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Inside “Absolutely Fascinating” Careers in Hematology Oncology and Cell Therapy

December 7, 2022
Career GrowthCell TherapyGlobal Drug DevelopmentInnovationOncologyResearch and Development
Careers Home  /  Career Stories  /  Inside “Absolutely Fascinating” Careers in Hematology Oncology and Cell Therapy

With two FDA approved treatments and a robust pipeline of innovative and transformative medicines, Bristol Myers Squibb has established a leadership position within hematology oncology.  We are currently developing the next generation of these groundbreaking therapies to help transform the lives of patients.

Aparna Raval, Executive Director, Multiple Myeloma Head, Translational Medicine, Research & Early Development
Aparna Raval, Executive Director, Multiple Myeloma Head, Translational Medicine, Research & Early Development

This fertile environment for Research and Development offers uniquely interesting work and life-changing careers whether you are currently involved in biologics, small molecules, or cell therapies as an oncologist, hematologist or a PhD.

Aparna Raval and Mihaela Popa McKiver are two BMS scientists at the forefront of groundbreaking science, the former just recently hired, the latter having 7 years of tenure.

After spending 17 years in academia, Aparna Raval, Executive Director of Translational Medicine for Multiple Myeloma in R&ED, spent 7 years in commercial biopharma before joining BMS just 3 months ago. “I had an immunology and hematology background, and I was working on heme malignancies,” she said. “A BMS recruiter reached out with the promise of getting into late-stage development in multiple myeloma. It’s the only time I’ve ever responded to a recruiter. I’m glad I did because I feel like I was made for the position.”

For Mihaela Popa McKiver, Executive Director of Clinical Development for ide-cel in Global Drug Development, a post-doc fellowship in geriatric oncology led to a small biotech and the opportunity to work with a therapeutic manufactured from a patient’s malignant cells and infused back into the patient. “You could say it was a precursor to the advanced therapies we’re now working on,” Mihaela said. “I’ve developed a passion for immunotherapies and particularly for personalized immunotherapies. The science behind them is absolutely fascinating.”

From Academia to Commercial Biopharma

When asked what inspired the move away from academia, Aparna laid out the differences between the two. “In academics, you’re so focused on grant writing and paper publications, you can lose sight of why you are doing the work in the first place.”

Mihaela Popa McKiver, Clinical Development Team Lead, CAR T Cell Therapy, Global Drug Development
Mihaela Popa McKiver, Clinical Development Team Lead, CAR T Cell Therapy, Global Drug Development

Whether recruiting from academia or the commercial biopharma sector, Mihaela explains why a move to BMS is a great career move. “Simply because we are attracting the best talent to better serve patients now, while at the same time we’re focusing on developing strategic partnerships to grow our pipeline of next generation assets and deliver on our commitment to the patients of tomorrow.”

“That makes all the difference,” added Aparna. “What attracted me was how everybody at BMS is so motivated toward a common goal. There’s more sharing, discussing, camaraderie and team spirit.”

Aside from a rich pipeline of assets, which gives colleagues the option to work in a multitude of indications and compounds, doing interesting, meaningful and life-changing work, Mihaela touched on some practical benefits.

“Working side-by-side with talented, dedicated teams offers vast opportunities for learning and contributing,” she said. “We have multiple training and mentoring resources in place to make the transition from academia a smooth one. And aside from the innovative science, BMS offers competitive compensation packages, multiple locations in the US and globally, and a hybrid work environment.”

From Hematology to Cell Therapy

While transition from academia to cell therapy at BMS can be eye-opening and fulfilling, so too can the move from hematology to cell therapy be rewarding and natural.

“The clinical expertise of a hematologist provides the necessary skill set to do clinical development work in CAR T,” said Mihaela, referencing cellular therapies. “While CAR T studies do have unique aspects, such as manufacturing related ones, the basics of clinical development are specific to the respective indication. If one is running a clinical trial with CAR T in, say, myeloma, then having that hematologist skill set would be critical.”

Aparna previously mentioned her hematology background as she moved into Translational Medicine for Hematology in R&ED, where a good understanding of pre-clinical research, and early and late-stage clinical development are necessary. “I got basic research experience in academia working on hematologic malignancies and in my earlier commercial biopharma work, I got experience in both early and late-stage clinical development,” she said, adding, “But at BMS, in this particular job, I have the opportunity to contribute at all the stages of research and development, leveraging the rich pipeline at BMS.”

A Culture of Collaboration

From Aparna in R&ED or Mihaela in GDD, one consistent message is that the culture within BMS is one of support, but also one that encourages a free and open exchange of ideas which is critical within evolving fields like hematology oncology and cell therapy.

“This is a barely chartered territory where we have a lot of unanswered questions,” Mihaela said. “This is a living therapy, so having that level of comfort where we feel free to exchange ideas, no matter how off-the-wall they might sound at first is critical to our culture.”

“That was a pleasant surprise to me,” added Aparna. “If you think of a novel idea, of course you need robust preclinical rationale, but that can be implemented at BMS much faster than I have seen elsewhere. There’s a passion and urgency for innovation in the team.”

Careers with a Global Reach

As you might imagine, the R&ED and GDD teams within BMS Hematology Oncology and CAR T cell therapy cover a large footprint and are constantly in touch and sharing information. On the cell therapy manufacturing end, a new facility will open in The Netherlands in 2024 to complement our growing facilities on the east and west coasts of the US. Key R&ED and GDD locations in the US include Cambridge, MA; Summit and Princeton, NJ; Seattle, WA; and San Diego and San Francisco, CA. Outside the US, offices and labs are in Boudry, Switzerland.

Mihaela spoke of the importance of global teams. “We’re working on consolidating the clinical team in Boudry, and two of my four physicians are there,” she said. “Many of our clinical scientists and clinical operations are there as well, which is important because we’re conducting global trials.”

From interesting work to opportunities for career growth, and talented peers and teammates who are leaders in their fields, BMS is the place to be when it comes to hematologic oncology and cell therapies. It isn’t easy work. But it is rewarding work where you will rewrite the rules, solve the toughest challenges, and create miracles. This is where transformations happen. Explore Research and Development roles today.