When Employees Are Patients

September 23, 2018

Editor’s note: In recognition of Global Patient Week, held annually across Bristol-Myers Squibb to celebrate the company’s patient-focused culture, employees discuss how their own battle with disease has served to strengthen their commitment to the company’s mission. 

H

ow does it feel when those who work for patients every day become patients themselves?

Johanna Mercier, Head of U.S. and Large Markets, Worldwide Commercial.

Johanna Mercier, Head of U.S. and Large Markets, Worldwide Commercial.

“It is a unique dynamic for sure,” says Johanna Mercier, Head of U.S. and Large Markets, Worldwide Commercial at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “It can be overwhelming for our colleagues who keep patients at the center of everything they do in their professional lives to learn that they too are fighting an illness.”

Around the globe, more than 24,000 Bristol-Myers Squibb employees carry out the company’s mission to help discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.

Having a personal experience with disease can often be very motivating for colleagues and serve to strengthen their commitment to helping to improve the health of others. In some cases, it’s even inspired individuals to apply for jobs at Bristol-Myers Squibb so they can focus their careers on finding new treatment options for unmet medical needs.

This year as part of Global Patient Week, Mercier wanted to recognize the company’s employee patients as part of a celebration hosted at the U.S. Commercial organization’s Princeton Pike headquarters in Lawrence Township, N.J.

“We want them to know they are family and that they are supported,” Mercier said. “We are all working together for patients, and sometimes that means co-workers.”

Co-workers like YusufJen, and Ryan. Here are their stories. 

Yusuf Oni, Ph.D., Global Product Development & Supply 

Packaging engineer Yusuf Oni was inspired to come work for Bristol-Myers Squibb after being diagnosed with cancer.

Packaging engineer Yusuf Oni was inspired to come work for Bristol-Myers Squibb after being diagnosed with cancer.

Born in Nigeria, Yusuf Oni moved to the U.S. 15 years ago. A chemical engineer interested in medical research, he came east to New Jersey for his graduate studies at Princeton University so he could also do research in cancer, specifically the development of drug delivery devices.

Following a car accident, Oni experienced back pain that couldn’t be alleviated even with extensive therapy. An MRI showed some irregularities, and following a CT scan, Oni was diagnosed with kidney cancer. “My oncologist thought it was benign and told me to wait a few months to see if the tumor would grow,” he recalled.

Another MRI showed the tumor was growing rapidly. A biopsy during subsequent surgery revealed it to be malignant.

“When I was diagnosed, it was difficult to study or spend time with friends,” said Oni. “I would drive to a lake by the school and cry my eyes out. Then I would go back home and act like life was good.”

Surgery scheduled to last six hours took almost an entire day. Following a partial kidney removal – he now has a kidney and a half – Oni keeps his cancer in check with annual extensive imaging.

Oni, now the father of three boys, was featured on this year’s Stand Up To Cancer telethon, which brought together TV networks and some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities to raise money for cancer research. Bristol-Myers Squibb was a corporate sponsor of the event.

Looking back on the life-changing experience, Oni, a principal packaging engineer in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Global Product Development & Supply facility in New Brunswick, N.J., says, “I saw people who could use my help. Being an engineer and someone who was well versed in cancer research, I was really interested in making a difference for other cancer patients. When the opportunity to work at BMS presented itself three years ago, I couldn’t pass it up.”

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When the opportunity to work at BMS presented itself three years ago, I couldn’t pass it up.

Jen McKee, U.S. Commercial

Jen McKee, an immuno-oncology sales representative in the Baltimore area, spending time at home with her three children after school.

Jen McKee, an immuno-oncology sales representative in the Baltimore area, spending time at home with her three children after school.

Earlier this year, Jen McKee, a Bristol-Myers Squibb immuno-oncology sales representative in Baltimore for more than four years, discovered a lump on her breast during a routine self-examination. Upon learning she had breast cancer, Jen realized she had no idea what to expect as a patient despite her professional experience.

