The Impact We Make: Our spotlight interview with Ibraheem “Ib” Badejo

“My story starts out much like Shyam’s,” Ib said.

True, but from one continent and an ocean away at its genesis.

Born in Takoradi, Ghana of Nigerian parents and immigrated to Nigeria when he was eight years of age, Ibraheem Badejo earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry in just three years under scholarship from Avila University in Kansas City. But difficulties in PhD studies at Kansas State University manifested in a second chance, like Shyam’s, at the University of Toledo. Ib earned his PhD in organic chemistry from that institution where he was the Robert Whiteford Memorial Scholar for Outstanding Graduate Research and a Petroleum Research Fund Fellow.

It’s true, Ib and Shyam Parekh worked in the same lab at the same time at the University of Toledo on their journeys to careers in life science. By the time Ib completed his graduate studies, he had published 12 scientific papers.

His first industry gig was in the automotive industry developing automotive coating and colorants, but Ib knew he had more to offer humanity than beautiful, colorful cars.

Taking a chance on eagerness and desire

Transition from automotive coating to healthcare occurred after two years of adjunct research and volunteer work at the Medical University of South Carolina School of Pharmacy in the evenings, Closure Medical Corp was recruiting for an organic chemist with polymer experience under Jeff Clark, then Head of RD, Closure Medical Corp. About a week or so later, he called to offered Ib the job, Ib thought he was joking.

“I had very little direct medtech experience for the position,” Ib said. “When I asked him, ‘Why me?’ He cited my eagerness, willingness to learn, prolific inventions at Bayer and strong desire to improve outcomes for those needing care.

“Patients were waiting then, and patients are still waiting today,” Ib said.

The recipient of 25 U.S. patents with others pending, Ib is now Sr. R&D Director, Ethicon External Front End Innovation. Prior to this role, (Nov 2013-June 2021) – Ib was Sr. Dir, New Ventures at Johnson & Johnson Innovation,  focusing on identifying and investing in early stage medtech companies with strategic alignments to Johnson & Johnson MedTech priorities.  Several of such early stage investments led by Ib are now acquired/on-boarded or part of JJDC portfolio.  From his bio, “From 2010 to 2013, Ib was a Research Fellow at Global Surgery Group of Johnson & Johnson, where he was responsible for external and front-end innovations and intellectual property for Ethicon Biosurgery. From 2006 to 2010, he was the Director of Applied Research & New Technology Assessment of novel biomaterials. Prior to that, he was the Chief Scientist of Closure Medical Corp (acquired by J&J in 2005). Prior to joining Closure, he held various positions at Bayer, North Carolina State University, College of Charleston. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Drexel University.”

What his bio has not yet caught up with is that Ib is currently in his first year studies in the Northeastern University School of Law. Yes, despite all of his experience and accomplishments, Ib is currently a law school student.

Always learning

“I do have a desire to learn constantly,” Ib said. “But more importantly, I’m always reading contracts, trying to get deals done and negotiating. My fluency there is good, but the nuances of intellectual property (IP), like the differences between discovery and invention and what freedom to operate means can easily be the difference between failure and successful commercialization of new medical technologies for the innovator. Earning a patent is one thing. Being able to commercialize the patent is something else.

“Being fluent in the nuances of IP and how those nuances translate into the business of life science innovation should help me be more effective and efficient in my current role and prepare me for possible future ventures helping early stage companies pick the right projects to focus their limited resources.”

Given Ib’s considerable experience in medtech innovation, we hope you find the following Q&A useful.

What advice would you give early stage medtech innovators or startups?

Ib shares insights on a keynote panel at AdvanSE 2022

“Failure is an option. We so often are told that the sky is the limit. That is true, but it rarely comes without important learning that comes from taking risks that ultimately fail to achieve the goal. Try not to let fear of failure get in the way of trying to begin with. Fail fast, learn from the failure and move on. Do your best, then let the chips fall where they will.  When I have a new idea, start a project or new product development , I always ask myself “what must be true” for this project to move forward.  Another way to think about it – What are 2 critical questions that I must answer for this idea to move forward?  What are two or three showstoppers that must be overcome to move the idea forward?

“Equally important is understanding exactly what you are creating and who is going to pay for it. Can you get a CMS code? Will it be grouped with other products in the same code even if the product is superior? Who are your key stakeholders for a successful commercialization? What’s the regulatory pathway for approval? Critically important is the clinical study design and future reimbursement for the technology.  Answering those questions early and at multiple way-points in the technology’s development and commercialization pathway can increase the odds for successful commercialization or preservation of scarce resources.”

What advice would you give those mid-career professionals, especially regarding inclusivity?

“We all need mentors and sponsors. They are critical to our individual career advancement. Be open to suggestions including criticism that might feel negative. Mentors and sponsors, don’t sugar coat those suggestions. Honest and candid discussions help keep the focus for improvement in the right places. Serving on boards and foundations, and giving back to your community is a privilege and a blessing. I have also pledged to my nieces and nephews back in Nigeria that money needed for their education will never be an impediment for them as long as I can help it.”

What needs to change most urgently in the industry and for what effect?

“Covid-19 highlighted a major issue in our delivery of care for diverse populations. The Black community was hit disproportionately hard. This will almost certainly improve if we increase the number of Black innovators in the life sciences and healthcare because they will much more intimately understand the healthcare journey of Black patients, which is far different from others’. The industry needs to be intentional about building trust in diverse patient communities and funding Black and minority innovators, early stage companies and engineers.”

If someone was going to commit one or two things to memory from this, what would it be?

Image credit to Ib, @IbraheemBadejo

“Our lives should be measured by the impact we make. And, yes, patients are still waiting. We should constantly focus on solving big healthcare problems. In just one specific, personal example, my wife passed from sickle cell disease, a predominately Black disease. We can and should use our talents and resources more intensively to reduce the mortality rate of sickle cell disease.

“We focus on delivering solutions for the future. But in many cases the ‘future’ is always upon us.”

We are grateful for Ib’s contributions to the life science and medtech ecosystem including his time to make this spotlight possible and his service as a member of the Southeast Life Sciences Board of Directors.