Joseph Szustakowski, Ph.D.
Joe Szustakowski is an executive director of Translational Bioinformatics at Bristol-Myers Squibb. This rapidly growing, diverse team of computational scientists works to understand the complexities of big biological data in order to better inform the clinical approach to research in a number of therapeutic areas, including cancer. Their goal is to uncover new clinical insights or patterns, which in some cases, lead to more precise and efficacious therapies for patients.
“I really enjoy diving into complex, messy problems, where you've got to find ways to break them down into chunks that are tractable but all relate back to each other,” Joe says.
Prior to working at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Joe spent time at Novartis, where he worked in biomarker development, as well as discovery biology, where he worked to identify novel disease genes.
While in graduate school, he served as a consultant at Compaq, where he spent time working on the Human Genome Project. There, Joe was part of the genome annotation group responsible for analyzing and interpreting the first draft of the human genome, published in Nature in 2001.
Joe graduated from the University at Buffalo with a Bachelor of Science in physics, and went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University.
Watch: Leveraging Bioinformatics
Interests and Expertise
Since joining Bristol-Myers Squibb, Joe has played an integral role in growing the translational bioinformatics capability. On Joe’s team there is a great deal of diversity in terms of training and background, with scientists having disciplines in areas like physics, biology, chemistry and even Talmudic law. This diverse group of individuals brings a unique perspective to the complex data being analyzed.
“Very few of us have degrees in bioinformatics, and that’s one of the things I love about it,” says Joe. “By harnessing that diversity, you can discover solutions together that never would have been found individually.”
For Joe, we’re in a “golden age” of translational research, where all of the tools and technologies have matured to the point where we can expand our knowledge of disease and identify important insights, such as potential biomarkers.
“When I was first starting out in bioinformatics 20 years ago, the Human Genome Project was in full swing but not yet complete. We didn’t quite know back then how we would use that information, but as a field, we knew that it would be important,” said Joe. “We’re starting now to generate potentially transformative insights about many different diseases, and it’s really cool and deeply satisfying.”
Joe currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two kids. While he enjoys his current state, his hometown of Buffalo, New York still holds a special place in his heart. For him, no other place is the gold standard in both chicken wings and snowfall.