Dec 18, 2019·5 min read
Continuing with our feature series on the members of TiE Boston, we spoke with TiE Boston Charter Member, Purnanand Sarma, PhD, the President and CEO of Immunome Inc. his journey and what led him to TiE.
Purnanand Sarma, PhD, TiE Boston Charter Member
Tell me about yourself
I was born and raised in Andhra Pradesh, India, and attended Andhra University in Visakhapatnam. While at Andhra University, I earned my undergraduate degree in Pharmacy and quickly found a love for the intersection between technology and medicine. To enhance my knowledge further in this area, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. which led me to the University of Minnesota. During my time at UM, I earned a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics, a specific discipline that focuses on how medicine is actually delivered to the patient, taking into account nuances associated with drugs, patient disease state, and technologies involved in ensuring safe and effective delivery of medication.
After graduation, I traveled across the country to Philadelphia, where I took an entry-level position at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals. In my early years, I worked primarily on the scientific aspects of new drug development but was fascinated by how a large pharmaceutical company operates as a business, including the scope of product development, in-licensing, and market strategy. After 5 years with SmithKline, I took a leap of faith and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to look for a position in the expanding biotech sector, so I can directly get involved in both technical and business operations in a smaller company. I joined Inhale Therapeutics, which later became Nektar Therapeutics. Over the next 10 years at Nektar, I worked across multiple disciplines, including R&D, business development and corporate strategy, and successfully set up a greenfield R&D operation in Hyderabad, a first of its kind by a publicly traded US company, while building an association with biotech venture capitalists in the bay area. Nektar experience and success gave me the confidence to start my own enterprise. Unfortunately, this was 2008, and all of my connections in the VC ecosystem advised me not to leave my current position and start a new company, during a significant rescission. After spending about a year and a half at Cephalon corporation as a General Manager, I was recruited to lead TARIS Biomedical, founded by Michael Cima Bob Langer from MIT, whom I have known professionally for some time. So I moved to Boston in 2010, and built TARIS into a successful biotech company, providing an early exit to investors in 2016 with its first product, and continued to build the Company into a late-stage development organization with multiple high-value products. I have found a love for growing early-stage biotech companies, especially in the area of oncology. After bringing TARIS closer to the commercial stage, I decided to take the challenge of building a next-generation oncology company. This led me to Immunome, where I serve as the President, CEO and Board member, a unique company that interrogates patients’ immune responses to identify new treatments. Additionally, I also serve on the Boards of Vaxess technologies (an MIT Engine funded company in Cambridge) and Ohm Oncology, again, to advance cancer therapies.
How did you find TiE?
My first interaction was in the early 2000s while working in the bay area. At that time, TiE in the Bay Area was a large entity, but they had a significant focus on information technology and not much of a focus on medicine. A few biotech colleagues of mine and I always wondered how we can bring focus on biotech, including the formation of EPPIC as a sub-group under TiE focused on biotech. When I moved to Boston, I was thrilled to see a TiE chapter in Boston and signed up as a charter member.
What about TiE do you like/ has prompted you to get more involved?
Beyond the fantastic community and the casual, yet focused, environment, mentorship is the most impressive aspect of TiE. Having someone to rely on, and ask questions, is such a valuable resource, especially when that individual has been through all of the things you are struggling with. For example, I still consult with my mentors to this day, and they have been a mainstay in my entire professional life, and I can’t thank them enough. Additionally, with TiE, there is no expectation of getting anything back. You help because you want to, and I believe that it is far more genuine and impactful.
Purnanand Sarma, PhD, receiving the TiE CM Achievement Award in 2019
What TiE Initiatives are you involved in, and why do you stay involved?
Currently, I am working with the TiE Boston team, and other charter members, to create a biotech initiative. I have been involved with TiE Angles, and I plan to stay involved, but starting my own TiE initiative has been a goal of mine, so I will be putting most of my time into that. It is fantastic to see how diverse our community is. No matter what, there will always be someone interested in what you are working on, and you can help build each other. This community has helped me so much, and I want to give back my own program and cement my legacy.
What are you excited about in the future?
I am excited to see how technology is changing the future of medicine and how I can share that information with the next generation. We are making bespoke treatments affordable, and that is amazing. A major problem is health care is that every patient has unique nuances while dealing with their diseases, and customized treatment is often costly. I am very excited to see how technology can interface with medicine to make the bespoke treatment open to all.
Thank you to Purnanand Sarma for sharing his story and to Hugh Rossi for capturing it. To learn more about TiE Boston and how to get involved, check out boston.tie.org or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.