Q&A with: Juliette Han, PhD, Chief Operating Officer, Cambrian Biopharma
Juliette Han is the Chief Operating Officer at Cambrian Biopharma. She was previously the Chief of Staff at Two Sigma Private Investments Group. Prior to Two Sigma, Juliette was a Chief Operating Officer of People & Human Resources Operations at the hedge fund Citadel, and is an alumna of McKinsey & Co. Juliette holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University (learn more about Juliette).
What is Cambrian’s basic strategy?
We're figuring out a way to make the drug discovery process more thoughtfully and flexibly resourced and programmatic, to increase its overall chance of success. The chance of success in drug R&D is so slim that it often feels like a fishing expedition. Finding that one molecule, that one therapy that's going to work without significant side effects is an incredibly difficult pursuit. But science and technology has progressed so much in the last 10 to 20 years that we believe it’s time to take a new look at drug discovery and look for opportunities to make the process more successful, especially in early pre-clinical phases of development.
Is Cambrian a fund or a company?
We are a company. Unlike funds, we have no restrictions around things like deadline to return all invested capital and performance tied to that deadline, which means that we can truly prioritize making great drugs as our primary lever, not investment timelines or returns. We’re driven by the mission of creating these new drugs, and that’s what we put first. As a company, we generate funding and we put that towards resourcing different types of therapies, which distributes the risk inherent in R&D, and we can take the long-term view, deploying resources as needed to make the program successful. We have founders with equity in the company, and we have investors investing into Cambrian as a whole, but they are not LPs.
I think that's a huge advantage for our investor base because if you invest into a biotech that has one asset, that’s a huge risk. One bad readout and it's done. By investing in Cambrian, investors get the exposure in early-stage biotech they are looking for, while diversifying their bets. Our team of scientists turned drug developers perform the deep technical and business diligence required. Then we work very closely with our drug programs and have very defined milestones at every stage. If a program isn’t working out, we can quickly reassess and divert those resources elsewhere.
What sets Cambrian apart from other longevity companies?
Longevity is a very broad term, and we like to think that we’re pioneering a new definition where we’re thinking about and understanding the biological mechanisms that change in the cell or body over time. We’re not trying to fight the end of life or be “immortal”—that's what a lot of people perceive when they hear “longevity”. What we're trying to answer is, how do we stay as healthy as possible? Why do we have to lose immunity? Why should we lose the way our organs function? Our goal is to really understand the mechanisms that go awry with age and how to make them preventable.
How did you get interested in this field?
In my training, including my PhD, I was interested in development in prenatal and early developmental systems and neuroscience. The theme was around what is the "normal state," and then how do things become abnormal? For me, thematically, the prenatal and early human development field is similar to the way we approach longevity. In the long run, I believe that everything that happens in a human body is all correlated. That's why when you feel stressed about money, jobs, or relationships, your body reacts holistically—your sleep patterns change, your endocrine system is out of function, your immune system goes down.
How is Cambrian working to better understand this interconnection?
It will take a while for us to understand how everything is intricately related. In the R&D world, this is not always the most positive thing, because you tend to focus on one mechanism and have to constantly worry about unforeseen side effects. We would ultimately like to understand how all of these mechanisms are interrelated. We go really deep into that scientifically and make multiple bets.
How does Cambrian support this effort?
Our sweet spot is finding scientists with promising druggable targets that align with our mandate, and we provide the drug discovery and operational expertise. For instance, we have our Pipeline Operations team that will take a commercial perspective—they build out corporate verticals like HR, legal, and help develop frameworks for valuations and finance. Our R&D team will help sculpt the R&D strategy and experiment plan, staying in lock step with the founding scientific team to ensure successful execution. Essentially, we provide key expertise and resource centrally that each pipeline can tap into flexibly. It allows us to share best practices across the platform and deploy best resources as needed.
As COO overseeing companies in development, what is the biggest challenge?
If you want to create an elite organization that’s capable of achieving something spectacular in an incredibly difficult field, you have to have the right team in place, empowered and informed to make the right decisions. I am fortunate to be surrounded by some of the top minds in their respective roles, and I have to continuously assess how deeply or light-touch I need to engage. To achieve consistency in outcome, I have to customize my approach for every project, program, and team. It’s challenging and rewarding.
Why did you choose neuroscience for your PhD?
To me, neuroscience felt like it had the most unanswered questions. Not only is the brain itself scientifically difficult to understand, it is also complexly linked to our bodies, beliefs and philosophies, and even technological endeavors. We’re trying to answer so many questions here at Cambrian as well, and what keeps me excited is bringing clarity to ambiguity, pursuing answers to difficult questions and coming up with innovative solutions. My ambition is that my work will contribute to finding some of the answers that positively impact on society and humankind.