Graduation Date: 2003
Degree: B.S. in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Taleen Barsoumian is a vibrant and dynamic alumna of USC. Her extensive experience, expertise, and unrelenting determination have led to her remarkable career. She is the Vice President of Client Development at Forge Biologics, a leading gene therapy Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO) based in Columbus, Ohio. It specializes in AAV based gene therapies for not just rare diseases, but also conditions that affect larger patient populations. She has fostered a deep-rooted desire to help advocate for overlooked diseases that often do not have treatment options. Read about how she is advancing the future of medicine through her work.
What have you been up to since graduation?
After college, I wanted to pursue a career in pharmacy and in preparation, worked towards a PhT license from the California State Board of Pharmacy. As a child, I was intrigued by science and the role it played in healing. My curiosity extended to understanding why certain contagious, infectious, and genetic diseases were much more prevalent in some demographics. I planned to pursue pharmacological research as a pharmacist and was admitted to pharmacy school. After much consideration, I decided that perhaps there was a better suited path for me to achieve my goal of helping patients.
This realization led me to pivot my career path and I took an unconventional step. Leveraging my strong background in pharmacy along with my PhT license, I decided to delve into pharmaceutical sales. I started my career with Novartis Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss-based multinational pharmaceutical company. I was part of their Cardiovascular division and gained valuable experience during my tenure there.
After almost 8 years at Novartis, I decided to explore the life sciences sector and joined Greiner Bio-One, a German-based company, specializing in advancing biotechnology with medical grade plasticware from PCR and HTS plates to 3-D cell imaging technology. This was a novel approach that held great potential for the field of oncology research. During my 9 years there, my determination and hard work quickly propelled my career forward to lead the Western North American sales team. One of our most notable accomplishments was our direct involvement in COVID-19 testing and vaccine development. Our efforts were instrumental in ensuring the company was able to contribute effectively to the global fight against the pandemic.
My journey took an exciting turn when I began working with professionals specializing in cell and gene therapy at Greiner. The potential of this cutting-edge field significantly impressed me to move into health promotion and disease prevention. Many people at the time were not familiar with this field, but I had a strong hunch this would be the future of medicine.
This led me to join Barkey, a German-based medical device company that specializes in precision-based dry thawing of cryopreserved cell and gene therapies. This marked a significant milestone in my career. I played a vital role in establishing the company’s US subsidiary in Cambridge, MA while still closely liaising with the phenomenal EU team. Leveraging my leadership skills, extensive sales, and business development experience led to my appointment as US Head of Sales and Business Development for Cell & Gene Therapy. We worked extensively with multiple FDA approved and pending cell and gene therapy programs at various stages from pre-clinical, clinical, and commercial. This experience was instrumental in broadening my understanding of the field and its potential to revolutionize patient care. The US subsidiary thrived and was eventually part of an M&A by Azenta Life Sciences.
What inspired you to pursue a career in population and public health sciences?
My fascination with the field of pharmacy and the science of healing from a young age very well sparked a strong interest in public health. Understanding why certain diseases are more prevalent in some populations than others, as mentioned earlier, naturally aligned with my desire to pursue public health and the advancements in medicine to support it. Our work is crucial because no one’s life is less important than someone else’s. Sometimes we think that infectious diseases that affect the masses take precedence, and in some cases—they might, but rare genetic diseases should not be neglected. Through my work, I advocate and bring hope to patients by enabling access to these life-changing therapies that benefit communities and populations that don’t have options left to explore.
What is the most impactful educational experience you had at PPHS?
My time at USC played a significant role in my life. The PPHS program’s approach to public health sciences helped refine my skills to gain a deeper appreciation of the field. One of the key aspects of the program was the importance of understanding cultural dynamics in health education and prevention efforts. For instance, I learned that cultural beliefs could significantly influence health behaviors, including attitudes towards screening and preventive measures. Some cultures might resist screenings due to fear of stigmatization in the community if the results were positive. It also goes without saying that our faculty at USC was fantastic. They really encouraged us to look deeper, ask questions, and advocate for better health outcomes. In one of my upper-level classes, I conducted research on the prevalence of HIV in men in certain areas of the Middle East. The topic was sensitive and not directly related to what one might assume. My research focused on the connection between needle sharing for opium use as an escape due to the dire situations these men experienced. By shedding light on the complex factors contributing to the prevalence of HIV amongst this population, we were able to bring awareness and explore topics that may be misunderstood or overlooked.
What is your favorite part about your job?
I find great satisfaction in many aspects of my job. Finding solutions and guiding teams in their collective efforts to help patients is always rewarding. My work is about solving the challenges that are presented to us and I firmly believe that there is always a way to accomplish what needs to be done. Also, being able to work with clients ranging from pioneers in the cell and gene industry or parents who are leading advocacy/nonprofit groups to raise awareness and funding for children impacted by a rare disease is incredibly humbling. It fuels me to work harder towards achieving our shared goal.
I take immense pride in being a woman leader in my industry since it represents a step forward in breaking gender barriers in the field. My hope is to inspire young women in the scientific community to not only thrive, but to also lead and make a mark in the world of science.