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Spotlight on Executive-in-Residence: Roland Staal

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

Over the next few weeks, @NJEDATech will continue to delve into the back-stories of these EIRs; next up, Roland Staal, of Metuchen.

 
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Roland Staal (EIR - Strategic and Product Planning) is a scientist with a passion for drug discovery. He particularly enjoys understanding how drugs work and identifying new targets and strategies for developing desperately-needed therapeutics.
 
Staal graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Rutgers University and a PhD in Pharmacology from Rutgers University – UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. His academic career at Rutgers-UMDNJ, as well as the time he spent at Columbia University as a post-doctoral fellow and then as an associate research scientist, focused on investigating various molecular mechanisms that contribute to Parkinson’s disease.
 
Staal subsequently joined Wyeth Research (now part of Pfizer) where he worked on drug discovery projects for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Most recently, Staal served as a principal scientist for Lundbeck Research, a mid-sized pharmaceutical company that conducts brain disease research. At Lundbeck, Staal was instrumental in the creation of the neuroinflammation department, tasked with developing treatments for chronic pain.
 
During his time in the industry, Staal served as the biology team leader and project leader for various pre-clinical drug discovery projects for indications including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease as well as neuropathic pain. He assisted in evaluating in-licensing opportunities and coordinated collaborations with internal departments, academic labs, and contract research organizations. Staal’s comprehensive knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry, licensing opportunities and experience managing projects position him as an ideal mentor to many of the CCIT tenants currently developing and commercializing lifesaving therapies.
 
@NJEDATech asked Staal about the Executive-in-Residence Program and his plans for the future:
 
Why did you choose to apply to the Executive-in-Residence Program?
I initially heard about the CCIT and the EIR program from Vicky Gaddy at BioNJ and was immediately intrigued by the opportunity to mentor/advise nascent start-up companies. I have always been curious to learn about new and innovative technologies and ideas, and am always been eager to take on new challenges. Furthermore, I have always enjoyed mentoring interns and sharing knowledge with collaborators. Thus, this seemed to be a great opportunity to learn about some of the exciting start-up companies in NJ as well as share some of my experience regarding project strategy and planning.
 
What do you hope to get out of this Executive-in-Residence Program?
Networking was often mentioned as one of the benefits of the EIR program and this was important to me, as I wanted to steer my career in a different direction while remaining in NJ. I also want to learn more about some of the State’s novel technologies and start-up companies. During the time that I have been at CCIT, I have met a number of very interesting people: from EDA staff, to fellow EIRs, tenant companies and CCIT advisory board members. Through these people, I have made many connections to organizations and people with common interests working on very different and exciting projects.
 
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard over the years that you hope to impart on these emerging life sciences companies?
Do what you love, delegate the rest! The person who gave me this advice was joking, but at the same time completely earnest. In various points of our careers and life, we have to do what needs to be done, even if that means going out of our comfort zone. One has to be flexible, and always willing to learn. This is especially true for new projects and start-up companies. However, once you gain momentum and grow as a start up, group or organization -- delegate. Especially delegate the tasks that drain your productivity and slow down your momentum. It is still important to know how to do a given task, to understand how it fits in with your goal, but if someone else can do it better or more efficiently, delegate. This frees up your time to do what you are best at or what you are passionate about.
 
What is the next challenge you want to undertake in your career?
The next challenge I am looking to undertake is to build on my preclinical drug discovery experience by learning more about clinical trials. I am very interested in translational medicine and clinical trials in order to gain experience in the entire drug discovery process, from the initial concept through United States Food and Drug Administration approval and post marketing surveillance. Alternatively, I would also be very interested in working with others to start a new biotech company or joining a start-up company to learn the business of bringing technologies or novel therapeutics to the market.
 
More information about EIR program, including eligibility, can be found at www.njeda.com/EIR.

To learn about programs and initiatives that support the technology industry, visit http://www.njeda.com/tls and follow @NJEDATech on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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