From his formative years in Lebanon, where he once led his childhood soccer squad, Bob Dagher’s passion for teamwork found an unexpected echo in his current role as the Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics.
Drawing parallels between his youthful days on the soccer field and his present responsibilities, Dagher shared with BioSpace that his motivation wasn’t just about outdoing opponents, but about the camaraderie, the unity that playing as a team brought. “Those matches were more than just wins or losses; they were about synergy, about equitable play,” Dagher recounted. And that perspective has endured.
Recently welcomed into BrainStorm, a prominent biotech enterprise specializing in pioneering treatments for rare neurological ailments, Dagher’s entrance in July 2023 was nothing short of a strategic masterstroke. His role revolves around steering the company’s comprehensive strategy and refining the clinical development blueprints for their pipeline products. The timing couldn’t be more serendipitous, with the triumph of NurOwn, their amyotrophic lateral sclerosis wonder-drug, in Phase III trials. The whole world now awaits the FDA’s decision, slated for December 2023.
As a fresh helmsman, navigating the intricate labyrinth of drug development, Dagher still harks back to those sunlit days of childhood soccer, which now infuse his distinctive leadership approach. “It’s the human factor that takes precedence,” he affirmed. To him, it’s not just about individual prowess; it’s about orchestration, about members harmonizing their efforts and anticipating each other’s moves. “A strong team can have exceptional individuals, but if they don’t meld, don’t sync, everything can unravel,” he wisely emphasized.
Global Medical Training
Beyond the boundaries of the soccer pitch, Bob Dagher’s brilliance extended into his academic journey, a trailblazing path destined for the realm of medicine. Even as a young mind, he recognized his vocation, an ambition that stirred within him like a restless flame. However, his dreams lacked a lineage of medical heritage; neither family nor community bore the torch of healthcare. Compounding these challenges was the tumultuous backdrop of wartime Lebanon, an era where academic pursuits were often entwined with migration. For the determined youth, the compass pointed to France, where knowledge awaited across borders.
Enrolling at Bordeaux University during the early 1990s, Dagher’s intellectual voyage became infused with the study of psychiatry and neurology. Graduation heralded the juncture of contemplation, contemplating the realm of surgery. But as the wheels of fate turned, the trajectory veered toward Quebec, a land his kin had chosen as their refuge.
The aspiration to mend bones as an orthopedic surgeon took an unexpected twist upon crossing transatlantic waters. Dagher reminisces, “Exiting Bordeaux, North America posed unexpected hurdles for that path.” A brief sojourn in Canada marked merely a chapter, leading to the pivotal moment of resonance: a residency match at Boston University Medical Center in 1996. A city once unfamiliar, Boston now stood as his abode, a harbor for his ambitions.
Yet, this intricate web of international wanderings was the crucible shaping his present role in clinical research, as Dagher reveals. Each transition mirrored the measured cadence of clinical trials, demanding deliberate, sequential strides. These undertakings nurtured his affinity for embracing ambiguity, an apprenticeship in trusting the grander scheme.
As time weaved its course, Boston witnessed the culmination of Dagher’s residency, birthing his private practice. A polymath emerged – speaker, legal trials’ medical sage, conductor of pivotal study trials for notable biotech players. The fragments of experience dovetailed seamlessly, an orchestration that inevitably serenaded him to the corridors of BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics.
Eyes on the Prize—and Beyond
As a trailblazing leader, Dagher imparts a powerful philosophy to his research teams—an exhortation to embrace intuition while boldly stepping forward, not just once but thrice, even amidst the fog of uncertainty. “I often find myself slipping into my bathing suit and plunging into the pool, propelled by the knowledge that I can navigate its depths. It’s a journey into the unknown currents,” Dagher reveals with a sparkle in his eye. He underscores the delicate equilibrium between judicious caution and audacious action, acknowledging the trade-off between excessive care and profound learning.
This credo assumes paramount significance in the intricate realm of brain exploration, where straightforward pathways rarely exist. The terrain is a complex interplay of hypotheses, failures, and revelations. A prior collaboration with Genzyme/Sanofi stands as a testament—a study that, like a chameleon, metamorphosed through twelve iterations, adapting in response to unforeseen insights.
Dagher waxes poetic about the brain’s enigma, labeling it the “final frontier,” a domain resolute in resisting easy conquest. “Our assumptions about its anatomy are but a fraction of the grander design,” he concedes, underscoring the labyrinthine complexity of neural networking.
The mystique of the brain unveils itself through NurOwn’s quest for regulatory approval. The Brainstorm team’s journey began with a submission to the FDA in 2021, only to be met with an unfavorable verdict, deeming their Phase III trials inadequate for a BLA. November 2022 mirrored a similar tale, as manufacturing and clinical hurdles thwarted their aspirations. Yet, Dagher remains resolute, relying on an intrinsic spirit of perseverance and adaptability to shepherd projects past similar challenges.
While FDA endorsement typically crowns biopharma endeavors, Dagher’s purpose surpasses that milestone, extending to the ultimate deliverance of treatment to the deserving. His global voyage has gifted him an extraordinary lens, setting him apart from his industry peers.
Childhood memories of Lebanon’s healthcare landscape—the privatized market with sparse public options—linger in his mind. In Canada and France, universal healthcare systems existed, albeit harboring bottlenecks. Upon reaching the United States, Dagher’s optimism aligned with many practitioners’, envisioning a healthcare utopia. Yet, reality unveiled a stark contrast, with soaring costs and access barriers.
“Solving the labyrinth of healthcare issues persists in this nation,” he laments, noting the staggering expense and insurance gaps. Undaunted, he vows, “[At Brainstorm], we are the custodians of innovation, nurturing it to fruition, navigating the FDA’s realm, and extending our influence globally, offering our contributions to the world.