"I live in oncology offices and infusion centers every day for my job," she said. "But what I discovered when I was diagnosed is I knew just a teeny, tiny tip of the iceberg of what the patient journey is really like."

McKee had a crash course in the patient journey, including the emotional side of a cancer diagnosis, family concerns, financial pressures and balancing her professional life.

"It can be overwhelming," said McKee, a wife and mother of three young children.

McKee didn't realize that there was a vast array of resources available to Bristol-Myers Squibb employees affected by cancer, including a broad range of services and support the company provides.

"We don't just provide services and resources for patients on our treatments," McKee said. "We also want to take care of our own."

Dr. David Shepperly, Leader of Employee Health and Fitness, has been working to increase the visibility of services and benefits Bristol-Myers Squibb offers employees directly affected by cancer — either as patients or caregivers. 

For employees in the U.S., this includes mammography vans that visit the workplace; on-site skin cancer screenings; counseling that helps smokers kick the habit; and healthy choices in the cafeteria.

These are just a few of the health and wellness programs that helped Bristol-Myers Squibb earn the CEO Cancer Gold Standard accreditation, which recognizes the efforts of companies in the U.S. committed to reducing the risk of cancer among their employees and covered family members.

In addition, Shepperly and McKee recently began discussing further enhancements the company could make based on McKee's personal perspective as well as her professional experience working with oncologists and other healthcare professionals.

"I recognize now that BMS is the very best place to be, not only from a professional perspective but also a personal one," McKee said. 

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I recognize now that BMS is the very best place to be, not only from a professional perspective but also a personal one.

Ryan Moslin, Ph.D., Research & Development

Ryan Moslin pictured with  his wife, Karen Miller-Moslin, who also works at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and their two daughters during Take Your Kids to Work Day.

Ryan Moslin pictured with his wife, Karen Miller-Moslin, who also works at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and their two daughters during Take Your Kids to Work Day.

The idea that you can help… if not your child, then someone else's child – even 10 years down the road – and that someone else is working on something that may help my child one day, is what it's all about.

It's a rare opportunity for a medicinal chemist to discover a molecule that progresses in the clinic. To discover one that could potentially treat a disease they've suffered from since adolescence is almost unheard of in science. But Ryan Moslin, a senior research investigator at Bristol-Myers Squibb, may have done it.

Since joining Bristol-Myers Squibb's immunology research team in 2010, Moslin has been instrumental in the research and development of TYK2, an investigational inhibitor with the potential to treat autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis – a condition he has.

On his first day, Moslin started working on a small molecule to selectively inhibit TYK2, a member of the Janus (JAK) family of non-receptor tyrosine kinases. The asset recently completed its Phase 2 proof-of-concept trial in adults with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.

"For medicinal chemists, playing a role like this from start to finish in a drug discovery and development program doesn't really happen more than once a career," Moslin said. "I'm appreciating the moment as much as I can, because it may not happen again."

As a kid, Moslin didn't think he would grow up to be a scientist. Over time, as he honed his natural ability for math and developed an affinity for chemistry, he increasingly embraced what made him different.

He did the same throughout college and graduate school at MIT, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry with a focus on organic synthesis and did post-doctoral research in materials science. Moslin liked that the two routes of study were different, and saw how, when brought together, they could be complementary in working to overcome difficult problems.

When asked what gets Moslin out of bed and into the lab each morning, the answer comes easily.

"It sounds a bit cliché, but I get up because of my kids," he said. "Parenting is a challenge. I do believe that a terrible amount of hard work, patience and love will solve almost any problem. However, there are problems that can't be solved that way. For some of those problems, that's where medicine may come in."

Moslin remembers his own struggles with psoriasis as a teenager. He's able to understand the impact potential new treatments could have on a person's life.

"The idea that you can help… if not your child, then someone else's child – even 10 years down the road – and that someone else is working on something that may help my child one day, is what it's all about," Moslin said. "You come to work for the next generation."

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