The Intersection of Life Sciences and Communication w/ Paul Bromann

Paul Bromann received his PhD in neuroscience in 1999 from Northwestern University. He currently serves as a medical science partner for Rare Diseases at UCB, a global biopharma company focusing on neurology and Immunology.

At the time of this recording, Paul was actually at his previous employer Illumina, where he led a team of scientists to drive awareness and knowledge in genomics, since he’s no longer at Illumina. Some small details of this episode may be out of date.

I still think you’ll get plenty of value learning about his journey, like how he went from working in Illinois, then spending several years researching in Finland and then back to the states again. And like how he turned a PhD in neuroscience into a leadership role in science, communications, management, as well as some good tips and insights for what it’s like when you’re just starting out a technical business podcast.

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn
Visit the UCB website

Listen to his podcast with Illumina

Connect with Matt on LinkedIn


Matt 0:17
Paul, thanks for coming on the show.

Paul 1:28
Thanks, Matt. It’s good to be here.

Matt 1:29
Yeah, definitely. So for the people that don’t know, can you just walk through your backstory and and where your career has taken you?

Paul 1:38
Well, yeah, thanks for inviting me. And so I started out kind of like, I would guess how most typical PhD scientists start out so I went to Northwestern University A while ago, and I got my PhD in neuroscience from there. And then from there, I did the kind of standard track where I did my postdoc and I went into the biotech industry and work there for a while. There was a life-altering event for me, which was that I got married and had children. And then as a result of that, I actually moved with my family to Europe. So we lived in Finland for about seven years. And when I was there was great experience. But the one challenging part of it was that the biotech industry was not as well developed there as it is here. And so getting opportunities in biotech was a bit of a struggle there. So I bounced around a couple different places and ultimately ended up at the University of Helsinki. And when I was there, I had a role called research manager. And that was basically a role where the faculty of pharmacy was looking for someone to build partnerships externally, so outside of Finland, and the role the purpose was to, you know, get more funding to build UI projects and that sort of thing. So that was my first experience in what I would say Building key opinion leader relationships and leveraging those relationships to build partnerships, and then, you know, leveraging those partnerships even further. I recently came back to the United States. And since that time, I’ve worked as a medical science liaison, and then most recently, at Illumina, where I started as a scientific liaison, and now I head the scientific affairs team.

Matt 3:26
interesting. I definitely want to get into the Illumina side of things and genomics, but I’m actually pretty curious, like, what was that transition like for you, when you went from sciences to more of a people facing and financial and business kind of role?

Paul 3:46
Yeah, that parts of it were dreadful. I won’t lie about that. But you know, I think when you’re in another country in another culture, and there’s different language, you’re Sort of forced to be open to different opportunities, different possibilities. So some of the practical aspects were were hard, like, you know, when, when you come out of a postdoc, and and you come out of a job in biotech, there’s no real template for how you build relationships and how you form these partnerships. So it’s a little bit of a learning by doing experience kind of trial by fire. So I would say that was the most difficult part of it. Yeah, I mean, you know, some of the other things about the business going into the business, it’s hard, because there’s a new skill set that you haven’t really developed, you know, while working on your PhD or well, while doing bench work in a biotech company, yeah. So just some of those things really complicated.

Matt 4:47
Yeah, I think I’m sure it’s always been a deep truth in science, but now more than ever, that we’re all networked and we have things like LinkedIn. The people skills And the business skills, the communication skills are probably desperately needed, you know, in the sciences and just something that people might not prioritize when they’re super focused on research, super focused on technical things to really invest in that area, their skill set.

Paul 5:15
Yeah, totally agree. Yeah, totally agree with you. I mean, when I was doing this role in Finland, you know, things like, you know, I think the way that people communicate their science, the way that people consume that information is completely different. I mean, we have Twitter now. And I mean, in the recent, you know, we have this recent example of the Coronavirus pandemic and, you know, a lot of the scientific medical information that’s coming out you know, some of it is coming out in peer reviewed journals, but just an awful lot of it is coming out through through different channels so that that’s a reality that that we deal with and something we have to get used to.

Matt 5:49
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, and I’m just out of curiosity. Did any big culture shock stand out in your mind

Paul 6:01
Yeah, all of them did. The biggest, I would guess the biggest one is it’s kind of funny. So I, you know, I’m an American, and I’m used to being an American, you know, for good or for bad. And one of the things that means is I think we as a culture, we were pretty open, we like to talk and we like to, you know, build new relationships. In Finland, people are quite reserved and shy. And it’s like in Finland, one of the interesting things is if you’re, if you’re waiting for an elevator, and someone else comes along and wants to use the elevator, you’ll typically just walk up the stairs you will get in the elevator with someone that you don’t know. And, you know, I had a few job interviews there and the job interview experience is totally different. Here in a job interview, you’re expected to kind of talk and and the other parties, the interviewers are talking and in Finland, you kind of say your bit and then there’s a lot of uncomfortable silence after that. So I I would say that was the biggest culture shock is just getting used to people being more shy, more reserved, less vocal. And actually, when the big you know, the biggest The interesting thing is the biggest cultural shock for me was when I came back to the United States, because I had spent seven years kind of getting used to that. And that became my game, my daily model. And literally, when I came back here, I just couldn’t speak fast enough to keep up with people. Wow. around me, and I took it took me, you know, several weeks to kind of get back up to speed when I came back to the state.

Matt 7:33
That’s really funny. Yeah, I know, Americans we definitely have, we know where we want to go. And we’re gonna get there regardless of what it takes. So makes a lot of sense. So shifting gears a little bit on our call, I was really fascinated by the the mission behind Illumina, and what you guys are doing in genomics. Can we talk a little bit about the like the present and future of genomics, kind of what The trajectory of the industry and what are some interesting things you guys are doing?

