Everyone Has a Plan Until Everything Changes

A research cardiologist at CSL Behring chronicles how the world of science is rolling forward, despite a global pandemic.

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illustration of the heart and cardiovascular system

I didn’t plan on becoming a cardiologist or set out to work in biotech. The trajectory of my career took some important turns thanks to mentors who helped me look at things differently. And like everyone else, I didn’t plan on a pandemic to turn my daily life inside out (or rather, outside in). What I continue to learn is that planning is essential, but change is inevitable, and our greatest achievements factor in both.

I went to MIT to study aeronautical engineering, but two summers spent in a cardiology lab changed everything. The experience was so inspiring that it cemented my desire to become a research cardiologist. I devoted a decade to patient care, teaching and research when someone motivated me to change course.

While racing between sessions at an annual American Heart Association meeting I ran into an old professor from medical school. He had since joined the pharma industry and piqued my interest in an exciting concept: Instead of treating one patient at a time, what if, through drug development, I could help many thousands or more? Nearly 25 years later, this goal still gets me up in the morning.

Despite the medical and pharma communities’ best laid plans, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death worldwide. Though huge progress has been made through novel treatment advances and large-scale education initiatives, we still grapple with an increase in patients experiencing CVD and its complications. The profile of the typical patient has dramatically changed and I’m excited to be part of a movement to address their urgent needs.

There was no networking in the corridors of this year’s first major cardiology conference. For the first time, the American College of Cardiology cancelled its Scientific Sessions and pivoted to virtual presentations due to the emergence of COVID-19. Though I missed the face-to-face interactions, new medical science was still presented and discussed. COVID-19 has changed how we are able to perform and report research and has required us to focus our efforts on the disease itself.

CSL Behring is part of this global innovative effort and has responded rapidly and flexibly. This type of agility and enthusiasm had attracted me to the company after two decades of working in big pharma. This culture – and the pull to be part of something truly transformative – ultimately sealed the deal.

CSL Behring is metamorphosing from a global leader in tackling rare and serious disorders to also a strong contender in the broader area of Cardiovascular and Metabolic diseases. To execute this vision, the therapeutic area has been added as the fifth to our R&D focus areas. We’ve recruited some of the world’s top talent to build up our Cardiovascular and Metabolic strength and advance our late-stage pipeline, CSL112, for decreasing the high incidence of early recurrent events experienced by those who have survived a heart attack.

If we are successful, this will be transformative for the company (which had to undertake clinical trials of greater magnitude than ever before), but even more so for patients who will have a new plan and novel approach for protecting their lives after a heart attack.

I believe great things can emerge from change – even unexpected, uncertain, or life-altering change. I’m optimistic that the collaborative spirit we’re witnessing across the pharmaceutical industry will not only produce effective therapies against COVID-19, but will carry on beyond the pandemic. I also look forward to a future where we’re once again running down the long halls of convention centers, making valuable connections and motivating each other to make a real difference for patients. 

portrait photo of R&D Vice President Cardiovascular and Metabolic TA Larry Deckelbaum
Larry Deckelbaum, CSL Behring’s Vice President, R&D, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease Therapy Area