Insights
January / February 2019

Fishing for Biopharma Success

Paul J. Cumbo
Article - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

Maritime discipline took the Boston Area Chapter President from a trawler to the boardroom. - It might seem odd to connect commercial fishing to the study of chemical engineering— and perhaps even more unlikely to connect commercial fishing to a career in the biopharmaceutical industry. But for Kevin Chronley, Vice President of Strategic Business Planning and Development at A\Z Corporation and ISPE Boston Area Chapter President, the lessons he learned on New England trawlers served as the foundation for success in college and career.

Kevin Chronley
Kevin Chronley

A native of coastal Narraganset, Rhode Island, Chronley worked hard on the boats to pay for his education at the University of Rhode Island. The rigors of that job, he realized, apply to his biopharma career too. “You’ve got to be tenacious. Put in the extra effort. Get out there earlier, stay out there later. And then, when you come in exhausted, you’ve got to get up and do it all again.”

Chronley, who holds the distinction of being the only person to serve as President of two different ISPE Chapters, first led the New England Chapter from 2010 to 2013. He now heads the combined Boston Area Chapter, which merged with the New England Chapter in 2013. His seaside roots inspire his commitment to the region, demonstrated by the Geographic Outreach (GO) initiatives with hubs in Providence, Rhode Island; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Worchester, Massachusetts.

Core Elements

Describing the three pillars of ISPE as education, networking, and resources, Chronley explained his deep appreciation for these core elements. Like the self-discipline he learned on fishing trawlers, Chronley knows they were also key to his success in college. Dr. David Schilling, a professor and mentor that Chronley and his classmates affectionately called “Coach,” helped him come to this understanding.

“I was fed up with the course work. I was making good money fishing, and thinking I would quit,” Chronley recalled. “Coach pulled me aside and put it to me plainly. He said, ‘I heard you were thinking about quitting. Look around at these old fishermen with missing fingers. I think you’ll regret dropping out of college. But look, if you want to succeed, you need to read the material, work together collaboratively with your classmates, and recognize resources that can be utilized to contribute to your objectives.’ Looking back, I realize those are the same three pillars of ISPE: education, networking, and resources,” Chronley explained. His gratitude to Coach Schilling is clear, as his career path has been an exciting one.

Chronley’s initial pharmaceutical work with Ciba-Geigy (which merged with Sandoz in 1996 to form Novartis AG) evolved into a career in global chemical process manufacturing. This brought him to the Chicago area as Vice President of Operations for Hammond Group, a small multinational diversified chemical manufacturing rm. But it didn’t take long for Chronley to return to New England. “I was in Tampa, Florida, on a February afternoon in 2003 when I signed up to head to Engineered Technologies, Inc. And that same afternoon, I signed up to participate in the winter ISPE conference, because I knew ISPE would provide access to those three keys: education, networking, and resources.”

Reinvent yourself relentlessly. Careers are a playground of opportunities—be an ongoing learner. It will either inspire improvement and innovation within your field, or it will stimulate evolution to new areas of interest.

Industry Changes

Chronley is excited by the trajectory he sees in the industry. “When I first entered the market in the early 1980s, the industry was primarily small-molecule pharmaceuticals addressing high-volume therapeutics for common diseases. Today the commercial focus of biologic drug development is categorically ‘orphan’ or personalized drugs.” These therapeutics will improve quality of life and longevity, he added. “Innovation is delivering health care solutions for some of the most common and treacherous diseases, as well as those for smaller populations.”

As an example, he noted a presentation by Dr. J. Christopher Love (Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT) at the ISPE Boston Area Chapter 25th Anniversary Gala. “He talked about the evolution of manufacturing, and he laid out a vision for small, appliance-sized biologics-process devices that could custom-produce drugs for individual patients at a pharmacy. That kind of technology could well be on the horizon.”

It’s an exciting prospect but, having the right people with the right skills is key to realizing this innovative future, according to Chronley—and that’s where ISPE plays a crucial role. “There’s a gap of trained human capital in our industry. ISPE is instrumental in developing careers in biopharma. ISPE brings a value proposition with the benefits we provide, including scholarship and mentoring for young professionals.” He couples this observation with his encouragement and advice to emerging leaders. “Reinvent yourself relentlessly. Innovate. Careers are a playground of opportunities—be an ongoing learner. It will either inspire improvement and innovation within your field, or it will stimulate evolution to new areas of interest.”

Chronley knows that in biopharma, as in any industry, there’s no substitute for discipline and commitment. The grit that saw him through long cold days on heaving fishing trawlers is the same that sustained him through college—and what keeps him working hard today. But working hard isn’t enough, to hear Chronley tell it. One also must work smart, and that includes making the most of education, networking, and resources. “Through those three pillars,” Chronley explained, “ISPE facilitates the requirements for a successful, growing, ever-changing career.”