December 9, 2019 – Flagship scientist Chuck Caldwell received his PhD in Biological Engineering at the University of Missouri and BS, Biological Engineering, also at the University of Missouri, and did postdoctoral studies at the University of Colorado. He recently shared some of his educational and work experience, as well as thoughts for the future of the industry and advice for aspiring scientists.
Video Games, Computers, Rockets, and Lego
“My passion for science growing up wasn’t necessarily a decision I made but was influenced by interests and hobbies. Playing tons of video games and experiencing the internet boom I developed an interest in technology, especially with computers, and would spend lots of time learning to build hardware and code on my own and testing the limitations of hardware and software. My other interests included time spent building and engineering things, such as model rockets and motored Lego constructs.”
Merging Technical and Biological Interests
“I developed a particular interest in biology later in life after seeing the crucial need for technological advances, especially in the field of oncology where tumors are consistently fighting back every step of the way. In college my focus shifted away from computer science towards biological engineering, which merged my technological and biological backgrounds together, and I stuck with it through my PhD thesis.
My first lab job was in college interning in the pathology department at the University of Missouri, where I was writing MatLab code to analyze genomic data.
Upon entering grad school, I worked in Dr. Raghuraman Kannan’s lab, which specializes in using nanoparticles and nanomaterials as oncology drugs and diagnostics. It was during my graduate studies in this lab that I began working on tissue-based diagnostics and learning what the tissue diagnostic market needs in terms of better patient diagnosis.
Much of this work was funded by a translational partnership, and through this experience I developed a sense of not just the research but the entrepreneurial aspect of developing technologies. It was also in this lab that I was first exposed to the field of immune oncology (IO) and focused much of my work on the PD-L1 pathway for my thesis work.”
Immune Oncology and Tissue Diagnostics
“Upon receiving my PhD, I moved out to the University of Colorado to do my post-doc studies under Dr. Fred Hirsch, who is a key opinion leader in immune oncology and especially PD-L1 diagnostics. I greatly expanded my knowledge of immune oncology and tissue diagnostics during this time, working with academia and pharma companies on tissue assays for IO research and development.
I loved working with academia and pharma companies on tissue assays for immuno-oncology research and development, and still had a desire to work with translational development. This ultimately led me to Flagship. Flagship’s unique capability to leverage cutting-edge technology to solve biological problems is a great way to harmonize all of my previously developed backgrounds and skills.”
Helping Flagship Clients Advance Drug Development
“I learn something new every day at Flagship. All of the teams at Flagship work so well together and are able to come up with solutions to tough problems, whether it be how best to meet a client deadline for regulatory filing, discussions on new biological research and methods, or how to rationally leverage the growing fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in our workflows.
Besides the people I work with, being able to travel on site to visit our clients and learn about their drug development process, seeing their exciting preclinical/clinical data, and discussing how Flagship can help take them to the next level in their development process is another aspect of working at Flagship that I really enjoy.”
Targeted Drug Development and Integrating Multiple Biomarker Methods
“There is so much interesting work being done that it is hard to say what I am most excited for. Immune oncology is such an interesting, growing field that still has a lot left to understand. Checkpoint inhibitors are still young and are being understood more and more every day. Drugs targeting specific immune cell subtypes such as T cells and macrophages are a very hot topic in IO drug development. New methods of utilizing the immune system, such as CAR-T therapy, to fight tumors are still in the early days but are showing a lot of promise.
With the rise of complex drugs that involve interactions between tumors and the immune system also comes the need for more complex ways to analyze and describe these interactions. I think that integrating multiple biomarker methods into the development process is going to be needed to fully understand drug mechanisms and patient response.”
Advice for Aspiring Scientists
- Get hands-on experience as much as possible. Learning by doing is one of the best ways to understand something.
- Read as much as possible to understand all sides of a scientific question – for every paper that makes one claim you will find another that takes the opposite stance.
- You don’t need to know everything, just how to ask questions and learn from those who do.