Harvey J. Berger, M.D., '77, was recently appointed as the Executive Chairman at Medinol Inc., a pioneering global interventional cardiovascular-device company based in Israel. This position brings him full circle back to cardiology, the area he focused on throughout his academic career at Yale and Emory. Berger's appointment came just before he celebrated his 40th anniversary of graduation from Yale School of Medicine.
“Bob Alpern reached out to me soon after he came to Yale as Dean and asked me to join his newly formed Dean’s Council, giving me a chance to learn close up about his vision for Yale,” Berger said. “The Dean has supported strengthening the Yale System, developing a new medical-school curriculum, ensuring equality and social justice, recognizing outstanding clinicians, building, for the first time, a strong relationship between the medical school and the hospital, and encouraging scientific excellence at all levels – from medical students working on their thesis to faculty members creating new labs and institutes.” Berger added, “These are all important aspects of what makes Yale such a great institution.”
After graduating from medical school and completing residency training at Yale, Berger began his academic career as a member of the Yale faculty in Internal Medicine and Radiology and as Director of Cardiovascular Imaging. He continued his career at Emory University School of Medicine as Professor of Radiology, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Chief of Nuclear Medicine, focusing his research on the development of new noninvasive methods for tomographic imaging of the heart. Berger said, “Being at Yale at that time gave me an opportunity to work with some of the leaders in the growing field of nuclear cardiology. Then at Emory, I joined a multidisciplinary clinical and research effort spearheaded by Andreas Gruntzig, a leader in the field of coronary angioplasty, who wanted every angioplasty patient to undergo stress perfusion imaging; this gave us the chance to study the relationship between coronary anatomy and physiology in many CAD patients with varying degrees of coronary insufficiency.”
In 1986, Berger made the move to Centocor, Inc., as the head of R&D, where he led the development of Remicade® (infliximab), a drug for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis, and ReoPro® (abciximab), a drug for the ischemic complications of percutaneous interventions in CAD. Berger said, “When I joined Centocor in 1986, there were relatively few faculty who had made the transition to the biotech industry. Some of my colleagues wondered about the wisdom of this move. I saw a great opportunity working for one of the major first-generation biotech companies focusing on new uses of humanized monoclonal antibodies as medicines. This was just the beginning of a new era of therapy with biologics.”
Thereafter, in 1991, Berger founded ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and served as its Chairman and CEO until 2015 when he became Chairman and CEO Emeritus. Under his leadership, the company developed a pipeline of new medicines to advance the treatment of challenging cancers utilizing ARIAD’s platform of computational and structural approaches to design small-molecule drugs that overcome resistance to prior medicines. He led the development of Iclusig® (ponatinib) for Ph+ leukemias, Alunbrig® (brigatinib) for ALK+ lung cancer, AP32788 for lung cancer with novel mutated genetic targets, and rimiducid, a dimerizing drug for use with cellular immunotherapies (co-developed with Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, Inc.). He also established a partnership with Medinol to use one of ARIAD’s cancer medicines, ridaforolimus, in a novel polymer coating on Medinol’s EluNIR® drug-eluting stent for obstructive coronary disease.
Berger then took the position at Medinol after a 25-year career at ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a company that he built from a startup, as the initial employee, to a global, commercial company with over 600 employees based in 15 countries. Over the course of his career in the biotechnology and life-sciences industries, Berger oversaw the development of seven new medicines -- five of which have already been approved for use in patients with difficult-to-treat diseases, such as leukemias and lung cancer.
Berger published over 150 original papers, editorials, and reviews in scientific and medical journals and was an Established Investigator of the American Heart Association. In recognition of his achievements in the biotechnology field, Berger was awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in New England and the Gold Stevie Award as Executive of the Year in Pharmaceuticals.
As Berger returns to cardiology, he looks back at Yale as the foundation of his career and success. “Yale formed the basis for my commitment to clinical scholarship,” said Berger. “I learned how to be a good physician and how to use new discoveries in medicine to the benefit of my patients. Of all the experiences I have had, none was as important to me as my years at Yale. I will always be thankful for my Yale mentors. I am proud that I was also able to mentor many of my colleagues who have gone on to become leaders in science, medicine and business.”
Submitted by Harvey J. Berger