S. Peter Bak, a Holden native and Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholar, has made the unique transition from academia to business with the consulting firm Back Bay Life Science Advisors. Bak visited Tufts University’s Biomedical Business Club Tuesday night to speak in a consulting seminar.
During an interview with The Daily Free Press, Bak recounted his growth in the life sciences field.
“It started with my father being an organic chemist for many, many years,” said Bak, now the manager at BBLSA. He later said he became interested in not only chemistry, “but biology during my undergraduate [coursework] at the College of the Holy Cross.”
From there, Bak traversed the academic landscape. Starting at Holy Cross, he worked his way through a Ph.D at Dartmouth Medical School in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, focusing on ovarian cancer and the relationship with the immune system.
“I joined an immunology lab where I did my research work, where it was centered on how the immune system and cancer interacts, which is becoming a hot topic of research in the immunology,” Bak said.
His first major research project involved tumor cells in a mouse model, explaining how tumor-derived factors “co-opt the immune cells in a microenvironment and turn them against the host, which would normally be cells that would kick-start an immune response.”
After his first research project, Bak earned the American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
“I continued to look at ways to use the immune system to fight cancer and, along the normal process of cancer progression, the ability of the immune system to keep cancer in check goes awry,” Bak said.
He described the atmosphere at the Koch Institute as “a neat place, and a very collaborative environment,” emphasizing the critical mix of engineers and biologists working on projects.
Noticing faculty had branched out and licensed their technologies and discoveries, Bak said he became “fairly interested in how basic ideas and discoveries are translated and brought to the medical community.”
It was at that point, Bak said, that he made the critical paradigm shift from academics to business.
“I really became interested in consulting,” he said. “You’re constantly learning new things, from a certain drug target to a disease pathway, and so that very much appealed to me.”
Four years ago, he was one of the first hires at the BBLSA firm, a “hybrid between a financial consulting firm and strategy consulting firm.”
Covering every stage of research projects, the firm is present from assessing the research question, including advising the strategy of the research.
BBLSA has had an ongoing relationship with the Tufts Biomedical Business Club, as well as the Tufts New England Case Competition hosted in August 2016. During Bak’s talk on Tuesday, he acquainted attendees with him, his career, the firm and the future.
“I think it’s an opportunity to ask me questions about where I am and things they should do now if they’re looking down the road to make that transition from academia,” Bak said.
In addition to providing advice to the next generation of consultants and life scientists, Bak is looking forward to becoming more involved with the financial sector of BBLSA, describing how much he admires the “seamless model between the strategy work and the financial work.”
Bak said he particularly enjoys “projects where I can use all of the scientific training that I’ve had to understand where the drug is eventually going across the treatment paradigm, plus using all the skills I’ve learned at Back Bay translating the value of the product both now and in the future.”
Prospectively, Bak is looking forward to staying with the firm, describing it as a “tight-knit group of colleagues.” As one of the first hires, he said he has watched the growth of the firm over the course of four years.
“It’s great to grow with the team with the opportunities to learn from one another given the diverse backgrounds,” Bak said. “Beyond the Ph.Ds, the folks with clinical experiences, those with industry experience and those with banking experience.”