Paul 8:05
Oh, yeah, I mean, genomics has been a, for me, it’s been a privilege to be part of that industry for the past four years. And it’s, I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s going to, you know, too far to say that it’s really transformed the way that science and medicine actually works. And, you know, I think a lot of the advances in science and medicine, if we go back about 15 years, came out of the Human Genome Project. So that was a really large scale, multi billion dollar multi year project to sequence all of the DNA in the human genome. So all the DNA that makes up a person. Yeah. So within 15 years, primarily as a result of the technology that Illumina has developed, the cost of sequencing that genome has gone down to less than $1,000. And the time it takes to sequence a genome has gone from about 15 years to you know, 24 to 48 hours. Something in that range. So what’s the what that’s enabled is that kind of genetic, genomic information? It’s enable that to be accessible pretty much everywhere to everyone who, who wants that. And so as you can imagine, that’s really changed the way we’re able to understand human disease, because most human diseases are genetic in origin. And it’s really starting to change the way that medicine is practiced in the States. So, you know, it’s been amazing in terms of what the future holds. I think it’s just really more of the same as this, you know, sequencing gets faster and cheaper. It’s probably going to be incorporated more and more into everyday life.

Matt 9:42
Yeah, that’s really fascinating. And I’ve, for those of for those of you that don’t know, Paul’s podcast, the Illumina genomics podcast, that’s a title, right. Yes. That that’s been really interesting for me to listen to and when I hear the conversations, you have its way over my head, but pretty amazed like how technical you go and the different people you have have on board there. So it’s just a really cool thing.

Paul 10:09
Oh, thanks. Yeah, thanks. I’d love to do it.

Matt 10:12
Yeah, definitely. And I think it’s so important. Like, this is the first podcast I’m starting. I’ve This is one of my first episodes, so I’m still kind of feeling it out and, and learning the medium. But it’s so great to see people kind of embarking into into audio and finding creative ways to do things. And it got me thinking, like, I think a major thing a lot of people listening to this might be thinking, whether they’re a biotech founder, or a university professor, they might want to start a podcast themselves and they might just be tossing around the idea of, of maybe getting people in their industry together or their circle. So what what was that like for you when you first started out with this with this project?

Paul 10:57
Yeah, I Well, first of all, welcome to the world of podcasts. We always we always need more people I’m sure you’re gonna do great. For me, it was interesting. I’m not I didn’t start out as a podcasting fan. I’m not one of those people that really religiously listen to podcasts even today. So for me, it was an exercise about communicating our science to a to a, you know, to a broader audience, of course, a technical audience for sure, but then then more of a broader audience. We did a few video series so my my team was responsible for producing a couple of video series, one of which was a really highly produced documentary style video series. And another one was more of a weekly kind of publication roundup like a journal club. Yeah. And that latter publication. We did it for a few years and we noticed that it never really got much traction. Not a lot of people watched it, it was, you know, it was made available on YouTube. It just didn’t get much traction. And so we were looking around for different channels. We might go to, to try to build an audience and, and podcasting was one of the things we we thought about. So we did some homework tried to figure out how we actually do it in practical terms. We were really happy to find out it didn’t take a lot of investment in terms of equipment and resources. So we just, we just went ahead and did our first one. And that was, I think, about three years ago. The first podcast we did was terrible, but I like to think that you’ve gotten better.

I hope that they have

Matt 12:32
not not saying it was terrible, but I’ve just, I can relate to that concept. Yeah, no, I can tell you is there’s a lot of self conscious.

Paul 12:41
But we you know, we got better. And one of the things we learned about it is that our, you know, the people that we talked to, were talking really to scientific medical experts, and they really love that. They really love this platform. They really love to tell their stories. They really love to have a channel where they can sit down for 45 minutes, just talk about About what they think is really important. Yeah. And I like the medium because it really captures that excitement that these folks have for what they’re doing. And I think in a way that is really not as compelling as an audio podcast.

Matt 13:17
Yeah, definitely. And I’ve even like, I’ve have some podcasts, just comedy comedians that I like. And they’re amazing. You know, they’re his current. His current episodes are this one guy, listen to his. They’re so spot on. And then I went back and listen, he’s like, at 165 now, and went back and listen to episode one. And it was the most, like, poorly done just like every other word. And I’m just like, wow, even the people who do it amazingly, they started out in square one too. So

Paul 13:51
totally. Yeah, yeah. No. The other interesting thing about it, what we learned is, you know, the, so we do something, you’re kind enough to mention that we Do an Illumina genomics podcast. It’s a branded podcast about, I would say pretty, pretty niche topic, right? Yeah. And we have good download numbers. But the interesting thing is that the people that listen in, they’re pretty much listening into the entire 20 or 30 minute episode, which, you know, even today, I find that pretty amazing that people will listen great for 30 minutes to an interview about genomics, but I think it’s one of the unique things about podcasting.

Matt 14:29
Yeah, yeah. And, and while we’re here, you know, our audience is a mix of scientists and university staff, even some contractors and construction people. Is there anything else going on at Illumina that you want to highlight or maybe show attention to that they might find useful?

Paul 14:50
Good question.

Well, you know, as a company we are, we are a b2b company, business to business company, but I think We, you know, as this genomic transformation continues, I think more and more the name of the name Illumina is something that people are going to more and more see. So I would just say stay tuned for that.

Matt 15:12
Cool. that pretty much wraps it up. I like keeping them like short and sweet. Is there anything else that you want to add

Paul 15:24
No, I think that that’s really good. I think it’s, I think it’s gonna really appreciate you, you know, you’re reaching out and having me on the show and wish you amazing success with your podcast.

Matt 15:34
I really appreciate it, Paul. Thanks for coming on the show.

Paul 15:37
You bet. Thanks.

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