follow us

Journey of Curiosity and Persistence: The Account of a Passionate Scientist

Meet Radhika Narain, a thriving BITSian Scientist at AbbVie, dedicated to discovering groundbreaking therapeutics for cancer and fibroblast-related conditions. Riding on the back of her profound interest and hard work, Ms. Narain makes large strides through her contributions to the biomedical field. Besides her strong research background in reputed institutes such as John Hopkins, MIT, IISc, etc. she also extends her support to healthcare causes through her Bharatnatyam performances and Ayurvedic Counselling.

In the realm of scientific exploration, every individual possesses a unique path, influenced by their individual interests and an open-minded approach. The same was the case for Ms. Radhika Narain in the summer of 2017, as she graduated from BITS Pilani Dubai with a dual B.E. (Hons.) degree in Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering. Though the combination of programs would strike some as unconventional, she explains that the frequent intersection between the two fields proves advantageous in the medical field due to their complementary nature. Through her dual degree program, Ms. Narain had the opportunity during her Bachelor’s to conduct yearlong research for her thesis at the MIT Koch Cancer Institute, under the guidance of Dr. Rahul Raman.

Inspired by all that she had learnt during her time at MIT, Ms. Narain took her next leap toward her career by pursuing her Master’s in Biomedical Engineering at John Hopkins School of Medicine where she was able to work in Dr. Jennifer Elisseeff’s lab. Ms. Narain also had the pleasure to collaborate with Dr. Drew Pardoll, a pioneer in the field of Immunotherapy as they worked on overcoming immunotherapy resistance by using immunomodulatory tools such as biomaterials and drugs, while demonstrating improved responses and survival rates in mice. Here, Radhika had the pleasure of co-publishing their research in Science Translational Medicine and presenting their research at several conferences and immunotherapy retreats.

For the last three years, Ms. Radhika Narain has been working as a Scientist at one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, AbbVie, pursuing Immunological Research where she works cross-functionally to develop antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) targeting shared markers in cancer and fibrotic diseases. Though the majority of Radhika’s work so far had been in academic spheres, research in the industrial field was a whole new terrain. While both spheres have molded her scientific development, she elaborates that in academia, her focus lay mostly on answering basic research questions through her publications, deepening her scientific thinking while addressing the gaps. Meanwhile, in industrial research that tends to be at a faster pace, her work demanded her to be more fluid as extensive collaboration while working towards a common goal is involved. This has widened her perspective on bench-to-bedside research. The direct impact of her reports on the drug development process cements the significant role of accountability, strategy, good decision-making skills, networking and collaboration, and learning from past mistakes in the industry.

Despite her eight years of experience in research, Radhika still continues to be intrigued and excited by the novel approaches, medicine, and therapies, that range from drugs to antibodies to mRNA vaccines to gut microbiota to AI resulting from the evolution of cancer hallmarks of the past two decades. The field of biology brings with it constant revelations every other day, and so she emphasizes the need to be open-minded and to break paradigms in response to new research outcomes. Alongside this, Ms. Nair has also advocates for the emphasis on patients’ individuality in advancing medical knowledge and precision medical approaches.

As Radhika’s understanding of cancer evolved, she realized the significance of approaching the disease holistically and exploring concepts such as cancer cell reversion and normalizing the tumor microenvironment (TME). With a profound belief in the power of prevention, she witnessed the potential of Ayurveda in alleviating disease symptoms or even curing certain cases without relying solely on cytotoxic therapies which is also supported in evidence-based research studies. This realization prompted her to obtain a license as an Ayurvedic Counselor to better advise cancer patients on sleep, diet, and yoga to manage the side effects of cytotoxic therapies, emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive approach to patient care. Engaging in activities outside the lab, like in her Bharatnatyam performances allowed Radhika to extend her support to healthcare causes.

TME-based therapies have been a recurrent topic in Radhika’s research career so far and she looks forward to further explore this field during her doctoral studies in cancer mechanobiology at UCSF while developing innovative solutions for cancer.

Reflecting back on her journey, Radhika advises aspiring researchers back home about the importance of independent thinking, seeking help from mentors, and maintaining an initiative-driven approach. Opportunities such as internships, collaborations, publications, conferences, and leadership activities played pivotal roles in her growth, expanding her network, research portfolio, and honing her scientific thinking. Inspired by Dr. Bob Langer's persistence and problem-solving passion leading to the development of Moderna's COVID vaccine, she’s cultivated a spirit of perseverance and problem-solving.

However, of all the factors that have governed her journey the most crucial is one’s interest and passion in their field.As she begins her Ph.D. at the age of 30, she emphasizes that each individual has to carve their own path as there is no specific ‘right time’ to pursue our interests. Researchers have various career options beyond academia or industry, such as policy, law, consulting, and science communication. She also urges them to develop skills in computational research or programming that can prove advantageous in the fields of Chemistry and Biology.

Radhika Narain’s holistic view of cancer research, embracing diverse perspectives, paves the way for groundbreaking advancements in modern medicine as well as through traditional practices. As she embarks on her doctoral studies, we eagerly anticipate her future contributions, are confident in her ability to continue shaping the scientific landscape. Explore more of her fascinating journey on her blog