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Biogen CEO Tells Grads ‘Our Economy Depends on Brain Power


Northeastern University Trustee Chris Feibacher shared his experiences and advice with Bove College of Health Sciences graduates on Saturday.

Biogen CEO Tells Grads ‘Our Economy Depends on Brain Power
Chris Feibacher, President and CEO of Biogen, delivered the keynote address at the Bove College of Health Sciences commencement ceremony on May 4. Photo by Hirach Ekmekjian for Northeastern University

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern University 2024 start.

Diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is usually a death sentence. But a young father of three in New Zealand with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has gone from having difficulty walking to being able to move around on his own again, thanks to a new drug from Biogen to treat patients with the disease and a rare genetic mutation.

Northeastern University Trustee Chris Feibacher, president and CEO of Biogen, relayed this anecdote to BV College of Health Sciences graduates on Saturday. But he reminded them that when it comes to health sciences, there are always new challenges.

“As I stand with you this morning, there are funeral services for a dear friend of mine who passed away this week from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Feihbacher said when addressing graduates, friends and family members at Matthews Arena on Northeastern University’s campus in Boston. “But this is just a reminder that as much as we have done, there is still a lot of work to do.

But he said the hundreds of Bouve students in the audience are just the ones equipped to pursue innovations in health with Northeastern’s collaboratives, research experience and classes under their belts.

“I can tell you, as an employer, that your academic studies have provided you with an excellent foundation of knowledge and principles,” he said. “At Biogen, we have 20 to 30 interns each year, and I know from my own company how much Northeastern students are valued. As you take your next steps toward your career, you can be confident that you will be able to learn and achieve great things.

Fehbacher, who is also the father of a 2018 Northeastern graduate, spoke at the ceremony honoring the undergraduate and graduate students who received their degrees, drawing on his deep background in integrating innovation and public health.

Viehbacher joined Biogen as president, CEO and member of the board of directors in November 2022. Before that, he spent years working at large pharmaceutical and entrepreneurial biotechnology companies, including 20 years at GlaxoSmithKline and six years as global CEO of Sanofi. He recently co-founded Gurnet Point Capital, a healthcare investment fund based in Cambridge, which has in turn fueled other innovative ventures.

“She has blazed a trail for innovation that advances health and the common good,” said BOV den Carmen Skiba while presenting Viehbacher with a citation. “Your accomplishments exemplify a career spent leading unprecedented change on the global stage.”

Over the course of his career, Feihbacher said he has witnessed a number of global public health crises. In the late 1980s, he worked in Hamburg, Germany, with a company developing an interferon to treat AIDS. Later, he worked with France’s health minister to bring low-cost antivirals to Africa and joined Dr. Anthony Fauci — whom he described as a “rock star of the time” — on a trip to Uganda to see what the United States was doing. What he did to stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

“I learned that innovation must be coupled with equitable access,” Febacher added.

Around this time, Vibacher said biologics began to dominate the health field with Biogen leading the way with the goal of becoming the first biotech company on the U.S. East Coast. The city of Cambridge initially rejected the idea of ​​”Frankensteinian medicine”, but he added that it was eventually achieved, allowing the city to become a center for biopharmaceutical research. Technological advances in genetics have since allowed for new ways to fight cancer and treat autoimmune diseases.

Feihbacher noted this to highlight the importance of continuous discovery and innovation in health sciences, especially since millions of people still face untreatable diseases.

“When we look at history, we find that the industrial era transformed economies with the development of financial capital and machinery,” he said. “In today’s world, our economy depends on brain power. Engineering and technology are certainly two fields that can transform economic brain power into economic power.

This also applies to health sciences, Feibacher said.

“I’ve seen the significant investment in research at Northeastern,” he said. “I was honored to help with that Opening of the new EXP research facility this year. Academic research translates into medical and biopharmaceutical research, produces new treatments and improves community health and thus productivity. …So we have opportunity, we have challenges, and we have tremendous need.”

He also reminded students that there are always new questions to solve in health and science, providing those working in the field with the opportunity to always explore, whether they are trying to discover more about why certain treatments work for certain mutations in ALS or finding ways to treat them. To improve access to health care.

The latter is especially important to take into account, because the disease affects everyone regardless of age, race, gender, income status or other factors, Feibacher said. Whether graduates pursue pharmacy, nursing, or another field of health care, they will encounter these gaps in care and the need for innovation to increase access.

But he reminded them that they were up to the challenge.

“Health is a service and an industry like no other. “When people are faced with illness, they can feel like they are at their most vulnerable,” he said. “At that point, they want the compassion and expertise of healthcare professionals, effective medications, vaccines and devices and the ability to afford the care they need.” to her.”

Vibacher said that entering the health field is not just a job, but rather a calling.

“People depend on each one of us in the chain from seat to bed,” he said. “The people who depend on us are not anonymous. They can be our family, relatives or friends. But they are all important. … We need people like you. … You can have an impact, you will bring new ideas, new energy, new passion, and you will help the people.

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