"I think the fact that I'm a musician contributes to the fact that I'm a scientist.”
Barak Zohar is Associate Director, Head of Bioprocess Technologies, CMC Biosimilars, at Teva Pharmaceuticals. Barak joined Teva a year ago, after more than 15 years in academia and industry. He talks about how his curiosity drives him and how advice he received from a high school teacher still guides him today.
The great thing about my work is that there is no typical day. I begin with a tour of the lab to meet my team members and ensure everything is on track, and then I start tackling each day's challenges. Although we have a very structured methodology of development, it is always fascinating to challenge it and to adjust it to new products. Each product brings new challenges that should be addressed. That's what makes my job so interesting and dynamic.
I'm a very curious person, and I like that I don't always know what I'll be doing tomorrow. We're doing R&D so it's all about the next phase of research and what can come of that.
We're looking for high productivity and quality similarity. Our unit develops biosimilar products. A biosimilar is defined as a large, complex molecule that is highly similar to and has no clinically meaningful differences in safety, purity, and potency from the reference product. Biosimilars are produced by cells cultivated in manufacturing systems called bioreactors, where production conditions can be controlled. My team focuses on optimizing production conditions in the bioreactor to achieve both maximal productivity and quality similarity.
We're also supporting additional activities from cell line development to the final tech transfer to manufacturing facility. Our goal, and challenge, is to create a product as similar as possible to the innovator's and make sure it is suitable for a scalable and robust production. Sometimes we need to be very creative, which is also the most interesting part of my job.
I lead an incredible team. My team includes seven talented and very experienced people (2 PhDs, 3 MSc's, and 2 engineers) with a strong background in both biology and engineering.
It was always my dream to work at Teva. Teva gives you everything you need to get the job done - to succeed. I've worked at places where there are constraints and compromise, but at Teva, we're just doing it right.
I can't tell my friends exactly what I'm working on so there's a kind of mystery about what I'm doing related to specific projects. But they know it’s a complicated and challenging position, and they know about the path that I traveled to get here. They are very proud of me. They know that I'm developing essential products.
I've always been interested in biology and it's fascinating to me to be able to use the knowledge of biology to better humankind.
I think that the long path I traveled prepared me for this position at Teva. I had the chance to get to know bioreactors and work in the upstream process, as well work in production management and producing cell cultures. But, I realized that I need to be in R&D and not in operational positions. I made a hard decision to go back to academia and studied at the Technion, with a focus on bioengineering. After five years – this amazing position at Teva became available.
I believe that all the steps along this journey were essential for me to get this job. I needed the Ph.D., I needed experience with bioreactors and with cell culture.
The best advice I ever received was from my high school teacher when I was 17. She said if you're ever debating between doing or not doing: Do. To this day, sometimes when I have conflicts and dilemmas I go back to this piece of advice.
And I would offer this same advice to anyone starting out – I would add, be patient. Patience was important for me on my long path in academia and industry. I constantly believed that something great was just around the corner and it paid off. So I would say, be patient and be consistent.
I'm a family guy, married, with 4 children - 3 daughters and a son. I love spending time with them at the beach and on hikes in the north of the country.
When I was an undergrad, I was in a band. I play the guitar, and also a bit of drums. Maybe after my kids are grown, I'll go back to that. For now, I play for my family and myself.
I think it's important that people have a lot of interests. I think the fact that I'm a musician contributes to the fact that I'm a scientist. It’s a different way to train your mind and practice creativity, you can borrow ideas from one area to another. But at the core, it comes down to curiosity. Musicians are curious people – that's also how I was exposed to music. How do we make that sound?
When I did my Ph.D. I enjoyed the amazing freedom to do what I wanted. But the endpoint of the research is publishing it and for me, that wasn't enough. For me, the endpoints of developing a product that will grow and save lives is much more inspiring. That's why I went back to industry. I like the long path. In industry you do feasibility, development, trials, and then get to the market and it's amazing to know you're part of something big.
For me, it's very inspiring.