Shefali Agarwal: Creating Medicines That Target Specific Diseases

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Shefali Agrawal

WALTHAM, MA— Dr. Shefali Agarwal says that there are not enough women at the table and making decisions. She herself, however, is an exception. She currently serves as Epizyme’s Chief Medical Officer, sits on the table and makes many vital decisions on behalf of the company. Epizyme is a Cambridge, MA-based late-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to rewriting treatment for cancer and other serious diseases through novel epigenetic medicines.

“My goal has been to create medicines targeted at specific diseases, that are easily administered, tolerable and easy for patients to take, and are based on a deep understanding of which patients will benefit from them,” says Dr. Agarwal. “I aspire to change the standard of care for patients and physicians by developing medicines with fundamentally new mechanisms of action. This research gives the opportunity to change the lives of patients living with cancer and other serious diseases.”

Shefali Agarwal Photo: © Bryce Vickmark)

Dr. Agarwal’s more than 15 year of diverse career encompasses the entire requisites of biotech including academic medicine and research from clinic to bedside, pharmaceutical drug development from pre-clinical to post marketing in a variety of therapeutic areas including oncology.

Prior to joining the company in 2018, she most recently served as chief medical officer at SQZ Biotech, where she built and led the clinical development organization, which included clinical research operations and the regulatory function.

Before SQZ Biotech, Dr. Agarwal also held leadership positions at Curis and Tesaro. At Curis, she oversaw the Phase 2 study for its dual HDAC/PI3K inhibitor in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and the Phase 1 study in solid tumors for its oral checkpoint inhibitor. At Tesaro, she led the NDA and EMA submission as well as approval for ZEJULA® (niraparib) in ovarian cancer.

She has also held positions of increasing responsibility at Covidien, AVEO Oncology and Pfizer where she led programs that resulted in the approvals of key oncology drugs. In addition to receiving her medical degree, Dr. Agarwal holds a master’s of public health and a master’s of science in business. She has a vast experience in overseeing as well as guiding large global teams in problem solving, medical & scientific support and strategic development plans.

Here is a Q/A with Dr. Agarwal:

INDIA NEW ENGLAND NEWS: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Dr. Shefali Agarwal: A diverse career of academic medicine and research from clinic to bedside, pharmaceutical drug development from pre-clinical to post marketing, and medical/regulatory oversight review from IND to NDA. Medical background coupled with business and public health to provide expertise in a variety of therapeutic areas including oncology.

My goal has been to create medicines targeted at specific diseases, that are easily administered, tolerable and easy for patients to take, and are based on a deep understanding of which patients will benefit from them. I aspire to change the standard of care for patients and physicians by developing medicines with fundamentally new mechanisms of action. This research gives the opportunity to change the lives of patients living with cancer and other serious diseases

INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

SA: American Society of Clinical Oncology, The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Organizations that are supporting cancer research and seeking to find cure PETA; Love for animals, CARE; Working with corporations, institutions and other agencies to more efficiently help people in need.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

SA: I love to dance and cook. It helps me relax and helps me keep my mind active. I love to try new items and cook things that I never would have even attempted before.

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community or your company/organization and professional field?

SA: With the pioneer work that we have been in oncology, access to new treatments / rollout of new technologies is possible earlier or more widely than they would be otherwise available. The advancement in oncology clinical research with innovative compounds have given options to patients who are suffering from serious life threatening cancers and contributing to improving care for future patients.

INE: What is the most pressing issue that you believe women are facing today?

SA: There is lack of women in positions of power. Not enough women at the table, making decisions. Job discrimination and pay inequality can be attributed to a number of things, including an inherent hiring bias against women and the glass ceiling that prevents many women from being promoted to leadership positions.

Despite decades of notable progress, a reality in which opportunities are not defined by gender has yet to be universally achieved. Even more disconcerting, in too many places around the globe, women exercising or even seeking their basic rights is interpreted as a direct and destabilizing challenge to existing power structures.

INE: What is your rare talent that people don’t know about?

SA: Makeup with sparkles and bold colors to enhance inner beauty and confidence

INE: What are your favorite books?

SA: “Ruby” by Cynthia Bond; “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd; “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis.

INE: What are your favorite quotes that motivate you or make you smile?

SA: “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.” –Oprah Winfrey.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” — Thomas A. Edison.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” — Woodrow Wilson.

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”– Winston S. Churchill.

INE: Who inspires you the most?

SA: My mother who is my super hero, role model, my rock and my inspiration. My mother has taught me that hard times can be overcome and that losing battles can be won. She has taught me more than I could have learnt from any book. Her support, drive, strength, and courage cannot be found just anywhere. I am blessed to call her my mom

INE: Who is the one person you would like to meet and why?

SA: Oprah Winfrey. Her life story is a great example of a woman who has moved from rags to riches, risen from poverty to the top of the world, who changed America and the world for the better. Oprah Winfrey’s personality traits include being sincere, courageous and hard working. Oprah Winfrey had to overcome countless obstacles on her way to success and in her journey towards success helped many.

INE: What are your core values that you try to live by?

SA: Authenticity, Determination, Compassion, Responsibility, Loyalty, Curiosity, Kindness and Fearlessness.

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