This year saw a lot. A worldwide pandemic. Civil unrest fueled by systemic racism. A global economy being challenged on many fronts. Throughout it all we asked ourselves, how does a company remain balanced in a world that is, right now, anything but? Is it possible to continue to be connected and on mission with this level of challenge and uncertainty?
This is our story, offered as a reflection from the hearts and minds of many across our organization. We are writing this post the same way we got through 2020. Together.
Long before weary New Year’s revelers gratefully returned to homes they had no idea would soon become their world, we at Generation Bio were already on the verge of big changes.
2020 would see major advancements in our science, as we moved beyond research into preclinical development and another step closer to our goal of our first human clinical trials. We were gearing up for an IPO—a major undertaking in any climate. And, finally, we were on track to nearly double the size of our team.
We had put in place pathways and practices to help us meet our goals. We had also, years ago, identified our organization’s core values, born from who we are and the guidepost for where we are going. Thoughtful. Inclusive. Courageous. All-in.
“Our values organically formed by the way we’ve always operated. But having them defined gave us a foundation to face this year’s challenges.” – Matt Chiocco, Senior Director, Preclinical Development
We were confident these values would help keep us on mission no matter what the year brought. And then the year happened.
When the pandemic hit, we chose to take a proactive, thoughtful approach that prioritized taking care of each other and the world around us. We shut down our offices quickly, immediately began creating principles to guide our reactions to an ever-changing situation, and set forth implementing controls for when we could return to our labs.
“Going into the shutdown, our leadership was decisive and transparent. You knew they cared about our safety. And everyone understood that we would continue on with our mission.” – Matt Simmons, Director, Analytical Development
Not being able to connect and collaborate would have been a major drain on both our progress and our psyches. Fortunately, we already had systems in place that allowed us to virtually share ideas, research, or anything that was on our mind. This was essential, as we had a company of motivated people sitting at home wanting to do something and needing to share and make sense of world events.
“We make a lot of space to talk about what’s happening in the world around us. Nothing is siloed.” – Leslie Wolfe, SVP Chemistry, Manufacturing & Controls
We held open meetings attended by people from across teams and disciplines, bringing in fresh ideas and perspectives. Through “Journal Parties” we shared scientific research and inspiration from the outside world. With labs temporarily closed, we were forced to work in a new paradigm. In many ways, this pause had a positive impact on our science. It gave us an opportunity to take a step back and think about our challenges from different angles. While this brought a deep understanding and serendipitous ideas, we were still missing being together. The days of casual hallway conversations turning into frenetic idea swapping on a white board were still in our minds and hearts. And, we all knew there is a lot of science that just can’t be completed without access to a lab.
“Before Covid we often had people come in to share how disease affected their lives. This created a strong connection between our scientists and what we are working towards. I believe this added to our resilience during this time. People are motivated. They care deeply about our mission.” – Zhong Zhong, Head of Gene Therapy
Eventually, after careful assessment and discussion, we were able to bring a core team back into the lab, adjusting to the new and sometimes cumbersome normal of PPE, scheduling, and heightened protective measures. Additionally, the pandemic caused stressors on our scientists’ lives outside the lab, which affected who could be in the lab and when. On the positive side, there’s an increased sense of camaraderie and fun amongst the people working in the lab.
“It was difficult to maintain our high level of productivity given what we were all experiencing. This burden fell especially hard on the people in the lab.” – Matt Manganiello
“There is a different environment in the lab right now. There’s often loud music playing. Hair styles have gotten interesting. We’re much more apt to yell across the office, “Hey, where’s my data?’” – Ben Parkhurst, Senior Manager, Process Development
But lab space is not infinite, and projects have to be even more carefully planned to ensure compliance with pandemic space protocols. Every experiment questioned for its value. Every process honed. This put added responsibility on the team to get it right.
“There is more planning now that we are working remotely. What used to be considered micromanagement is suddenly essential to the realities of lab space and time. It’s actually making us more efficient and honed in on our goals.” – Leslie Wolfe, SVP Chemistry, Manufacturing & Controls
Fortunately, through the flexibility and adaptability of our teams, we were able to hit a major milestone—moving our lead programs into the preclinical development stage. We are thrilled to be closer to the day that we can treat people with life-altering diseases with a new class of gene therapy.
“Moving into preclinical development is the first step across the threshold that says we have enough confidence to ask the FDA, and ultimately families, to trust us with treating them or their kids. That’s a big deal for us.” – Geoff McDonough, CEO
Read Part 2 of our reflection on 2020 where we discuss our IPO, growing our company during a pandemic, and addressing racial injustice in the world >
Contributors: Matt Chiocco, Senior Director, Preclinical Development; Mari Gebremeskel, Associate Scientist; Sarah Lagoy; Scientist; Matt Manganiello, Associate Director, Platform Research; Geoff McDonough, CEO; Matthew Norkunas, CFO; Ben Parkhurst, Senior Manager, Process Development; Joyce Pinkham, Vice President, Program Management; Matt Simmons, Director, Analytical Development; Leslie Wolfe, SVP, Chemistry, Manufacturing & Controls; Zhong Zhong, Head of Gene Therapy