NJEDA Spotlight on Executive-in-Residence: Jean Merrill

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) recently unveiled its inaugural Executive-in-Residence group.  These highly-qualified life sciences executives will mentor and advise emerging technology companies at the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT), the EDA’s life sciences incubator.  The Executive-in-Residence program was created in collaboration with BioNJ.  

CCIT Executive-in-Residence Jean Merrill of Morristown is an internationally recognized leader, innovator and strategically-focused research and development (R&D) executive with a record of professional accomplishments in industry and academia.

Citing her extensive work in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, the organization Mass High Tech named Jean to its 2012 list of Women to Watch in Science and Technology.  Jean’s career spans 35 years and two continents.  She’s worked on everything from basic research to drug development, from idea inception to the clinic.  Jean started her research career in academia studying the cause and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis [MS] as a professor in the Department of Neurology at UCLA School of Medicine.  In 1995, after 17 years in academia, Jean was recruited to Berlex Biosciences in the Bay area and then to Hoechst Marion Roussel (later sanofi aventis), bringing her to Bridgewater, New Jersey.  As US Head of Neurology and MS research at sanofi aventis, Jean was responsible for strategy and implementation of a neuroimmunology and regenerative medicine portfolio and management of global MS research activities of a multinational group.  She was part of the sanofi aventis team that achieved FDA approval for Aubagio, one of the first two orally-available drugs for the treatment of MS. She is considered an early innovator in the field of neuroimmunology. Most recently, Jean was the VP and Global Head of neuroimmunology at Merck Serono, where her work was focused in the area of inflammatory diseases of the nervous system.

As Executive-in-Residence – Tactical and Strategic Business Models, Jean is helping CCIT tenants set up their business plans.   Having experienced the rigors of both applying for R&D funds and being the source of such funding, Jean is using this experience to also assist CCIT companies in choosing good funding targets, preparing funding applications, and helping them present themselves and their technologies and products to various funding sources.

In addition to mentoring tenants at CCIT, Jean volunteers her time imparting knowledge on New Jersey’s greater life sciences community:  In April, Jean gave a lecture entitled “Use of Animal Models for an Integrated Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Strategy” to graduate students at Rutgers University, and she also has mentored entrepreneurs through Launch NJ’s Life Sciences Meetups.

Jean received an MBA in marketing and finance from UCLA Anderson School of Management and a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from UCLA School of Medicine.

Why did you choose to apply to the Executive-in-Residence program?

I chose to look into the Executive-in-Residence program because it was recommended to me by a colleague, Dr. Sam Kongsamut, who had positive experiences working with CCIT. I was impressed with the effort being made at CCIT to help young companies get funding and establish a foothold in the business world with their entrepreneurial activities. My work while at Merck Serono with funding entrepreneurs through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society program called Fast Forward was a very rewarding experience and made for a good fit with the E-I-R goals. I wanted to continue along that path in my retirement by volunteering my expertise. I felt working with the EDA and CCIT, I could give back to an area of science that provides the seeds of future drugs and technologies.

What do you hope to get out of this Executive-in-Residence program?
I hope to help companies reach their goals, from making informal and formal presentations for funding to their success in obtaining the funding.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard over the years that you hope to impart on these emerging life sciences companies?

There’s an old Navajo proverb that describes the struggle between the river and the rock. In this struggle, the river always wins, not through strength but through perseverance. Many of these companies have commercially viable agents and technologies. They must not give up in the effort to move them forward.

What is the next challenge you want to undertake in your career? 

I am developing a drug discovery course for biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and engineering students at my undergraduate alma mater, Smith College, during their Independent Studies period. The goal is to stimulate them through hands on studies, research, and teamwork to build interest in developing medicines and treatment technologies so that they might consider jobs in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.


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