Transforming a team from a contender into a champion is an age-old challenge in the sports world. One of the proven methods to achieve that goal is giving the team an injection of new energy and passion. Emerging, passionate professionals can have the similar effect in the fight against rare diseases, by driving research forward and developing innovative approaches to long-standing problems.
Five emerging researchers will get a boost this Saturday night at the Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring, which will be held at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The biotech leader is the title sponsor for the first-ever edition of this innovative event created by Uplifting Athletes, a non-profit comprised of college football players on more than 20 college and university campuses across the U.S. that’s focused on raising awareness of rare diseases and funding for research.
CSL Behring will be represented at the event with remarks from Jens Oltrogge, Head of Global Commercial Development Hematology. We sat down with Jens for a preview.
Vita: How does the Young Investigator Draft work?
Jens Oltrogge: The grant recipients have been pre-selected by key patient advocacy groups in five different areas of rare diseases: blood disorders, autoimmune and immunological disorders, genetic disorders, muscular and neurological disorders and cancers. Each recipient will be granted $10,000 from Uplifting Athletes to use toward their vitally important research. Since the event is being held at the home stadium of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, the grant winners will be announced in the style of the NFL Draft.
Vita: How can making an early investment in the next generation of rare disease researchers and biotechnology leaders pay off in the future?
Jens OItrogge: The funding is, of course, an important part in the practical matter of conducting research. But, on a higher level, this kind of investment and recognition gives encouragement to these emerging researchers and others to continue to make rare diseases a focus as they progress in their careers.
At CSL Behring, we are driven by our promise to patients and to the science that makes our lifesaving medicines a reality. I see this as an extension of CSL Behring’s efforts to establish a strong foundation of talent that will be working on therapies for those suffering from rare diseases over the years to come. As part of that effort, we give significant grants every year to emerging researchers focused on coagulation as part of our CSL Behring Professor Heimburger Award program. Our Interlaken Leadership Awards support original research in the field of neuroimmunology. And we support Investigator-Initiated Studies that address important medical and scientific questions related to our therapeutic areas of interest.
In addition, we cut the ribbon on the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility at Penn State University in June. This new laboratory allows students to work on the same equipment used in the process of creating our medicines in our manufacturing sites around the globe.
Vita: How did CSL Behring decide to get involved with Uplifting Athletes and this event?
Jens Oltrogge: The members of Uplifting Athletes take the same energy they bring to the football field and apply it toward the rare disease community. Their goal is to help those suffering with one of the thousands of rare diseases that, combined, afflict millions across the globe. We share the same goal at CSL Behring, where we have developed lifesaving medicines for a host of rare conditions, including hemophilia, hereditary angioedema and primary immunodeficiency diseases. We’re also pursuing a stem cell gene therapy development program that may one day lead to a treatment for sickle cell disease.
Saturday’s event is also being held right in our own backyard in Philadelphia, so the partnership makes a lot of sense to us.
Vita: The NFL is wildly-popular in the U.S. as are team sports as a whole. How can sports be used as a platform to help others?
Jens Oltrogge: I’m a former athlete myself. I grew up in Germany and basketball was my game, not American football. But I’ve seen first-hand the inspiration that team sports can provide not only to those playing the game, but to the communities they represent. Athletes are role models and they lead by example. Our team at CSL Behring leads by example as well. Through this event, we join Uplifting Athletes taking some of the passion and inspiration their players generate on the field and share it with the rare disease community of patients, healthcare professionals and researchers.