Carson: I’m here with Joe Candiello, who is Senior Product Manager at RoosterBio. I’m very pleased to have you here as the introductory subject of our “Life at the Roost” series of interviews and podcasts. Thanks for joining me–I appreciate that very much.
Candiello: No problem, happy to be here.
Carson: Joe, you have been a bioengineer with 10 years-plus in academia as well as almost 4 years at the Roost. It’s a thrill to talk with you. Let’s start this off… I heard from unconfirmed sources that you used to wrestle. In how many seconds do you think you could take me down in this room—let’s assume that I’m not Ric Flair circa 1985—what do you think?
Candiello: I think I’m probably more likely at this point to pull a muscle, than anything else!
Carson: But seriously. Let’s assume that there are things that you take from a sports background into your journey through Engineering at Penn State and PhD & postdoc at University of Pittsburgh. Aside from acquiring a higher tolerance for pain that we all seem to get from going through that whole “PhD thing,” how do you think it’s helping to fortify your character as you go forward in life sciences?
Candiello: So I think any sport teaches discipline. But it’s a little bit unique; it’s an individual competition set within a team sport, so definitely there’s definitely a balance to focus on taking care of who you can take care of—but also being there to support and motivate a broader team to reach its goals. Plus, there’s lot of “biophysics” involved, a lot of action-reaction, push-pull, leverage…
Carson: Yeah! I hear that. So science is not necessarily an “individual sport,” it’s a team effort?
Carson: And everyone pulls their weight at each level… some are artists, some are writers, some are skilled with their hands, some are good with the mouth—good at talking. Everybody has something to do in science, no shortage of effort. OK… I guess we’ve established that you’re practically the most polite and modest “badass” within, oh, 100 miles from here, but could you tell me a little bit about your journey to find RoosterBio? And some of the various hats you’ve worn since joining before your present role?
Candiello: The journey to find RoosterBio was part luck and part key decisions. I started to realize my interests began to lie outside of academia and a lab setting. I knew I still wanted to solve problems in the biotech space, and I started looking into opportunities in the organoid engineering and tissue engineering space. As a quick anecdote, I actually missed a flight to a regenerative medicine workshop where the focus was on hMSCs and ran into a professor who mentioned that she got an email from a company in Frederick that was looking for different roles. I made the connection, came out to RoosterBio, and realized that the Founder of the Company, Jon Rowley, was main author on a paper on -RGD- peptides that I was currently heavily using and referencing. I came in and interviewed and met the team here and felt the energy and really saw it as an opportunity to learn in many different areas as I made the “jump over” [to biotech]. That led into the various “hats” worn. I started as a field application scientist, but as we were counted at 15 or so people at the time, I got the opportunity to learn about operations, supply chain… Acted in a sales role… Helped write and manage different grants and learned some project management. The work let me learn a lot of different roles within a company. I then started gravitating towards marketing, trying to use the knowledge of our customers’ challenges and finding solutions within our walls for them. Lots of great mentorship here to help me figure out what I like to do.
Carson: Yeah, that certainly resonates with my experience here, too. A lot of great mentorship from people like you, as well as Rowley. I heard you mention “RGD”, just a weird bit of synchronicity there, maybe? I did some work with phage display and as people may know, the RGD comes from the phage display work of Renata Pasqualini. Really cool… It seems you can bring together a bit of science->business and business->science, standing on that threshold where you can use your talents to best effect. So right now you’re a Senior Product Manager, promoted earlier this year. Could you tell the listeners or readers here about what that role might involve?
Candiello: I think the first thing is that it’s a role—to your point about mentorship at all levels of the company—where I get to work with some really great teams both in commercial and marketing but also across the organization as part of our product development teams. I think what is involved in my role is getting to work with and learn from some really great people—involving product focus—from managing new product development to support product strategy and roadmaps… Working with a marketing communications team on product marketing, and managing our existing portfolio. So a lot of different things every day.
Carson: Yes. What I find impressive about this company is that while biotechs do lots of neat stuff, like in particular, the therapeutic ones, it takes a long runway to have one product at all. There could be a lot of things in the pipeline. But RoosterBio came out of the gates with products that actually met people’s needs. And we’re making new products now, that people want right now. And we’re “testing the waters” of what works, and what works better. So are there any product developments or launches that you’re pretty jazzed or excited about, either upcoming or have happened recently?
Candiello: Sure. To your point about coming out of the gates with products—and then developing new products… As our customers grow themselves, I think it’s been fulfilling to see products developed for them a while ago, such as 1-million vial cell—smaller scale products. Whereas our current focus is shifting to supporting those same customers who started with these, now they’re growing toward their own clinical and therapeutic goals. And we’re scaling our current systems to meet those needs. So it feels like we’re part of our team at RoosterBio but also definitely on the team of our customers, making sure we’re aligned to getting them to where they need to be from a cell supply standpoint. Recently we launched RoosterGEM™, which is a genetic engineering medium, earlier in the year. It being a new product in a new area for RoosterBio, to address a need for genetic modification of MSCs. I think it was really fun to work with the team to not only develop the product but also to market it and play with messaging a bit in a totally new area.
