Dr. Patrice Milos has spent the past two years focusing on combining extensive genomic research with advanced analytics to identify the best treatment approaches for cancer patients. She also mentors young women interested in STEM careers, remembering how much she grew as a student and a woman at Saint Rose.
Patrice Milos ’80 loves science, innovation, and business challenges, arguably in that order. That’s obvious from her resume, which begins with postdoctoral positions at Harvard and Brown University, follows with 14 years of executive leadership at Pfizer, and most recently includes CEO experience at a handful of biotech startups.
She’s spent the past two years focusing on her newest startup, Medley Genomics, which combines extensive genomic research with advanced analytics to identify the best treatment approaches for cancer patients. The goal is a user-friendly software product that seamlessly interfaces with data from pharmaceutical and molecular diagnostic organizations. “We’re trying to invent the next phase of how to treat cancer,” she says.
All too often, current practice takes a standardized response to the complex and multitudinous forms that cancers can take, Milos explains. “In a simple example, you might have 100,000 cells in a tumor, and 90,000 will be driven by a predominant mutation, while 10,000 have diverged with a distinctly different mechanism,” she says. “We want to really understand all those cells from the very beginning, and think very differently about the patient and the treatment paradigm.”
Scientist? Entrepreneur? Try both!
The nexus of medical research, computational analytics, and business is something of a sweet spot for Milos, who thrives on the challenge of meeting the demands of the marketplace with scientific and technological innovations: everything from raising funding, to inking strategic academia-industry partnerships, to helping healthcare providers navigate the complex landscape of insurance and regulations.
“The tried-and-true part of whom I am is a scientist who likes to be at the cutting edge of scientific entrepreneurship,” says Milos. For instance, in the mid-1990s, she helped found Pfizer’s new pharmacogenomics group. “That group was intended to help large pharmaceuticals think about a future where personalized healthcare, or ‘precision medicine,’ was the reality –even before the first human genome was sequenced,” she says.
Since then, Milos has had the pleasure of seeing that early vision of hers become the norm. “If you look at the new drugs that were approved last year, about 42% would be what we would consider personalized medicine,” she says.
An enlightening, transformative education
Difficult as it might be to picture, Milos and her four siblings were the first in their family to attend college.
“My grandparents had come from Poland, my parents never went to college, and we had a very simple life, in the two-story house in Troy that my parents bought,” says Milos. Her father passed away when she was only 10, leaving her mother to run the household and pay the bills on a state worker’s salary. Extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins – helped out.
“We had a really good family foundation and a good life, although we had nothing.”
With unflagging support from a family who believed in the power of education, Milos earned a full scholarship to the prestigious Emma Willard School, and then to Saint Rose, where her sister, Sister Joyce Milos ’72, was teaching.
“It was an amazing, transformative aspect of my life,” says Milos, who earned a B.A. in Interdepartmental Studies: Biochemistry at Saint Rose. “It was all about a great education, and finding your strength as a woman.”
At Saint Rose, she found a solid education, a supportive community of teachers and friends, and just the right amount of challenge. Sister Tess Wysolmerski proved to be a staunch educator, mentor, and friend to the young student.
Milos credits her educational experience with giving her a strong sense of self.
“As a woman in technological and scientific innovation, I see things so differently from men, and that foundation has allowed me to really be who I am, no matter what I’m doing career-wise.”
Strength and balance
That core strength includes the ability to strike a healthy balance that embraces both career and family life, says Milos. She loves the time she spends with her husband, son, and daughter, and has always made a point of being home for dinner with them when she’s not traveling.
She attributes a large measure of her success to her understanding of team dynamics, adding that women leaders leverage the power of their executive team, rather than focusing on their own achievements. Managing, delegating, and multitasking with great efficiency are some of the other strengths that women leaders offer, Milos says.
Having always sought out mentors herself, Milos counsels young women interested in STEM to never be afraid to reach out.
“Make sure you have role models that you can talk to. Find out what they did to get where they are, seek advice as broadly as you can, and always be networking and seeking mentors,” she says. “People are always willing to help you, and women are so often afraid to ask for help.”
Keeping an open mind has been another feature of Milos’s career success. Although she always loved science and knew from an early age that she wanted to make it her career, she never could have predicted the path it would take.
“I was always open to new opportunities, willing to challenge myself and do something different,” she says. “It can be scary at times, taking that leap, but as long as you’ve developed that foundation of who you are and who you want to be, you can say, ‘What do I have to lose? Why not take this opportunity?’”
– By Irene Kim