Superstars: Research & Development

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Herb Bresler

Senior Research Leader


Herb Bresler didn't get into graduate school when he first applied. He watched two companies he worked for--ones with marked research successes--crumble. He then landed a job with Neoprobe, working on sponsored research programs for Ohio State University at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, and watched as the company failed to get Food and Drug Administration approval for its diagnostics.

Bresler couldn't be more grateful for those experiences.

By the time he left Neoprobe in 1998, Bresler had worked for six organizations over a six-year period. Wife Cheryl Vaia "was calling me a migrant worker," he jokes.

But after joining Battelle in 1999, Bresler--who couldn't even land a job interview with the nonprofit years earlier--found his niche. He's philosophical about the bumpy path that brought him to where he is today. "I gained experience that I would not have gotten otherwise, and it prepared me for my work at Battelle," he says. "There's no way that I could have planned it."

The 54-year-old Bresler recently was promoted from chief scientist for Battelle's health and life sciences global business to senior research leader. The job--the highest technical position in the organization--is held by only 11 scientists and engineers at the 4,000-employee R&D giant.

Bresler "is somebody who we really count on as a visionary for our business," says Jim Sonnett, vice president of science and technology for Battelle Heath & Life Sciences. "He's someone who's wonderful at identifying life science trends for us and our customers."

Bresler's big-picture goal is developing a strategic technology focus and implementing scientific programs in health and life sciences. He is often tasked with evaluating new technology-based business opportunities and advising research teams. Bresler also coordinates collaborations with academic and national laboratory researchers while managing the intellectual property portfolio and independent R&D activities. "That allows me to stay very close to the science; I can provide advice to our technical teams," he says.

In addition to undergraduate degrees in biological sciences and secondary science education from the University of Maryland, plus a Ph.D. in immunology and infectious diseases from Johns Hopkins University, Bresler holds two patents, as well as an R&D 100 Award.

He's been involved with projects such as HumaPen, which helps diabetics dispense and track insulin doses. (The project had a personal connection for Bresler, whose son, Reuben, 25, has diabetes. Bresler also has a daughter, Marika, 20.)

Bresler was also involved in Battelle's Rare Cell Detection Technology, which can identify a single cancer cell circulating in a patient's bloodstream to enable the earliest possible diagnosis. The challenge with that discovery eight years ago, Bresler notes, is that it predated clinicians' ability to do anything with the information. About a year-and-a-half ago, the technology was finally licensed.

"Herb has consistently been ahead of his time in terms of innovating, but also extremely good in terms of being able to track things," says Sonnett.

Ching-Shih Chen

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Internal Medicine and Urology

OSU College of Pharmacy

For Ching-Shih Chen, the licensing of two anti-cancer drugs he developed is a dream realized--and not just because his cut of the licensing revenue will pay for his 23-year-old daughter Jennifer's college education.

Chen has long hoped his work could improve human health. "My elder brother is a physician. I'm very close to him, and so he has had a big influence on me," says the professor in medicinal chemistry, internal medicine and urology at Ohio State University's College of Pharmacy.

Chen, 54, holds the Lucius A. Wing Chair of Cancer Research and Therapy at OSU's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and was named Innovator of the Year as well as a Distinguished University Scholar in 2010.

The anti-cancer drugs developed by his 18-member research team of graduate students, post-doc researchers and senior scientists have been licensed to New Jersey-based Arno Therapeutics Inc. Both are now under clinical trial at OSU's Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. One of the agents triggers cancer cells to self-destruct, while the other prevents tumor cells from dividing. Arno has exclusive rights to test both drugs and take them to market.

Typically, at some point in the process of developing drug treatments, researchers hand over their findings to others who develop the final therapeutic agents. In this instance, Chen's team participated from start to finish. "It's a dream come true for us to see our research being applied," he says. "This is the ultimate goal for us."

Earlier this year, the National Cancer Institute awarded OSU's Comprehensive Cancer Center its highest possible rating, "exceptional." OSUCCC Director Dr. Michael Caligiuri says there's "no doubt" that the work by Chen and his team played a major role in the recognition, which carries with it the possibility of greater research grants.

Additionally, Chen's research--and the university's now-proven ability to carry a drug discovery from inception through testing--has prompted the creation of an in-house pharmaceutical company at the cancer center, says Caligiuri. "It's so exciting. ... [Chen's] recruitment and retention here will lead to the burgeoning of new companies that will develop anti-cancer drugs."

Chen, a native of Taiwan, immigrated to the United States in 1980 after earning an undergraduate degree in agricultural chemistry and a master's in biochemistry from National Taiwan University. He earned a doctorate in pharmaceutical biochemistry at University of Wisconsin at Madison, completing postdoc studies in medicinal chemistry at the University of Wisconsin.

An Ohio State professor since April 2001, Chen is also a member of the university's biochemistry program and its chemistry-biology interface training program. He has authored more than 175 scientific publications and 11 patents, with more in the pipeline.

Chen's ability to be imaginative in his work and his nature--hard-working, yet easygoing--make him a standout, says Caligiuri. "I like to say there are three things that make a person successful in any endeavor," he says. "You have to be intelligent. You have to be hard-working, and you have to be a congenial person. Ching-Shih is one of the few people blessed with all three of those qualities."

Reprinted from the April 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.