Dr. Joan Mannick is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of resTORbio, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that develops novel therapeutics to treat aging-related diseases. Joan received her B.A. from Harvard College and her M.D. from Harvard Medical School. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a fellowship in Infectious Disease at Harvard University. Joan then worked as a Medical Director at Genzyme and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Prior to joining resTORbio, Joan was Executive Director in the New Indications Discovery Unit of the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical research. In our interview Joan shares more about her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:20)
After a busy day at work, Joan likes to relax by working out at the gym, watching movies, and reading novels.
The Scientific Side (3:22)
Joan and her colleagues at resTORbio are targeting the biology of aging to treat and prevent aging-related diseases so people can be healthier longer. In particular, Joan is interested in targeting the aging immune system in an effort to reduce the risk of respiratory infections in older adults.
A Dose of Motivation (5:48)
“Do your job, ignore the noise.” – Bill Belichick
“On to Cincinnatti.” – Bill Belichick
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:57)
In Joan’s family academic medicine is the career path most travelled. Her mom had a PhD in biochemistry, and from a young age, Joan just assumed she would pursue a career in academic medicine as well. Even as a kid, Joan was fascinated by tropical and infectious diseases, and this is the area of medicine she chose to pursue. Joan got to the point where she had a great career where she was balancing medical practice treating patients, running an academic research lab, and taking care of her family. It was tough, and she started to realize that this perhaps wasn’t what she really wanted. Joan felt like she couldn’t be great at medicine because she was also working on research, she couldn’t be great at research because she was also responsible for treating patients, and she was perhaps not performing her best in either role because she also needed to dedicate herself to her family. After hearing from some of her friends who left academic medicine to pursue careers in biotech, Joan decided to make a change. She accepted a position in translational medicine, and she fell in love with this area of science. At the age of 50, Joan finally found her dream career in science.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (17:14)
Early in Joan’s career, she chose to pursue an area of research that was different from her mentor’s main area of interest. Her first project was successful, and it resulted in a paper published in a prestigious journal. To continue in this research, she had to get her own funding. Joan applied for grants from the National Institutes of Health for nine straight years, and her proposals were rejected every single time. Her career was going nowhere. Finally, one of her projects got funded, and this project resulted in a publication in another exceptional academic journal. Being resilient and persevering were key during this difficult and frustrating period.
A Shining Success! (19:48)
Creating resTORbio has been a major success that will allow their team to do important, groundbreaking science. Getting buy-in from Novartis to form this spin-off company was really tough. Once the company was established, they faced many hurdles in getting their clinical trials started and getting investors to believe in their mission. It has been so rewarding to see the results come in from their Phase IIB trials showing that their drug improves immune function and decreases respiratory infection rates in older adults. This has really been a group effort, and it has been wonderful for Joan to work with the amazing people on her team.
Book Recommendations (24:54)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Most Treasured Travel (25:52)
Joan has especially enjoyed the opportunities she has had to travel to New Zealand. They conduct their clinical trials during winter cold and flu season since respiratory infections typically peak during this time each year. Due to the timing of the start of their clinical trials, they had to perform the trials in the southern hemisphere in order to coincide with cold and flu season. Their initial clinical trial sites were in New Zealand. The physicians were exceptional, the culture was great, and the country was beautiful. Traveling to each clinical site gave her an opportunity to see a lot of New Zealand, and she has been able to return now multiple times.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (29:23)
At resTORbio, their group enjoys coming together and celebrating their successes over food and drink. One of her colleagues is an exceptional cook and sometimes brings in delicious food to share. Recently, their group went to watch a Celtics game together, and it was fun to spend time with everyone outside the lab.
Advice For Us All (34:48)
Be resilient and persevere, particularly if you choose to try to break new ground. It’s risky and there are going to be failures, but if you persevere, you can make headway and have an interesting and rewarding career.
At resTORbio, Joan is working to develop novel treatments for multiple diseases of aging for which there are no approved therapies. resTORbio’s approach focuses on the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, an evolutionarily conserved pathway that regulates aging, and specifically on selective inhibition of the target of rapamycin complex 1, or TORC1. The Company’s initial focus is on the development of RTB101, an orally administered, small molecule, potent TORC1 inhibitor, alone and in combination with other mTOR inhibitors such as everolimus, as a first-in-class immunotherapy program designed to improve immune function. The lead indication for the program is the reduction of incidence of respiratory tract infections, or RTIs, in the elderly regardless of the causative pathogen. Prior to joining resTORbio, Joan was Executive Director in the New Indications Discovery Unit of the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research where she led the clinical program that targets fundamental pathways regulating the rate of aging as a new approach to treating aging-related diseases. Prior to joining Novartis in 2010, Joan was a Medical Director at Genzyme working in multiple therapeutic areas and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her NIH-sponsored laboratory focused on the role of protein S-nitrosylation in physiology and pathophysiology.