Research and development

Interview with Oren Cohen, Chief Medical Officer at Fortrea

Oren Cohen of Fortrea
Oren Cohen of Fortrea
Table of Contents
In: Research and development

Fortrea is a global contract research organisation (CRO) based in Burlington, North Carolina. The company has a team of approximately 19,000 people in more than 90 countries.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I did my medical training in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and have always gravitated towards translational and clinical research. I spent 10 years early in my career at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under the mentorship of Dr. Tony Fauci. At the time, we were working to understand how HIV destroys the immune system from molecular and anatomical perspectives. I currently serve as Chief Medical Officer and President of Clinical Pharmacology Services at Fortrea, a global company that specializes in clinical research for drug development. I am also a Consulting Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. I live in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina and I love photography and travel.

Among all the scientific innovations that you have worked on, is there one that you are particularly proud of?

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work in a laboratory that was investigating the pathogenesis of a rather rare human retrovirus called Human T Cell Leukemia Virus Type 1 (HTLV-I). In 1982, we turned our attention to an emerging clinical syndrome characterised by immunodeficiency and loss of T cells – these were the early days of the AIDS pandemic, and what we were working on turned out to be HIV. I then had the opportunity to work in a laboratory that was analyzing the amounts of HIV in the blood of patients treated with AZT, which was an experimental drug at the time.

How can the physical/built environment encourage better innovation among scientists?

Shared, open space is critical. Early in my career, labs were incredibly siloed – offices were stuck in tiny spaces in the back of labs, and lab spaces were laid out by reporting lines rather than grouping lab spaces together where investigators shared common interests and different disciplines.

Duke University
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Photo by Chuck Givens / Unsplash

How could the life sciences and real estate sectors work better together?

Having the technical people participate in building design was an amazing experience in the case of our clinical research unit in Leeds. The research pharmacy was designed in very close collaboration with our pharmacy staff. Our research participants had input into the design of the recreation areas within the clinic and on the rooftop. And our nurses were very much involved in the design of the ward space, so that, for example, cabinets would fit a standard-sized airline carry-on bag, overhead lighting would not be directly over bed spaces, etc.

If you had unlimited money but limited space (no more than 1,000 square metres / 10,000 square feet), what would you build?

A fabulous wine cellar…. But if I am constrained to life sciences, then I might go for a “core lab” with shared key instrumentation, such as cell sorters, sequencers, x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, and biorepository.

In terms of driving innovation, how important is cross-discipline cooperation?

Extremely important. Innovation occurs disproportionately at the intersection of different fields and disciplines. This explains the proliferation of academic cross-disciplinary institutes, which, for example, bring together physicians and engineers.

Oren will speak at the Life Sciences Real Estate networking event in Leeds on 7 November 2023, see here for more details.

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