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Spotlight on CCIT Executive-in-Residence: Dana Darst

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) recently unveiled its inaugural Executive-in-Residence appointees.  This group of highly-skilled life sciences professionals will mentor and advise emerging companies at EDA’s Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT) in North Brunswick.  The Executive-in-Residence program was created in collaboration with BioNJ.  

Over the next few weeks, NJEDATech will delve into the back-stories of the six Executives-in-Residence; next up, Dana Darst, of Pennington.
 
Dana Darst brings more than 23 years of experience to the position of Executive-in-Residence – Licensing, Commercial Operations and Strategic Planning.  He also brings a proven track record of guiding new businesses in the healthcare and life sciences industry through business planning, contract negotiations and partnership development, all of which he draws upon when advising and mentoring the more than two dozen tenants at the EDA’s life sciences incubator.  With a background in oncology, Dana will be especially helpful to the tenant companies that are developing anti-cancer technologies.
 
Using his commercialization skills, Dana was actively involved in the early-stage development of several start-up companies, including Navigating Cancer and Theranos.  As part of the senior leadership team for Onmark, Inc., an oncology group purchasing organization formed as the result of a Bristol-Myers Squibb spin-out, Dana helped grow the company into what was acquired by McKesson and is now a strategic business unit of that Fortune 50, $100 billion corporation.
 
Dana began his career in New Jersey, at pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J), where he held numerous positions of increasing responsibility at both the operating company and corporate levels, in product commercialization and corporate compliance, respectively.  As Executive Director at Quintiles Transnational, he developed and managed strategic commercialization partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, including a successful co-promotion alliance with J&J.  He is currently a management consultant for life sciences companies. 
 
Dana holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences from Rutgers University and a dual MS degree in Jurisprudence from Seton Hall Law School, with joint concentrations in Health Law and Intellectual Property Law.
 
Why did you choose to apply to the Executive-in-Residence program?
The program is providing me with opportunities to help drive innovation, right here in my home state of NJ.  Many of the emerging life sciences companies housed at CCIT are developing technologies with outstanding potential for improving healthcare in the U.S. through advancements such as new diagnostics and potential cures for cancer.  As a twenty-three year industry veteran, I have learned, first-hand, what it takes for start-up and small companies to grow new business with drug and device manufacturers via different partnership and commercialization models and strategies (e.g. licensing, strategic alliances, distribution, etc.).  This is a chance for me to share ideas and best-practices with leading entrepreneurs to increase their chances for success, which can ultimately benefit patients and consumers.
 
What do you hope to get out of this Executive-in-Residence program?
I would like to work with as many of the CCIT tenants as possible, to help them develop and refine their go-to-market strategies, which may include consideration of early-stage licensing and/or partnership deals with commercialization-stage companies.  If I am successful at helping even one entrepreneur to achieve his or her business goals, it will be a win-win.  Additionally, I look forward to expanding my own network in the emerging technology space within healthcare & life sciences. 
 
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard over the years that you hope to impart on these emerging life sciences companies?
“Find a problem—then develop a solution.”  Robert Herjavec, CEO & Founder, Herjavec Group.  My wife and I love to watch “Shark Tank,” and have developed a great deal of appreciation for each of the investors (“Sharks”).  In particular, I enjoy hearing the advice that Robert Herjavec gives to entrepreneurs.  It’s absolutely essential to know the market dynamics of the space that you plan to commercialize your products or services in.  This holds true for partnerships, as well.  Entrepreneurs should identify and consider potential partners in the life sciences industry (e.g. Licensees, Alliance Partners, Big Pharma Buyers, etc.) during early-stage development, to ensure that their strategic goals and target markets are in alignment before they go too far down a path.  It must be incredibly exciting for an inventor to develop what they believe will vastly improve healthcare.  But, the healthcare industry is both highly complex and in a state of flux, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was effectuated.  Changes in Patent law are also impacting life sciences innovation.  So, in order to successfully go-to-market with their inventions, entrepreneurs need to have buy-in from payers, consumers and business partners that understand and believe in its value, too.
 
What is the next challenge you want to undertake in your career? 
Driving external innovation for a biotech, specialty pharma or device manufacturer, focusing on inorganic growth via licensing, strategic alliances, mergers and/or acquisitions.  My primary objective for studying Intellectual Property and Health law, from 2012 – 2014, was to compliment my background in life sciences professional services, and transition back to the manufacturer side of the industry.  My experience with start-ups and larger service providers can be invaluable to a manufacturer looking to grow their portfolio by obtaining rights to new and innovative biologics, drugs or devices.  Although I would welcome opportunities in different therapeutic areas, I am partial to oncology and immunology, based on my past experience and the positive impact that advancements in these areas can have on patients.  Specifically, I can see myself fitting very well in a senior leadership role within a corporate development group or an innovation center-of-excellence.

To learn more about CCIT’s Executive-in-Residence program, please visit http://www.njeda.com/eir and follow @NJEDATech on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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