crowd insight and creativity, and the potential is huge when it comes to accelerating drug development. So for me, it’s more than just creating cool apps. I’ll need my business skills and scientific knowledge to pull together and assess new ideas and tools, and to define and execute new projects that leverage the LillyCOI platform.
I am also coming from outside the Lilly organization and outside the LCOI environment, and I’ve seen that this team values fresh perspectives on their efforts. If I was recruited because of my scientific background and business knowledge, I think that my perspective as a caregiver – someone who is sensitive to the needs of patients – will be just as valuable.
It’s clear that you’re passionate about making life better for patients. How will you help the Lilly COI team achieve that goal?
During my pharmacy school rotations, I experienced a lot of links in the healthcare chain. And although the idea of building a collaborative team that surrounds the patient has gained some ground in recent years, it still lacks in today’s healthcare system. Real collaboration means that patients, patient advocates, developers, and scientific thought leaders look through the lenses together. Each perspective is unique in providing the leads we need to get essential medications more quickly into the hands of the patient who need them. I’m looking forward to working with the Lilly COI team to help eliminate the “what if” question.
I see it happening already, but it’s my hope that people will continue to stay connected with our efforts, that they will feel free to provide feedback about the tools and applications we offer. Improvements in the processes and progress of drug development and patient care will always require fresh eyes and new perspectives.