Dr. Ken Johnson, an industry expert with over 30 years of experience in pharmaceuticals and academia, has been elected as the Chair of the Board for the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBIO). With his extensive knowledge and expertise, Dr. Johnson is set to impact the biosciences industry in Illinois significantly. In a recent interview, we had the chance to discuss his vision for the future of iBIO and the exciting opportunities.

This interview is part of the iBIO NewsBrief Shorts, a series of engaging interviews that provide readers with invaluable insights and best practices in life sciences. 

Q: Can you tell us about your background and how it has prepared you for this role?

Dr. Johnson: Thank you! I’ve spent over 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical benefits management, and academia. From being a faculty member at the University of Colorado to holding senior management positions at top biopharmaceutical companies, I’ve gained diverse experience in therapeutic drug monitoring, clinical pharmacokinetics, medical affairs, and outcomes research. I’ve even had the opportunity to establish medical affairs and outcomes research functions for emerging biopharmaceutical companies. 

Q: Can you tell us about your current role at Xeris Biopharma?

Dr. Johnson: Absolutely! As the Senior Vice President of Global Development and Medical Affairs at Xeris Biopharma, I focus on generating high-quality scientific and clinical evidence to support product approval, clinical education, policy development, and, ultimately, improving patient health outcomes. I oversee all aspects of clinical development and medical affairs, ensuring that healthcare providers and payers have the knowledge to use our products safely and effectively. 

Q: As the Board Chairman, how do you plan to advance the life sciences industry in Illinois?

Dr. Johnson: My role as iBIO’s Board Chairman is all about driving progress. I’ll work closely with the board, staff, and members to strengthen our advocacy efforts and engage critical stakeholders, including policymakers, investors, and patients. I’ll also be focused on fostering partnerships and collaborations that align with our strategic priorities. Another priority of mine is promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry and developing a highly skilled workforce that can meet the industry’s evolving needs. Together, we’ll leverage our strengths, resources, and network to support the growth and competitiveness of the life sciences industry in Illinois.

Q: What’s the most significant opportunity in Illinois, and what’s our biggest challenge?

Dr. Johnson: The incredible story of Xeris showcases the most significant opportunity we have in Illinois. With our labs and headquarters located in the heart of downtown Chicago, we’re bringing innovation and growth to the state. By attracting top talent and taking advantage of the vibrant neighborhood, we’re creating a hub of excellence in biosciences. 

However, our biggest challenge lies in attracting capital. While Illinois-based companies have seen success in raising funds, we must ensure the state provides the necessary support and programs to help these startups thrive. Expanding programs like the SBIR matching program, which offers resources during venture capital downturns, would be a game-changer. By focusing on attracting capital and supporting our startups, we can continue to drive the growth of the biosciences industry in Illinois.