Researcher Christoph Rader spent a decade at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland delving into the intricacy of cancer cells.
Now at Scripps Florida, the biochemist is expanding on that work. Rader is developing anti-cancer treatments that can attack tumors while sparing healthy tissue. He’s also working on ways to recruit a cancer patient’s own T-cells to destroy malignancy.
Scripps Florida this year named Rader associate dean of the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences.
Hometown: I was born in Cologne, Germany, and grew up in its vicinity. I went to high school in the neighboring town of Leverkusen, Germany, the headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Bayer. I studied biochemistry in Bayreuth, Germany, and in Zurich, Switzerland. After immigrating to the United States in 1996, I lived in California for 7.5 years, in Maryland for 9 years and since 2012 in Jupiter.
First job and what you learned from it: I was always focused on becoming a scientist — a biochemist, to be precise — so my studies were my first job. I had reached my early 30s by the time I finished my education. It spanned 13 years and three countries, capped by postdoctoral training at Scripps Research in California. My first professional job came with my promotion to assistant professor at Scripps Research. I wasn’t certain that a career in academia would be my path at the time. I considered several job offers from startup biotech companies on the West and East coasts. What I’ve learned is to stay open to .edu, .gov and .com opportunities. Fostering interactions among academia, government and industry is particularly important for drug discovery and development. This mindset has guided my career. Gradually, I’ve also become interested in training the next generation of scientists. My recent appointment as associate dean of the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Studies at Scripps Research is rewarding because I have the opportunity to influence aspiring scientists who will shape our future.
How your business has changed: Since I came to the United States from Switzerland, my research has focused on discovering and developing innovative biochemical tools and technologies that improve the potency and safety of a certain class of cancer therapies, so-called monoclonal antibodies. These days, when starting new projects, consideration of how they could help cancer patients within a reasonable time has become even more important. Part of the equation is also whether a project will generate robust intellectual property, a necessary part of moving new discoveries to people. In my field, we refer to this as translational science, and it involves nurturing a network of collaborators in academia, government and industry. Moving into a more managerial role does require sacrificing time spent working in the laboratory, something I miss. Now I supervise and guide others who work in my laboratory. You will most often find me in my office crafting papers, patents and proposals to keep the research moving forward.
Best business (or science) advice you’ve ever received: Embrace diversity in the test tube and in the laboratory.
Best business (or science) book you’ve read: One of the most cherished books in my office, one I’ve read twice, is a signed copy of James D. Watson’s “The Double Helix”. Lately, I more often consult browser bookmarks over printed books. One of my favorites is www.fiercebiotech.com.
Biggest challenge: How to foster a suitable environment for drug discovery and development within academia. It’s a question I try to answer with a track record of high-quality papers, patents, and, as importantly, trainees that industry leaders will gladly hire from my laboratory.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in your career: Honestly, none. I started focusing on chemistry and biology in high school and followed this passion throughout my education and career without any regrets. Joining Scripps Research twice, first as postdoc in California and later as faculty in Florida following nine years at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, were the best career decisions I’ve made.
Most important trait you look for when hiring: I’m extremely pleased with the postdocs and graduate students I’ve hired. The team I’ve assembled here at Scripps Research is the best I’ve ever had. Although they hail from a number of different states and countries, including Florida, they have common traits that make them successful. They are skilled, smart, creative and hardworking. While each one of them drives his or her own set of projects, they also know how to work in a team. As associate dean, I’m also very fond of the graduate students we admit to our Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Studies. It has been a top-10 graduate program in the U.S. for two decades. This is an outstanding talent pool for the next generation of scientists in basic and applied research.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County: I’ve no doubt that having Scripps Research and Max Planck next to each other in Jupiter will continue to attract the industry. Several of my faculty colleagues have recently spun out biotech companies headquartered in Palm Beach County, and I hope to be added to this list soon. With the outstanding talent pool I mentioned above, building and sustaining a competitive biotech cluster is an achievable objective.