Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Dominik Hartl

Dr. Dominik Hartl is a distinguished medical professional and industry leader with expertise in clinical practice, academic research, and senior management positions in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. Currently serving as the Chief Medical Officer at Granite Bio, he plays a pivotal role in developing monoclonal antibodies for autoimmune disorders, inflammation, and fibrosis. Previously, he served as the Chief Medical Officer at QUELL Therapeutics, leading groundbreaking CAR-Treg cell therapies and securing significant funding. With a background in pediatrics and immunology, Dr. Hartl’s academic affiliations include the University of Tübingen, and he has provided patient care at renowned institutions such as Yale University.

Dr. Hartl has held senior positions at Roche, Novartis, and other leading companies, overseeing early clinical development and implementing clinical biomarkers in autoimmune, inflammatory, and fibrotic diseases. His contributions to scientific literature are extensive, and he co-authored the book “Principles of Biomedical Sciences and Industry.” With a remarkable track record in translating scientific ideas into tangible treatments, Dr. Hartl is highly respected for his expertise, leadership, and commitment to advancing medical knowledge.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

with Dominik Hartl

Tell us about your background.

I am a pediatrician by training with a long-term passion for both patient care and science (particularly Immunology). Through different parts of my academic & industry journey across Germany, Netherlands, US, UK and Switzerland, I figured out that Translational Medicine/Early Drug Development is the ideal place for me to combine my basic immunology & clinical/patient knowledge to develop new drugs for patients in need.

Who/what inspired you to go into life science research? 

Complex question. I got first fascinated as a kid by the immunology behind HIV/AIDS (e.g. utilizing host receptors CCR5 & CXCR4 for target cell entry) plus my dad trying to convince me all the time that I would make a good pediatrician….but then finally a lot of serendipity & great mentors along the way.

As a physician scientist, could you explain what does a Chief Medical Officer do in layman terms?

Leading or being involved in a lot of diverse activities: Clinical Development, Safety, Biology-Indication Matching, PK/PD/Modeling, Regulatory/HA-interactions, Commercial/reimbursement projections, KOL interactions/SABs, Biomarkers/Precision Medicine strategies, patient advocacy groups, team building, partnering/BD/VC interactions…

What’s the most challenging part about your role?

To integrate all these different parts of my role (see Q above) under one hat (within ~24 hours….)

What does a day in your life look like?

My (young) sons wake me up, breakfast, (very short) morning workout, read relevant journals (to be up to date), check-in with team, schedule my day/week, work on protocols, pitch-decks, strategic documents, meet team or partners for lunch, company meetings, giving interviews (to Wani B), discuss with statistician, discuss with toxicologist, discuss with consultant, business networking Apero…

You’ve been in both Large Pharma and startups. What are some unexpected differences between the 2 that you’ve found?

I was particularly overwhelmed in Biotech how many various interactions one has with different stakeholders, i.e. investors, pharmas, other biotechs, CROs, CDMOs, KOLs, institutes/academics, consultants, clinical sites, health authorities etc. The breadth and complexity of these interactions is a challenge (….and an amazing opportunity).

What are some new technological trends in drug development that you’ve seen?

Precision/Biomarker-based trial designs, Master protocols, Modeling/QSP, reverse translation based on multi-omics data, digital biomarkers, cell & gene therapy, organs-on-a-chip (am intentionally not stating “AI” here as I see too many people talking too often about it anyway)

Could you briefly share in a couple sentences the takeaway for the book you’ve co-authored, “Principles of Biomedical Sciences and Industry: Translating Ideas into Treatments”?

This was a great (& lengthy) project where I had been invited to (Thanks to Alex S particularly). By co-authoring and co-editoring such a broad textbook I learned a lot myself about the whole pharmaceutical value chain. I also learned how long it takes to compile such an inter-disciplinary textbook and to optimize it for a broad readership.

Any particular projects in the past that you would like to highlight?

Back at Roche I was involved in an interdisciplinary project how to reduce animal experiments by developing organs-on-a-chip for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). That was really exciting & innovative. A more recent noteworthy academia-industry project is an integrative analysis of biopharmaceutical innovation which we just published: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41573-023-00102-z “

You are a part of a band of biotech professionals here in Basel. Tell us more about it.

That`s a wonderful project and so much fun. “Neri & Sons” is a mix of Pediatricians and Biotech/Pharma musicians (…I playing guitar). We meet every 3 months for a full weekend here in the Basel area and jam from morning to very late. Our songs cover Prince, Stevie Wonder, Eagles, Lenny Kravitz, Mumford & Sons, Foo Fighters, Muse, System of a Down, Scary Pockets……perfect distraction from busy work…..

Any final remark/advice to share for those thinking about going into research?

There is nothing more exciting yet nothing more challenging than research. So, if you are looking for the comfortable and cozy job: stay away!

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