Interview with Chris Brenzel

June 9, 2021
Yasmina Ibsen

Chris is Senior Director of Business Development/Gene Editing Solutions at Hera BioLabs and an enthusiastic Studylog user.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?    

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. I went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Shortly after graduating, I returned back home to Lexington, Kentucky. I always thought that I would end up on one of the coasts, but I love Kentucky and I'm really happy to be back working in Lexington, close to family.

What sparked your interest in Science?

I always had an interest in science from an early age. I really wanted to understand how the world worked, and science was sort of the window to understanding everything around me, including biology, which was the main area I was interested in. I started asking questions like “how do cells grow and divide?” I always thought medicine would be a fascinating career, so I was pre-med in college. I took all sorts of classes to broaden my understanding of the world. I shortly afterward decided that I did not want to attend medical school, decided to look into other ways I could make a difference in the sciences, and ended up working for Transposagen on a new business development team.

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they?

My former boss, Jack Crawford, was always a mentor to me. He got me started on the business side of things when I was an intern in college. I was really fortunate to have him teach me more about various ways to make a difference that wasn't medical school. There were opportunities out there in the field, and I was fortunate enough to go with him when Hera BioLabs was spun out of Transposagen, to help him grow. Now he's onto a new venture, a third sister company called Dimitria AG Bio. I'm still using the same gene-editing technology that started all three companies, just different fields of use and different applications.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in science or specifically oncology?

I would say that there are a lot of ways to make a difference and get involved in the field other than becoming a doctor. You can go into the science side of things, discovering new potential therapeutics for oncology, or you can work for a CRO and assist companies in developing their drugs. Helping companies develop their drugs faster and safer is another way you can help make a difference in the field. There's a lot of opportunities and one doesn’t necessarily have to pursue an MD to be involved in oncology research.

What is important to you personally? I.e.what things do you value most in life?

I have two daughters, so one of the most important things to me at the moment is family. It's great to have a wife, a daughter, and another one on the way. I really am motivated by trying to provide the best life I can for my daughters. Also, being close to my siblings, their spouses, my parents, and my wife's parents are all sort of in the area. It's really been important to me, especially in these trying times that we've been able to see each other, socially distanced, of course. Being able to have that support nearby with family motivates me professionally.

One of the goals here at Hera is at the end of the day, improving human health by assisting companies with developing drugs. Everything we do here at Hera is through the framework of building new models so that our clients can develop drugs faster, safer, and make them so that they are more translatable into clinical trials and into humans. We have this great gene-editing technology and we're developing platform models. Our goal is to help our clients develop drugs faster so that we can make an impact on humanity. It really is great to work for a company that from the beginning has had this great technology, but is also thinking, “how can we make a broader impact?” That is why I love working for Hera and that's what motivates me professionally.

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful person you are?  

One of the things that really has been a challenge for me in this field is just the sheer amount of technical information that you have to know and retain. We have a broad base of clients doing fascinating research, but they all sort of expect you to have an understanding of what they're talking about and understand what's going on, at least at a high level. One of the challenges I've found is having to constantly educate myself, to basically broaden my knowledge and be able to talk with expertise on a variety of research areas. Not only oncology but toxicology, pharmacology, etc. I do that by making sure I reread the latest papers. I attend webinars that people put on. I attend conferences; I make sure that I'm not only attending to meet people and make connections but also to learn something along the way that can help us, find out what new models to genetically engineer and create that could be useful to the scientific community at large.

What did you think when you first saw Studylog?

I met Eric at a conference many, many years ago at a booth, and he was telling me about their great technology. I got to see a bit, he walked me through the platform when I first saw it. I thought, “wow, this tool would be fantastic for our team back home!“ So I brought back materials, made them connect, and got to hear about it. Next thing you know, our company was using Studylog.

How has Studylog impacted you or your team?  

For the Hera team here, Studylog has been a huge help in providing us the ability to run multiple studies, collect data, automated data capture, and lets us do a lot more studies and collect data a lot better than our previous method. We have found it as an essential tool to provide CRO services to clients.

What would you say to people who prefer to use Excel because it is free?

I would say that you definitely save money in the long run by using Studylog because it's user-friendly and it increases your ability to run studies. You can run twice as many studies as you could before. It reduces mistakes so that you don't have to repeat things, it provides you confidence, new data, and tech. Combining all of those things, the free option, Excel really would cost you more money in the long run.

What is your favorite Studylog feature?

My favorite is how easy it is to export data and to generate nice graphs that I can share with our clients.

What do you do for fun when you're not curing cancer?

I have been taking up amateur photography as a creative outlet. I've been working on my skills in terms of just taking photos but also combining that with my enthusiasm for being outdoors. So taking it hiking in nature, and doing outdoor photography has really been a fun way for me, especially during the pandemic, to get out of the house and to explore my creative side that often goes overlooked when you work in a very science-driven company. I'm not so good at it yet, I always wanted to take a class in college, but the electives always filled up, so I'm taking an online free class. I wish I could paint, but I can't; I don't have the hand-eye coordination to be a good painter and it makes a huge mess. I already have to clean up enough paint with having a daughter, so photography is where it's at. I wish I could say I like to brew my own mead, but I haven't been successful with that yet. People ask me how it's going two years after I tried to start and it's not quite successful yet. I'm just not good with yeast!