Global Business School for Health


Alumni Voices: 'UCL and Me'

11 July 2022

UCL Alumnus and member of the UCL Global Business School for Health External Advisory Board, Dr Hari Kumar, reflects on the impact studying at UCL has had on his career.

UCL building with text

If there was a single moment that changed the course of my life, it was the day I walked into the Department of Zoology at UCL. I had signed up for my PhD in Immunology (then an emerging field) and presented myself at the department, having just arrived from Malaysia (where I am originally from) the day before. The head of the department then was Professor N.A Mitchison, who greeted me and threw me straight into science! I have never looked back from that moment.

UCL was then at the epicentre of the Immunology revolution and everyone who was someone in the immunology world came through the department at some point and we, the students, were the beneficiary of this huge wave of cutting edge science; interactions, discussions and information. Four years later, I left the department to start my post-doctoral work in Boston, USA, under the mentorship of an alumnus of UCL, with the knowledge that I had been the recipient of the most profound education I could wish for. 

After three years in Boston, I returned to the UK to work at the Marie Curie Cancer Research Institute. A year later I joined Roche (the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company) in their research group in the UK. My UCL pedigree played a huge role in my landing the job. 

Three years later, I decided to take a new direction and left research to join Roche’s sales and marketing department. I looked after a new biological treatment for cancer and my background in science was a strong foundation for this role. Soon, I was made responsible for the launch of an immunosuppressive treatment for the prevention of rejection of organ transplants. My UCL background ensured a high level of respect from the physicians and surgeons I met and worked with during this role.

Upon reflection on my time studying at UCL, I have thought it would have been beneficial to also have had an in-depth education in the business side of health and pharmaceuticals. This is partly why I am excited for the incoming student classes of the UCL Global Business School for Health! I certainly would have benefitted from the UCL GBSH whilst studying to equip me better for the professional challenges that lay ahead. But the UCL GBSH would not come to be for another two decades! All the things that are taught by experts through the GBSH I had to acquire myself through years of learning on the job.

Mid 2000s, I decided to take another leap of faith and left the comfort of a large pharmaceutical company to join a small start-up biotech company in California. Luck would have it that the founder of the company was also an UCL alumnus in chemistry! He had also gone on to big Pharma before deciding to turn his attention to starting his own biotech company called Amira Pharmaceuticals.

The lessons we had both learned in Pharma helped us lead the company, and more importantly, discover new medicines. Fast-forward to 2011, the company was acquired by a large Pharmaceutical company.

I was then headhunted to lead another start-up company out of Boston. The experience and contacts I had made along the way helped me shape this new company, Adheron Therapeutics. In our research efforts, we were able to showcase the role of a key protein involved in fibrosis. This effort resulted in the acquisition of the company by my old alma mater, Roche!

In 2019, my wife and I returned to Europe and I was keen to give back. Joining boards of biotech companies allows me to impart some of the experience and wisdom I have gleaned over the years. I am currently Chairman of the Board at a Swiss biotech company called Kinarus Therapeutics.  Similarly, when I was approached to join the External Advisory Board of GBSH, I jumped at it as this gives me a great opportunity to help guide future generations of UCL alumni in their quest to be exceptional and innovative leaders in healthcare.

Author: Dr Hari Kumar

Hari Kumar is a pharmaceutical executive with over 30 years of experience in the industry. 

He started his pharmaceutical career at Roche, before joining Amira Pharmaceuticals and later becoming the Chief Executive Officer of Adheron Therapeutics. Since then, Hari has been actively involved in helping Biotech start-ups either as an independent Board member or as a consultant. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Kinarus AG, on the Board of TRIO Inc, advisor to Mantra Bio, Inc. and Pliant Therapeutics, Inc. 

Having completed his PhD as an immunologist at University College London, Hari completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston and another fellowship at the Marie Curie Cancer Research Centre in UK.