The people of Louisiana are no strangers to struggle—and their resilience is precisely what the biotechnology industry needs now more than ever. Dr. Trivia Frazier (of Obatala Sciences) and Dr. Sunyoung Kim (of Chosen Diagnostics) are two examples of biotech entrepreneurs who were able to cultivate resilience and capitalize on the opportunities available in Louisiana to achieve remarkable success.
If you’re unfamiliar with these two trailblazers, check out the first installment in this series. For more information about the challenges they’ve faced and solutions they’ve brought to Louisiana, read our second installment. For this third and final installment, we’ll delve into how Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim stay motivated and resilient throughout their journeys, advancing the biotech industry in Louisiana and setting an example for innovators to come.
Despite historical calamity and current adversities, Dr. Kim (of Chosen Diagnostics) believes in the irrepressible “joy and optimism of people in the area. They know how to set aside their troubles and their sorrow.”
Dr. Trivia Frazier (of Obatala Sciences) is undoubtedly one of those people. “The opportunity came and so did the risk,” she says. As a young woman balancing her desire to graduate on time with her commitment to her roots, Frazier sat out a semester of college to help her parents rebuild their home post-Katrina. Emerging from this period of hardship, feeling both intensely “drained and driven,” Frazier took on a staggering 36 credit hours of advanced coursework, along with a master’s level thesis and laboratory research examining the impact of antioxidants on osteosarcoma.
She’s taken classes from trailers and hotel rooms, self-motivating on no sleep and all drive. Her experiences with Katrina, she says, “revealed my resilience and ability to think through situations to reveal opportunities. Now, during the pandemic, I look for opportunities to leverage our existing resources for survival and growth.”
Years ago, when she realized she needed to find a means of commercializing her findings surrounding fat-on-a-chip, Frazier went back to school for her MBA. “I was applying for grants and putting a commercialization plan together, but everything in the business world was completely new,” she told Freeman Magazine. In this way, Frazier reframed a shortcoming and molded it into an opportunity, one that allowed her to seize greater control over her life and accomplishments.
“For the past twelve months…I don’t think there’s been any balance for anyone,” says Buckley of Chosen. Along with the nation at large, Chosen’s team has learned to accept flux and make sacrifices for the greater good. “We all had to survive this and hopefully we survived it stronger,” adds Kim. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have scars. It doesn’t mean you don’t take some hits along the way.”
It is neither the lucrative company nor the breakthrough research that constitutes true success in the biotech industry. Victory is embedded within the unflagging dedication of individual trailblazers igniting torches along the tangled path forward, finding success by attempting, by doing, and by setting an example for those to come.
Biotechnology and the world that it serves have always mutually shaped one another. With the advent of this global pandemic, it’s never been more crucial that this sort of work continues to receive widespread funding and respect, as well as a constant influx of new talent and innovation.
For Dr. Trivia Frazier and Dr. Sunyoung Kim, there is much more in store; both Obatala and Chosen are bent on transporting their projects out of the laboratory onto shelves nationwide. “It’s not just a research project for us,” says Dr. Buckley, “We’ve taken it on as our mission to make sure that this is a reality in the very near future.” Each company has raised private investments and garnered external grants to help their goals materialize. Chosen hopes to move the needle and help NEC preemies survive with groundbreaking pediatric care by alleviating undue healthcare burdens on affected families.
As their organizations continue to flourish here in Louisiana, Kim and Frazier hope to motivate other like-minded researchers to pursue careers in-state, especially those who haven’t had historically equal opportunities. In Kim’s words, in a land populated by “so many wonderful people and so many wonderful ideas, most of the time people from Louisiana end up leaving and making them work elsewhere in the country. They don’t stay here.”
Dr. Frazier agrees. She adamantly believes that Louisiana is “well-positioned for growth in the biotech industry, considering the number of colleges and universities that we have, the infrastructure that can be outfitted to support biotech expansion, and the saturation of activity within other major hubs on the East and West Coasts.”
So these entrepreneurs are leading by example. In her podcast special with WHIV, Frazier says that it’s important to lead the way for others, especially black youth, “so that others can walk in those shoes and surpass [her].” For those looking to blaze their own biotech trails, Dr. Frazier advises them not to be “afraid [of taking] a risk, especially when people around you haven’t taken the same risks. You will be advised to go in many directions, but follow your heart and your passion. It won’t lead you wrong.”
With more and more individuals recognizing Louisiana as an emerging biotech ecosystem, we’ll see a positive feedback loop involving greater job attraction, retention, and security in the industry. This, in turn, makes it possible for a growing community of biotech pioneers to tap into the deep well of local potential in the present as well as for decades to come.
“Through the chaos and upheaval of the past twelve months, we couldn’t be more proud of the powerful and inspiring work produced by our local entrepreneurs and innovators,” says Kris Khalil, Executive Director of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and BioFund Managing Director. “Both Obatala and Chosen have exhibited an unwavering devotion to the betterment of our communities and to those suffering across the nation. They serve as an inspiration to our entire Louisiana community.”
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While Dr. Frazier and Dr. Kim have set exemplary examples, they are far from the only entrepreneurs bringing exciting biotech innovations and accomplishments to Louisiana. Read our blog and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to keep up with the latest news from the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and our local biotech community.