Carson: I remember those meetings very fondly. It’s been fun to move that product forward, to watch it really develop, and to expand its utility—as I hope we’ll soon find out, and release some news, maybe? Now, RoosterBio being a small company—kind of still in startup mode but definitely growing—is there such a thing as a “typical day” for you here?
Candiello: I think I have a bad habit… The person to whom I report and I joke about when someone asks, “How’s it going,” and just by habit I’ll say “Not much,” which is basically the exact opposite of what goes on for all of us at RoosterBio, day to day. I guess the best way to answer is that a “typical day” is where we’re all usually working together to solve a challenge or move a project—usually multiple projects—forward. Other than that, the usual day-to-day activities are quite diverse.
Carson: For sure. I’ve seen some of the spreadsheets you’ve worked on—incredibly complex, but every detail in there is necessary, as we track these multiple projects going ahead. Yeah. There is no typical day, but you do bank from a set of skills that bring a lot to our organization. Speaking of things that don’t make our day very typical, we’ve all had to deal in biotech with this pandemic thing. How do you think we’ve managed to weather it out at RoosterBio? Anything different or in common that we might find with some of our readers/listeners?
Candiello: Probably similar to a lot of different fields in and out of the biotech space, there have been things that haven’t been easy, on professional and personal levels. The world’s changed, and the way we work has changed. Once those initial shocks and adjustments happened, I think that seeing RoosterBio’s business model, products, mission, vision, and values address pandemic-related therapies have, early on, set the stage to help us drive through it. And the last few months of people getting back in the office and seeing each other face to face, have definitely boosted morale and our mental health.
Carson: Yep. I do enjoy coming in here on a “hybrid” basis—sometimes working from home, sometimes here in the office. You just can’t beat the face-to-face interaction, the energy that you get, the non-verbals. One that I get from this… I’d also like to think that some of what we do is helping to address the pandemic. MSCs, as you know, at least in the literature, are shown to be both anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. So it could potentially be a very exciting therapeutic that we might be able to supply some tools for. On a lighter note—I hear a noise in the background that might be evidence of this—RoostBio can be a fun place to work, too. What’s something fun you’ve noticed that going on at the Roost?
Candiello: Yeah, I don’t know if the sounds of the table tennis are flowing through, but I think over the years, fun has almost been a part of our day-to-day life, here. There’s lunchroom conversations, we’re a social group. Leadership’s focus is on hiring good people who like working with each other professionally and personally. It goes a long way. I don’t know if that’s the “definition of fun” or not, but it makes being here fun.
Carson: I definitely agree. It is fun. And that is ping-pong in the background. Sometimes you just have to cut loose and let the ping pong ball bounce back and forth with your favorite opponent. There are some pictures on LinkedIn on RoosterBio and the recent Halloween costume contest, some crazy costumes there. Happens all the time, that type of thing. We have an organization called the “culture club” where people get together and plan activities to keep morale up. …So I see that you, Joe Candiello, PhD, is the author of an article titled “3D Heterogeneous Organoid Generation from hESCs Using a Novel Engineered Hydrogel Platform,” with your advisor at U. Pittsburg Dr. Ipsita Banerjee. Could you tell me a little about that?
Candiello: Sure. The majority of my post-doc was spent around this, and the project evolved because I’d like to think that I’m a better engineer than a scientist. I like to plug things together that work, versus necessarily focusing on one thing. We brought together a few different collaborators from around the country. At Pittsburgh we were focused on stem cell engineering with an application focus on diabetes, and we were working with a group at Arizona State that was biomaterials-based. They had a hydrogel for concentrating cells into an organoid. And we met a really great team at Louisville that was focusing on vascularization and putting vascular microfragments in hydrogels for vascular development. What we learned was that you could take all three and put them together, and then start to do some really good proof of concept work on vascularizing a developing [pancreatic] islet that would hopefully recreate the blood supply that’s necessary to provide the insulin and metabolic activity. It was a really fun project that put together some great teams.
Carson: Yes. When you get chemists, and physicists, and engineers, and biologists all in one room—if they don’t kill each other first—they’ll definitely come up with something brilliant within a year. It’s always exciting to see that happen. Now finally onto very essential business. The Penn State Blue and White are going to play Michigan this weekend. What do you think their chances are against Michigan?
Candiello: It’s been an up and down year. There’s some Blue and White Roosters and there’s some Michigan Roosters as well, so I don’t want to say anything too inflammatory. But when they play, I just hope that the refs just aren’t involved in the outcome.
Carson: …Keep it a “mostly” fair fight! Do you have anything else you’d like to add, any question that I’ve been remiss about?
Candiello: This has been really fun—to especially talk about the teamwork and working with great people. You don’t get the products we have and the initiatives we have that people see externally without those collaborations and the expertise of some really awesome people here, so I was grateful to be able to speak on that.
Carson: Thank you.