Already in the Thick of Things:
An Interview with Polly Murphy
Polly Murphy joined the administrative team at The Scripps Research Institute last month. A graduate of Iowa State University (Ph.D. and D.V.M.) and Nova Southeastern University (M.B.A.), she has held positions in business development and technology management for the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, Aurora Biosciences, Dupont Pharmaceuticals, and Nabi Biopharmaceuticals.
Have you been mostly doing catch-up work so far, since you just started June 1?
No, I've already been to Florida and New York. I've met Florida Governor Jeb Bush and find I'm already in the thick of things.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My title is senior vice president of business and scientific services. In terms of scientific services, I oversee Research Computing, Environmental Health and Safety, the Institutional Review Board, Kresge Library, Instrumentation and Design, Biomedical Graphics, Animal Resources, and the institute's core facilities. In terms of the business end, I oversee Technology Transfer, and business development efforts in Florida.
What brought you to Scripps Research?
It was the opportunity—the opportunity to expand my core skills. Scripps has so much technology and so many possibilities. I also enjoy the responsibility for operational groups—I like operations and figuring out how best to provide services for faculty and other members of the scientific community. Scripps Florida is also tremendously exciting.
Have you been at Scripps Research long enough to formulate any goals?
My goals are pretty simple. For the core facilities and support services, I want to provide the best service possible for the scientists, and to provide these services in a cost-effective way while meeting all regulatory requirements. The challenge is finding the resources to keep upgrading and making sure our technology is the best we can make it within a reasonable budget. On the business side, my goal is to meet the needs of both the funders and the scientists, while achieving the most efficient commercialization possible.
Florida is another story. In about seven years, our public funding for the new Florida campus will be gone. Part of my job is to help figure out how to replace that money. Some of this funding will be replaced by grants generated by the investigators. But some of it needs to be replaced by the business and commercial side. It's my job to find how to bring in the deals from a drug discovery perspective and how to come up with the kind of relationships and collaborations that will underwrite the Florida campus.
Florida is new territory for the institute, so it must be new territory for you as well.
Yes, in many ways. I did, however, live and work in Boca Raton for a couple years during the late 90's and have family in South Florida, so I know Palm Beach County. For me, going to Florida is a bit like going home. I still know people there.
Does that give you any special insight into what is going on there?
What it gives me insight into is the culture in Florida, and the sensitivity of the Everglades. And I know the area well enough to know what it has and doesn't have in terms of biotech. Part of why I left Florida was the limited opportunities in the field. My husband and I came to California because we wanted to be somewhere where we didn't have to move if I changed jobs. He is a psychologist, so he has to start over when we move.
So, there wasn't a critical mass in Florida.
Right. In contrast, in San Diego I've worked in three different jobs and my commute has barely changed. I can change jobs, and nothing changes for our lives. That was the idea of being here. If we are successful in South Florida, people with careers in biotech will be able do the same thing there. They will be able to build a career rather than just stop there for a single position.
Do you bring any different approaches for building business opportunities to Scripps Research?
It's too early to tell. It would be hard for me to come into Scripps and say 'you're not doing creative deals.' Part of what attracted me to Scripps was that it does some of the most creative deals I've ever seen. I find Scripps' deal-making compelling. It is less that I think I'm bringing in some brilliant ideas and more that I want to join in. There aren't many deal structures that Scripps hasn't done.
Do you see the institute's presence in Florida as opening up more opportunities?
Exactly. Florida is the really fun part. That's the icing on the cake. This is a great job, but being in on the ground floor of something that exciting and being part of the long-term development of a whole region—a region that I love—is the best of all worlds.
What have you been enjoying most so far about the job?
I am really enjoying the team. I'm liking the people here and the way they think. And I've been handed interesting challenges right off the bat—to me, that's fun.
And what do you do outside work to keep yourself sane?
Well, I have two little boys, four and five-and-a-half…
I don't know if that counts.
Well, they keep me in-sane… And I surf. Three of us, all women from the biotech field, decided to take lessons last fall and now I'm hooked. My husband and I also breed rare finches.
Any other pets?
We are pet central. When someone asks whether we have pets, I ask, "The short list or the long list?" We have two dogs and a cat. Then there are the finches and the koi in a pond in the yard. My dad, who is a farmer, calls them my "city-girl livestock." And he's right. Since I grew up on a farm and I'm trained as a vet, it just seems right to have animals.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu
Polly Murphy is Scripps Research's new senior vice president of business and scientific services. Photo by Kevin Fung.