Summer camp took on a whole new meaning this year for Steve Marquis Fernandes (MBA, ’14).
Fernandes was among 30 students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in the life sciences and business administration who were invited to the 4th Merck Serono Innovation Cup last July in Darmstadt, Germany. The competition, sponsored by one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, took the form of a weeklong “camp” in which six teams of five students – chosen from an initial international pool of 700 applicants – prepared potential solutions for business cases in areas such as oncology, immuno-oncology, autoimmune diseases, chemo- and bioengineering, drug formulation, and medical devices/electronic health.
The Carey graduate’s team, electing to pitch a therapy that involved an antibody drug conjugate, won the competition – and the first-place prize of 10,000 euros.
When he first applied to the competition, Fernandes emphasized his business background and his scientific training as a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine laboratory manager. Later in the application process, he was required to write a two-page proposal on a novel, unpatented neurological or cancer-related scientific discovery and its potential commercialization. In his feasibility analysis of the discovery, he laid out a development timeline and noted which steps would require significant financing, such as mouse studies and clinical research phases. His combination of laboratory-level detail and businesslike due diligence helped send him to the final round of 30 in Germany.
At the camp, mentors from Merck met and spoke with the contestants about their experience and their goals, to get a sense of how the students might fit on each of the six teams. Fernandes’s mentor, Arne Sutter, focused on his management approach and how it might bring cohesion to a group of participants from diverse backgrounds.
“I was the only one with an MBA,” says Fernandes; the rest of his team consisted of postdoctoral fellows. He found that his management background helped keep the team engaged and respectful. (He says he drew on knowledge gained in his Carey School courses, including Competitive Intelligence, Conflict Management, and Change Management.)
“An idea, a road map generated at 8 a.m. might be scrapped by noon,” Fernandes recalls. The group then had to continue envisioning success and setting milestones while staying nimble and focusing on the big picture.
Dealing with strong-willed, highly intelligent people was not new to Fernandes, thanks to his experience working and studying at Johns Hopkins. Asking the right questions and not stumbling over simple conflicts were critical success factors for him and his team.
The overall experience was a win across the board. For Fernandes, the science used by his team fell outside his usual area of expertise, but he learned a great deal about the technology of antibody drug conjugates. Looking ahead, he aims to draw on his experience in his role at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he works in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the Lung Inflammatory Disease Program of Excellence in Glycoscience directed by Professor Ronald L. Schnaar.