Company: Blueprint Medicines
Title: Chief Scientific Officer
From high school biology class all the way to the discovery team at Blueprint Medicines, Marion Dorsch has always followed her interests. A teacher inspired her to study biology in college “without really knowing what that means." This led her to the Free University of Berlin, where she completed a Ph.D. in biology, and eventually, to the U.S. for a postdoctoral fellowship.
“I found a fantastic lab, very academically challenging, but with a lot of freedom,” she said of her time at Columbia University. “My mentor was in no way really setting the direction; he was letting people find their own interests and that fit very well with my personality."
It was fulfilling to “be in science and make important discoveries,” but Dorsch ultimately realized she wanted to be in applied sciences, where she could see the direct impact of her work. That desire led her to the biotech sector in Boston.
Her first industry job was at Millennium Pharmaceuticals—now part of Takeda—where she seized opportunities to lead projects and learned about drug discovery. Her work focused on autoimmune diseases, but she wanted to get into oncology. When she moved on to Novartis, she got that chance; she worked on Odomzo, an oral treatment for basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, which is now approved in the U.S. and Europe.
But the atmosphere at Novartis, distinctly different from that at Millennium, prompted her to leave. “I spent several years at Novartis. That was a very different culture, much more siloed and not as collaborative. I had to learn how to bring my experience of bringing people together to Novartis,” she said.
A stint at Sanofi reinforced her preference for biotech, and soon, she was vice president of biology at Agios, where she felt right at home. The atmosphere was science-driven, collaborative, fast-paced and urgent: it was a place where "you don’t want to waste even a day in advancing something,” she said. After several years there, Blueprint Medicines offered her the chief scientific officer post. Now, she oversees the chemistry, biology, nonclinical sciences and translational medicine units that make up the company's discovery organization.
The best part of the job, she said, is bringing different teams together—and not just those under her purview. She enjoys connecting her own people with other parts of Blueprint, such as the clinical and commercial teams.
“Bringing functions together, that’s a big passion of mine because drug discovery is a process that is so cross-functional. No one function can do it alone, and it’s always my ambition to make people work together in the most optimal way,” she said.
Blueprint is developing kinase inhibitors for a range of genomically defined diseases. That means the company identifies a subset of patients most likely to respond to a particular treatment, runs a small trial and finds out quickly whether the drug is working, Dorsch said. Blueprint has three assets in the clinic and plans to file an application for FDA approval next year.
Still, drug discovery is challenging, and Blueprint still faces the same hurdles other biotech companies do: which programs to prioritize and how to allocate limited resources.
“There are times where we have to make tough decisions and discontinue a program,” she said. That was the fate of a drug targeting kinase fusion in fibrolamellar carcinoma: “We had challenges we couldn’t overcome and we had to put it on hold to free up resources for more promising programs.”
Dorsch has gone to bat for programs she thinks are worthy. She pointed to Blueprint’s program in fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a genetic condition in which muscle and connective tissue gradually turn into bone. Blueprint worked on the program with Alexion until the latter bowed out in a revamp of its research strategy.
“We had to discuss, can we do that? We had not planned for that,” Dorsch said. “But I was a big advocate for that program—I had it on my radar for many years before even joining Blueprint. It was a clear example of a disease driven by a mutated kinase where a treatment can be transformative,” she said.
She succeeded, and Blueprint had to find something else that had to give.
Another challenge, Dorsch said, is keeping people motivated and giving them enough development opportunities. Blueprint runs an emerging leader program, in which it identifies talented individuals early on and provides individual mentorship and classroom support. Dorsch herself enjoys helping younger women develop, acquire new skills and find a career path. Having benefited from a host of male and female mentors, Dorsch feels an obligation to pay it forward and mentor others.
The most important thing, other than being an expert in one’s field, is asking for the next step. It’s not enough to do good work and wait for opportunities to come, she said.
“Make sure that your supervisor and the people around you know where you want to go and what your ambitions are. Don’t be shy to ask for help and ask for ways to develop in the direction you want to.”