Dr. Vicki Goodman
Company: Bristol-Myers Squibb
Title: VP and Development Lead, Opdivo/Yervoy Melanoma/GU
Take a look at Dr. Vicki Goodman’s R&D resume and you’ll see several of the boldest-face brand names in oncology these days. The melanoma duo Tafinlar and Mekinist, for example, which she worked on during a stint at GlaxoSmithKline.
But the boldest name of all is Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s breakthrough immuno-oncology treatment, now approved in a variety of cancers--and in development for more.
Opdivo is one of the most closely watched products on the pharma scene, but Goodman isn’t one to be intimidated by its place in the spotlight. She’s been expecting big advances in cancer treatment for years. Working in a lab during her medical training, she quickly realized that new insights into the molecular basis of cancer “would fundamentally change how cancer is treated,” she said. And she wanted to be a part of that.
Plus, Goodman is too busy to be dazzled. In her charge is not only Opdivo, but Opdivo in combination with Yervoy, a complementary cancer immunotherapy first approved in 2011. With a new development team she launched just over a year ago, she’s ushered Opdivo and Yervoy through U.S. and E.U. approval as the first immuno-oncology combination therapy in melanoma, and saw Opdivo to an FDA nod in kidney cancer, too.
“It’s been a great experience to be a part of the development of these drugs,” Goodman said.
Getting here required not only smarts, expertise, and a lot of hard work, but advance planning--something other ambitious women might want to note. With the cooperation of Nature, Goodman had her first baby after her medical residency--a notoriously time-consuming period in a doctor’s education--and before her fellowship began. As a fellow, she had some flexibility and a slightly less demanding work schedule, she said, which helped with the early days of motherhood.
Then, her second child came along at the end of her fellowship, just before she joined the FDA, where her hours were set, and flexible work schedules.
“I was very intentional about planning my children,” Goodman said with a laugh.
Now, she uses that planning skill to carve out time for her family. She structures her schedule so that she can be home for dinner most nights. “I think for truly career-oriented people, you do have to be intentional about it,” she said. “We are so immersed in the work that we do and the importance of the work that we do. It’s hard to turn that off sometimes.”
Goodman credits flexible work policies for making it easier for women to have a career and a family life, but she gives even more credit to her husband for making parenthood a team affair. “We have a partnership and really work together,” she said. “He sees it not as a maternal responsibility but a parental responsibility.”
Like many scientists in oncology drug development, Goodman was drawn into the field after cancer took a personal toll on her family. “That really cemented my decision to move into oncology and ultimately toward developing new treatments as a way to have the most impact for patients,” she said. “Rather than one at a time, to help patients as a group.”
After wrapping up her medical education, Goodman joined the FDA as a medical reviewer. It was a steep learning curve--“I refer to that time as my second fellowship,” she said--but it gave her a multidisciplinary look at the drug approval process, and insight into how the agency makes regulatory decisions. “It was a great foundation for a career in industry,” she said.
From the FDA she moved to GSK, where she worked for 8 years, quickly advancing up the ladder as she worked on Tafinlar, Mekinist, Votrient, and several early-stage assets in epigenetics.
Goodman then joined Bristol-Myers in early 2015, as GSK was preparing to trade its oncology business to Novartis, specifically because she wanted to work in the cutting-edge immunology field.
But Goodman’s favorite part of the job now isn’t in the lab or working with her team on a project. It’s the opportunity to meet patients who’ve been treated with the drugs she’s developing. When patients share their experiences -- good and bad -- on Opdivo and/or Yervoy, “That gives a great perspective in how the work we’re doing helps individual people,” Goodman said. “When they come and talk to us, share their stories, it’s really incredibly moving and drives home the work that we do.”
Working in a field that can be dominated by men, Goodman has noticed that, over the years, companies have grown more intent on hiring and promoting women--“not just sitting around talking about it,” she said. More than policies, it’s the culture of a company that’s most important, from senior leadership on down, she said.
Pointing to statistics that show women and men at parity when entering the workforce, but women losing ground steadily as they move up the org chart, she said that it’s especially important for senior male leaders to be willing to mentor women.
“I don’t see anything that would create a seismic shift, but do see over time a pipeline of women leaders developing, to advance to senior levels in their companies,” she said. “Not a seismic shift to parity in the C-suite but certainly changes over time.”