Get to Know Our EVP of R&D and CMO – Rafael G. Amado, M.D.
January 29, 2020
Rafael G. Amado, M.D.
Executive Vice President of Research and Development and Chief Medical Officer
What was your first job?
My first job was as a physician intern in the emergency department of a trauma center in the south side of Chicago. I had not been in the U.S. very long (having moved from Spain), and what I saw was shocking – gunshot wounds, burns, car accidents, drug overdoses. It was daunting.
We were called “house officers” at that time because we basically lived at the hospital. I maybe made it to my apartment one out of four nights. I often thought about catching the next flight to Spain, where I was born, but I was too busy to even think about anything other than taking care of patients. It was brutal work, but it taught me so much.
My first full-time job after years of residency and fellowship was seeing patients as a faculty member at UCLA. I was an oncologist and hematologist, having completed my training there. I’d treat patients in the clinic for outpatient care; I’d rotate through the hospital wards, where I would be the attending on service and responsible for 40 or so patients at a time; and the rest of the time I would spend time in the lab doing basic research. I did this for 10 years after three years of fellowship.
Why did you join Allogene?
I like to do innovative things and be stretched in my professional career. While our industry is heavily regulated, I believe there is always room for innovation. I knew this opportunity would provide exciting challenges. I also like the people and the “casual intensity” of the place.
The quality of the science is excellent. I have known David for years, and there are few people with his intellect and his capacity to focus on what’s important. I knew Arie from UCLA when I rotated through his clinic as a fellow; he has a track record of changing medical care that few people can claim. The conversations I had with the two of them about their vision for the company and how they want to evolve the field to allogeneic cells sources in liquid and solid tumors was exciting, and I immediately wanted to play a part in it all.
I must admit that I am also excited to get back to the West Coast, my home for over 20 years!
What is your favorite Allogene moment so far?
Well, I’m still pretty new, but I can think of two – both centered around the people. Prior to joining, I had the opportunity to meet with people I had admired for many years. This was absolutely a favorite moment. On my first day, I attended an internal Blood Cancer Awareness Month event and witnessed Allogene’s culture of comradery and celebration. People here enjoy spending time together. There is a lot of motivation and desire to help patients and make a difference, but also to have fun at work. That was great to witness on Day 1.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I feel that I have contributed to bringing drugs to the market without which some people around the world would not be alive today. The fact that in drug development we can use our ingenuity to make patients with cancer live longer is a precious gift.
Who is your greatest inspiration (personally or professionally)?
My father gave me a few of my favorite traits. He never gave up easily and he countered adversity with creative thinking and hard work. He was a great listener, and he taught me to listen to people for understanding. He also stayed with a problem until it was solved. He taught me to step back and look at a problem from different angles, to twist it around until it looks different, and to ask others for a different perspective. He was that way.
I enjoy music a lot, and I admire Bach both for his music and his ability to work day and night to produce glorious music. He was a humble man who did not flaunt his genius, even though he defined what western music is today.
I often read books about cosmology and like star gazing. I think the science is fascinating, and learning about the universe keeps me grounded and puts my problems and circumstances into perspective.
What is your hope for the future of cancer treatment?
Cancer research is iterative work that will continue to evolve and be punctuated by successes in specific tumors. But what’s the holy grail? Patients with epithelial metastatic tumors being cured. These tumors kill the majority of patients with cancer. My dream is that someday, I could say that I made a contribution to developing a cure for one of these devastating illnesses, such as metastatic colorectal or lung cancer. Cell therapy may be the answer – that’s what we at Allogene are here to figure out.