Dr Joël Richard is currently Chief Development Officer in MedinCell (France). He is leading all the drug development activities of the company, based on the proprietary, clinical-stage, block PEG-PLA copolymer BEPO® technology for Long-Acting Injectables. (LAIs). These activities include CMC and Pharmaceutical Development, Regulatory Affairs, Non-Clinical Development and Clinical Development, with most advanced projects in Late Stage Clinical Development for CNS Diseases and Pain Management. Dr Richard has more than 30 years of experience in Chemistry and Biopharmaceutical R&D, including several global senior positions in various Biotech and Pharma companies, such as:
- Senior Vice President, Pharmaceutical Development – Peptides & Small Molecules in Ipsen (France),
- Vice President, Drug Product Development in Ipsen (France),
- Director, Pharmaceutical Development in Serono and Merck Serono (Italy, Germany),
- Vice President Research, and Europe R&D Director at Ethypharm (France),
- COO at Mainelab (France), a drug delivery company he co-founded with Pr Jean-Pierre Benoit, which was specialized in developing solvent-free encapsulation processes for protein delivery systems.
Dr Joël Richard graduated from Ecole Normale Supérieure (1984, Cachan, France). He then started his scientist career in the labs of the French National Agency for Nuclear Power (CEA-CEN Saclay, France) and got his PhD in Materials Science/Colloids & Interface Science from University of Paris VI (1987) and Habilitation à Diriger les Recherches in Chemistry from University of Bordeaux I (1994).
Since 1996, Dr Richard has focused his research activity on new formulation technologies and drug delivery systems such as biodegradable microspheres and implants, nanosystems (polymer nanoparticles, lipid nanocapsules, PEGylated liposomes), chemically-modified proteins (like e.g. PEG-interferon-beta), supercritical fluid encapsulation processes, self-assembling gels, peptide-receptor-radiotherapy, focusing especially on peptide and protein formulations. He has published 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers, 8 book chapters and 2 review editorials in various fields (colloids and interfaces, drug delivery systems, supercritical fluids, peptide and protein formulations, nanoparticles, . . .). He has been an invited speaker in more than 100 international conferences and is the author of more than 40 international oral communications. He is also the co-author of 55 different patent families. The results of his work are a successful track record of new pharmaceutical products (including biologics, peptides, small molecules, long acting injectables) progressed through the whole drug development process, up to registration and market launch.
1) What sparked your interest in science in general and drug delivery/nanomedicine in particular?
I have been interested in science for decades and even I think it goes back to my childhood. When I was a kid at school, I was already eager to understand biology and nature that was fascinating me. Then, I studied sciences and graduated in physics, chemistry and materials science which at that time were able to fulfill my need for understanding my surrounding and phenomena occurring around me, as well as expand possibilities to prompt innovation. I started my career in the chemical industry as a research scientist in the field of polymer nanoparticles and then found out that the combination of interface science/colloids and biology was really opening unimagined routes in life sciences. I moved to pharma industry at that time and focused on drug delivery systems. I was and am still convinced that in the treatment of severe diseases like e.g. cancer or immune diseases, how you give a drug to a patient is as important as the drug itself. Keeping in mind that all we do in our job is focused on patients, drug delivery systems including nanomedicines appeared to be the necessary link between the drug and the living body to get the expected efficacy and safety by providing the drug at the right place, the right dose and the right time. Today, I still find it amazing how drug delivery systems enable us to bring new treatments to the patients and improve the efficacy of existing ones. That’s the reason why I remain passionate about them!
2) Did you experience a significant turning point or defining moment during your career?
About twenty-five years ago, I decided to change my job from chemical industry to pharmaceutical industry, because I thought that bringing new drugs to patients and addressing unmet medical needs would really be more meaningful to my life than developing polymer-based chemicals. It was a great, purposeful change that I consider as a significant turning point in my career.
3) According to you, what are the most exciting developments in your research field?
In the field of drug delivery, I find the area of ligand-targeted nanomedicines as one of the most exciting areas. Whether it relates to the targeting of cancer cells to which we would like to bind a potent drug or a radioactive isotope that will kill them, or the targeting of specific receptors present at the cell surface that will then enable the intracellular delivery of particular drugs like siRNA or peptides to modulate protein-protein interactions, or even the targeting of receptors at the surface of cells forming difficult-to-cross biological barriers (like the blood-brain barrier) to enable the crossing of these barriers by drugs, improving their bioavailability at the site of action, I find these systems amazingly challenging, complex and exciting. This is actually the concept of the “magic bullet” that Paul Ehrlich proposed more than 100 years ago! The complexity in the design, the controlled production and characterization of these systems, as well as their administration and the monitoring of their distribution in the body and expected effects stimulates my imagination and my admiration for scientists working in this amazingly complex field.
4) What is the best piece of professional advice you have received and from whom?
“Dare it! Meet the challenge of being out of your comfort zone!” It was the piece of advice given by my boss in my first industrial job to convince me to change my position in the company and take over the leadership of polymer synthesis activities for which I was far from being an expert at that time. I did it and am happy for that. I learnt a lot and gained additional scientific and management expertise. Thank you so much, JCD!
5) Would you change anything about your career path if you could start over?
Actually, I am very happy with my career path. Developing new drugs and new delivery systems to increase their efficacy and safety for the patients, improving or saving their lives, is a strong motivation and provides a lot of meaning to me. My broad scientific background is a solid basis to understand and promote new concepts. If I could start over, I may however wish to improve my initial medical background, since I think the deep understanding of the science at the interface between (nano)materials and medicine is key in drug delivery.
6) What advice would you give to someone who is starting their scientific career?
I would tell a junior scientist at the start of his/her career two things:
- Do what you like! You should enjoy what you do at work and have fun doing it. If you do not enjoy it, then forget it, this is not a job for you on the long term and you may feel frustrated and be losing your time as well as your colleagues’ one.
- Be consistent and authentic! You should reflect on who you are, develop your self-awareness and check the consistency between what you do and who you are. You need to feel the alignment between your ego and your job. It does not mean your personality is reduced to or defined by your job, but that your job fulfills your life expectations consistently.
7) How do you manage a healthy balance between work and personal life?
While working hard, I regularly have vacations with family and friends to keep the right balance. I think everybody needs to have this time for stepping back from work, to keep a high level of motivation and find energy for next steps and new ideas.
8) What do you enjoy doing outside of the lab? What are your hobbies/interests?
I like to practice sports like swimming, table tennis, golf, hiking but also go to the theater, opera, or music concert. I think live shows (like theater, opera, concert etc…) are one of life’s most exciting experiences. For this reason, I also enjoy being an amateur theatre actor and have had the opportunity to interpret some famous Shakespeare’s plays in a theater festival.
9) Why would you advise scientists to become CRS and Local Chapter members and what are the membership’s benefits?
I strongly recommend scientists to become CRS and Local Chapter members, since this is one of the best ways to network in the drug delivery field, to develop collaborative research programs with other colleagues and labs. It is about being part of the drug delivery community, being recognized and increasing your visibility. This helps you a lot to build up research consortiums, apply for grants and ask funding from various institutions. It gives you the opportunities to be part of Focus Groups and a Local Chapter where you can have open discussions with peers and famous opinion leaders from academia and industry about delivery science and technology through fundamental delivery research, development, regulatory science, and clinical translation. Membership also provides you with privileged access to scientific journals, conferences, workshops and trainings.