Jeannette Osterloh sits down for an interview

A former fly geneticist, Jeannette Osterloh came to Gladstone to leverage the potential of stem cells to study neurodegenerative disease. Inspired to help scientists translate their discoveries into therapeutic advancements, today she is the Corporate Liaison and Ventures Manager.


What brought you to Gladstone?
The short answer is stem cells! For my thesis work, I did a genetic screen in fruit flies to identify genes that control Wallerian degeneration, the process that results when a nerve fiber is cut or crushed. I tried to connect the pathway I discovered to neurodegenerative diseases but became frustrated by the current animal models, particularly for my disease of interest, ALS. The promise of using patient-derived stem cells to study disease in a potentially more physiologically relevant system was really exciting, so I joined Steve Finkbeiner’s lab for my postdoc.

What do you like about Gladstone?
I have a great team around me that is creative, supportive, and fun to work with.

Can you describe your role at Gladstone?
My responsibilities fall into three areas: (1) program scouting and translational development, (2) investor or partner introductions and meetings, and (3) transaction negotiations.

First, we help identify potential translational programs, and then work directly with the scientists to plan next steps, including quick “de-risking” experiments to assess commercial viability. This includes doing market research, understanding what disease(s) could be treated and how, what the current standard of care is, what a clinical trial could look like, and how other groups are tackling this problem. We also determine if the scientists are interested in spinning out a startup or licensing a program to an existing biopharma company.

Next, we build business plans and pitch decks. If the science is moving in the right direction, we set up investor meetings, or meet with innovation or acquisition managers at relevant biopharmas to market the program.

Finally, we’re the negotiation team for commercial transactions. This means coordinating with our IP and Legal team to draft and review agreements. We have to carefully navigate Gladstone’s nonprofit rules while making sure we place our science in the best position for development and commercialization.

In addition, I also have extensive program management training, so I help develop internal programming and professional development opportunities.

What do you like most about your job?
Working with scientists to develop strategic translational programs. The shift from basic science to translational program is bigger than most people think, and I get to bring new perspectives and help focus experiments. I have to have a comprehensive “market view” to make strategic decisions, but every program is unique and needs to be created from scratch. This gives me the opportunity to be creative while leveraging my scientific expertise, which I really enjoy.

Can you describe one of the people who influenced your career?
My parents. My mom was a regional physical therapy manager for Kaiser, so I grew up discussing healthcare and management around the house. My dad contracted polio before the vaccine was available and has always been partially paralyzed, but he started experiencing post-polio syndrome when I was around 10. It was hard to watch his physical abilities decline, but I was inspired to help others like him and pursue a career in biomedical sciences.

What do you do when you are not working?
I love to garden and do home improvement projects when I’m not confined to the couch due to “cat paralysis.” In another life, I’d be a house flipper.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
Car restoration. I love classic American muscle cars but have no idea how to even do an oil change. Someday I’ll have an early Mustang as a project car.

What is your hidden/unique talent?
Thanks to 6 years of studying fruit fly brains, I have very good fine motor control. I can dissect almost anything with the proper tools.

Name one thing that not many people know about you.
I have a higher-than-average understanding of Gladstone’s IT infrastructure.

If you could meet any scientist from any point in time, who would it be and why?
Rosalind Franklin. I am happy that she is now recognized for her scientific contributions, although I do think a lot of the discussions around her life are dramatized. Nevertheless, she was incredibly clever and showed remarkable grace and perseverance when faced with sexism in academia.

Why did you choose to pursue a career path in business development?
I had intended to pursue an academic career, but my postdoc project did not work out as planned. As I wrapped up my postdoc, I reflected on why I became a scientist: I wanted to contribute on a large scale to transforming patient care. I saw the struggle surrounding transitioning basic discoveries out of the lab and thought that there could be a meaningful way for me to bridge the business and scientific worlds and facilitate drug development. Many informational interviews later, I had a better sense of the difficulties and opportunities ahead of me, and by chance Gladstone’s Corporate Liaison &Ventures team was growing at the same time.

Can you describe your involvement with the Women’s Initiative at Gladstone and why you joined this group?
I co-chair the Leadership Development sub-committee with Melanie Das, a really talented scientist in the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease. We are committed to helping women build their unique skill sets so they are empowered to grow and develop professionally.

When I decided to make a relatively drastic career pivot, I had to quickly build up business and project management skills while finishing up my lab work. I wish I had developed these skills a lot sooner! I am committed to paying it forward and helping the next wave of women leaders get a head start.