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FEI: Front End of Innovation

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June 10-12, 2024
Omni Boston Hotel at the SeaportBoston
June 10-12, 2024
Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport,

20th Anniversary Interview Series

Innovating Through the Science of Happiness

Seth Adler w/Imran Nasrullah

For Imran Nasrullah, currently Vice President & Head, Collaborate to Cure Hub U.S., Business Development & Licensing at Bayer Pharmaceuticals, he came to the innovation community after traveling a long and winding road. He started his career as a scientist, eventually changing careers to become a patent lawyer. But his love and passion for science and technology always remained, giving Nasrullah unique insights into fields which intersected with what he calls the crossroads of innovation, from law and business to academic licensing and the corporate world. 

Eventually, Nasrullah ended up playing roles in product development, pharmaceuticals and in biotechnology in the early 2000s. From there, he became chief business officer of Massbio, a trade association that often was focused on bringing companies and startups together. “I really plunged into ecosystem, activation and build-up of these companies, where the front end of innovation really comes into play,” he recalls. “We would partner and mentor with these companies, pulling them through the ecosystem, identifying startups in the nascent stage and bringing them into partnerships.”

From there, it seemed a natural fit when Nasrullah joined Bayer, leading the U.S. licensing and development and discovery stages for the company, staying regionally focused for Bayer on the U.S. For Nasrullah, it has been the best of both worlds, developing ecosystems and business development for new technologies and startups, and bringing them in-house if there is a strategic fit with the parent firm.

See Imran at FEI. Register Now.

In his career, Nasrullah has observed some technology rising to the top, while others have fallen by the wayside. As the innovation community knows, success and failure move the business forward. Cell and gene therapy, he points out, is turning into a growing mode of developing therapeutics. “We are now entering a biotechnology golden age,” he says, pointing to Crispr-based technologies, and gene editing, which shows real promise of being able to change genetic defects.

Of course, with this year being the 20th anniversary of the Front End of Innovation conference, it’s natural to look back at some of the advancements made over the years. “There’s really been a convergence of both gene-based technology, and artificial and digital technology on the other side. From the perspective of information, the two technologies address how we are coded. These technologies together can accelerate our discovery process, and bring digital and AI into a role with biological systems. Hybrid organisms can be developed in the future from a medical perspective, such as incorporating manmade limbs wired into your nervous system.”

Key advancements have made this work possible, such as how computing power has increased over the last two decades. Moving information and data to the cloud has accelerated the biological sciences, along with digital tools such as AI. “It’s really come together, the acceleration has advanced the technology and the biological sides,” he says. What’s no longer relevant in the past 20 years? While biotech has seen its share of hyped products and failures, Nasrullah prefers to see the real innovation as the debugging of technology. “Once you get the technology to work, it’s less susceptible to the hype phenomenon.” And throughout the decades, Nasrullah has seen firsthand the role that ecosystem development has played in innovation, bringing new ideas and opportunities to market.

See Imran at FEI. Register Now.

Joining a community such as FEI and All Things Innovation, Nasrullah highlights the open dialogue and partnerships that can result. “Innovation is not just pharma and biotech. We all wrestle with issues around innovation, and it behooves us to look at other industries, ask what innovation hurdles are they facing, what we can learn from them, and find different ways to solve problems. We might not seem like we are in the same space. But asking the questions, having a dialogue with different industries that may not seem connected to you and who face the same innovation problems that we do, is so important,” says Nasrullah.