Every day Paul Naik sees basic scientific knowledge being turned into life-saving medicines.
The CSUSB alumnus’s current role as a senior executive at a biotechnology firm has positioned him in an exciting profession at the intersection of science, technology, and law where cutting-edge cancer treatments are developed.
Naik (biology and chemistry, ’90) credits his experiences as a College of Natural Sciences undergraduate student for helping to launch his future educational and professional achievements.
And he still fondly remembers his old professors by name.
“I recall in particular the foundational biology classes I took with Dr. Richard Fehn and the foundational organic chemistry classes with Dr. John Craig,” Naik said. “They were professors who had high expectations of students, but who also took the time to provide support and guidance when needed.”
Naik, who serves as senior vice president for intellectual property and deputy general counsel for Seagen Inc. (formerly Seattle Genetics), will share his experiences with and answer questions from students next month during a webinar. “The College of Natural Sciences Presents a Q&A with Paul Naik” will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 1 to 2 p.m. The Zoom link and other details are available on this event’s Coyote Connection post.
“I am very excited about this opportunity for our students to hear about Paul’s extraordinary journeys both as a CSUSB student as well as beyond,” said college Dean Sastry G. Pantula. “He is a role model and a wonderful example of how hard work and excellence as a science major can pave the way for future success as a graduate student, a science professional, and a corporate leader.”
“I am also profoundly grateful to Paul for generously sharing his time and insight with our college community,” Pantula added. “This will be a very inspiring and thought-provoking event.”
As a CSUSB student, Naik was named the university’s Outstanding Undergraduate Student in 1990. After graduating, Naik went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC San Francisco, a doctoral degree in law from Harvard Law School, and a master of laws degree from King’s College in London.
Naik was recently named the College of Natural Sciences Alumnus of the Year, the college’s highest alumni award that recognizes professional and scientific achievements of former students.
“The training I received as a CSUSB biology major laid the foundation for my graduate school studies in biochemistry and molecular biology,” he said. “My subsequent career path took me into a profession that requires operating at the intersection of science, technology, and law. My training in the natural sciences was and continues to be an integral component of the overall skillset necessary to do my job well.”
In a videotaped message to CNS graduates during the Dec. 12 virtual commencement, he said his degree “started me on a path toward, and enabled me to be a contributing member of the exciting new world of biotechnology.”
“Without question, none of this would have been a possibility without the training I received starting at Cal State San Bernardino,” Naik told graduates.
Prior to working at Seagen Inc., Naik practiced patent law, taught biotechnology law as an adjunct professor, and was frequently involved with biotechnology intellectual property policy issues, including serving as an invited speaker at the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s First Bicoastal Biotechnology, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Customer Partnership meeting in 2014.
He also worked in various corporate capacities, including most recently serving as vice president of intellectual property and litigation as well as deputy chief patent officer, over a period of about 16 years at Genentech, a biotechnology firm that develops and manufactures medicines to treat patients with serious and life-threatening conditions, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Biotechnology uses living cells and biological systems to develop products for specific applications in medicine, industry, food, and the environment. It is integral to many ongoing efforts to fight hunger and disease; develop manufacturing processes that are safer, cleaner, and more efficient; reduce our ecological footprint; and save energy. Such advances, for example, have led to the development of genetically modified plants and biofuels.
But some of the most high-profile advances in biotechnology in the last few decades have been medicines, Naik said.
“In the field of cancer, for example, biotechnology has been used to create a new generation of cancer therapeutics that are more potent and less toxic than chemotherapy drugs of previous generations,” he said. “More recently, biotechnology has been instrumental in understanding COVID-19 and in the creation of vaccines to treat it. So, I think it’s fair to say that biotechnology can and does improve and save lives.”
Seagen has “pioneered the science of harnessing antibodies to deliver cell-killing agents directly to cancer cells,” according to its website.
Naik said his passion for biology stems from his interest in understanding how living things work.
“It’s a field of scientific endeavor that, in my opinion, is just full of surprises,” he said. “Biology seems so simple, in part because it is such a basic part of who we are and our surroundings, yet it just keeps surprising us time and time again with its complexity and sophistication. I consider myself fortunate to have a career that allows me to learn science as part of my job.”
In addition to College of Natural Sciences faculty, Naik also cited former CSUSB President Anthony Evans as an “invaluable supporter.”
“I still recall Dr. Evans gently but firmly urging me to aim high when applying to graduate school,” he said. “[It was] advice which I took, and has served me well over my professional career.”
For questions about “The College of Natural Sciences Presents a Q&A with Paul Naik” webinar, contact Yolanda Thomas in the CNS Office of the Dean at YThomas@csusb.edu.