Alumni Profiles Series: Ben Maynor
Benjamin Maynor received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Duke in 2004, where he worked on nanotechnology and materials chemistry in the Liu laboratory. Dr. Maynor then co-invented a nanoparticle technology during his postdoc at UNC-Chapel Hill, leading to the launch of Liquidia Technologies. Dr. Maynor is currently Senior Vice President of R&D at Liquidia.
Can you tell me about your experience as a graduate student at Duke?
Graduate school was one of the best learning experiences and best preparation that I had for my career. When you when you go to graduate school, it's like a continuation of college in that there is classwork, but there's also a transition into more of a professional skillset. In my case, it was basically independent research: defining an objective to study, preparing a plan of attack, and then moving that forward and ultimately developing results and conclusions. Graduate school was a great transition and really helped me prepare for the things I would be doing as a professional. The cross-disciplinary interaction that you get with other graduate students, professors, undergraduates, external parties, and our collaborators were all very helpful in addition to the science that we did ourselves. Graduate school for me was a mini-version of working life.
What has your career path looked like since you graduated from Duke?
After I got my Ph.D., I did a postdoc in the chemistry department at UNC-Chapel Hill. As part of the work that I was doing, we came up with a technology for making very precisely controlled nanoparticles and microparticles that we that we developed at a benchtop, proof-of-concept level. We branded that technology as PRINT and launched it into a company, Liquidia Technologies, which is where I still work now. So in 2005 or so, I left my postdoc and came over here to Liquidia to begin the process of finding applications for and ultimately industrializing the technology that our team developed during my postdoc. I’ve been at Liquidia for almost 15 years now. Graduate school taught me those basic skills of scientific discovery, but also innovation and collaboration, and that really helped prepare me for my career.
Can you tell me more about your current job? What do you enjoy most about it? What's been most surprising?
Currently I'm the senior vice president of R&D at Liquidia. My responsibilities include overseeing some of our core technology development and supporting our products from a core technology point of view, as well as taking care of the emerging applications of the technologies. I think what I enjoy most about it is the cross-functional nature of things. We are in the pharmaceutical industry, a really rich and complex area that involves science and technology, but also patients, medicine, marketing, and commercialization. As a scientist I never thought that I would be exposed to all these different areas that I now participate in every day. There's always something new to do and there's always something new to learn. There's always a new challenge and it’s certainly not easy. There's a lot of complexity, particularly in health care and pharmaceuticals, but overall it's a very rich area.
When you were in graduate school, did you ever see yourself in a position like this?
I still consider myself a scientist, and I always knew that science was where I was going to go, but I didn't really understand that I would be doing a lot more strategy and management based on the science that that I've done. While at its core I'm doing just what I wanted to do, I think that I didn't really have a good appreciation of what the actual work would be like.
What forthcoming developments at Liquidia are you most excited about?
The company has made a lot of progress; we're in the process of trying to commercialize our first product, which is a drug for a pulmonary arterial hypertension. Coming up shortly over the next few months, we hope to be filing our drug with the FDA. That's a big milestone, seeing something from the ground up, something that started as a concept for a technology without a defined product in mind. Seeing it develop, grow, and become something that could actually benefit patients is something that I'm proud of and very excited to see through to completion.
What is the best career advice you have received?
Be a lifelong learner. Always be looking for that next area of interest and that next area of challenge. Be open to new ideas and opportunities even if you don’t feel like you have the expertise to take on a new challenge currently. Be excited to take the opportunity to challenge yourself, learn, and grow. If you do that and embrace the process of learning about new areas and how those areas are affiliated with your career, opportunities will open up for you. That could be scientific, managerial, organizational, or it could be an adjacent career path. There are a lot of opportunities, so keep your eyes open and be willing to learn about and embrace them.
What is your favorite memory from Duke?
On Friday afternoons we went out to the sand volleyball court that we had outside back when the chemistry laboratories were in Gross Hall. Around 4:30, everybody would leave the lab and sometimes faculty would come down as well. It was a fun time.
Ph.D. candidate, Chemistry
Abigail Jackson is a Ph.D. candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry. In the Franz Lab, she works on developing antibiotic prodrugs that bind to copper and zinc ions in drug-resistant bacteria.