Aaron Portmann on profound personal motivations, ground-breaking drug development, & eye-opening OR observations
Would you mind walking us through your career?
Well, I come from a clinical background. Specifically, I’ve spent 14 years working in clinical trials — everything from execution to clinical trial management, which I spent the last 8 years doing before joining TLS.
I’ve worked on over 50 Phase II and III studies in over 17 therapeutic areas. I also have a strong background in research. I received my Masters in Public Health with a focus on research. And all through college and grad school, I worked in an academic hospital environment in Level I trauma centers.
What motivates you in the work you do?
My personal life really drives much of what I do, which is why I’m happy that a lot of my work at TLS revolves around diabetes. My 12-year-old son has Type I diabetes — diagnosed at age 6; he’s on an insulin pump. My wife is a nurse practitioner, so she and I work hard on the day-to-day management of his diabetes. In my work, I’m really inspired when I think of my son’s future and innovations in the pharmaceutical world that could potentially help him live a longer, healthier life.
Then, from a purely professional perspective, I’m really driven to not only deliver a quality product and exceed customer expectations, but to do so creatively and more efficiently. A passion of mine throughout my career has been process improvement — figuring out smarter and simpler ways to do things more effectively.
What are you proudest of in your career?
In particular, I’m probably proudest of three drugs that I helped develop at Takeda Pharmaceuticals: Dexilant (which treats Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease), Uloric (for gout), and Edarbi (for hypertension). I spent a few years working on each of them, so when they went to market, it was really satisfying to see my work translate into something so useful.
With you and your wife both working in healthcare, what kind of dynamic does that create at home?
It’s been fantastic for us both in how we’re able to manage my son’s diabetes. And as far as our day-to-day, we both “talk the same talk,” so it’s really nice how we can relate to each others’ work — although, I certainly understand what she does better as a hospital-based nurse practitioner, than she understands what I do!
What’s your favorite thing about your job at TLS?
What I enjoy most is being able to take the data that we collect, put it together and make it meaningful. Our clients come to us with a need and sometimes they’re not set on what they want, so I love being able take the data our team compiles and put it together in a way that produces a key take-home message. Then, taking it a step further, it gives me so much satisfaction to go into a meeting and present our findings to them and hear “Wow, that’s even better than what we were looking for.”
Also, this is my first move to a smaller company. Throughout my career, I have worked for larger organizations; in fact, the last company I worked for has 30,000 employees in 60 countries. I feel like moving to TLS has been a great opportunity for me to be able to make my mark and personally feel like the work I do makes a difference to the company as a whole. That’s been really rewarding.
How does your professional background, education, and TLS all tie together?
I think my scientific background set the foundation for work in clinical research and clinical trials. Of course, clinical trials are heavily regulated, so data integrity and the quality aspect are key to the trials and to patient safety. I think that this experience translates well into what we do at TLS. …Add to that project management: Just prior, I was managing global clinical trials in diabetes being conducted in up to 16 countries — those skills apply very well to what I do at TLS.
On a lighter note — well, maybe not really, in your case: At a TLS team meeting, we once asked everyone: “What is one thing that no one here knows about you?” Your answer: “While I was working in hospitals, I saw countless patients come in with ‘props’ that were not part of their body.” …Can you elaborate a little?
Ha! When working in the operating rooms of Level I trauma centers, you just see the craziest stuff. For example, we had a guy in the operating room who had been cleaning a hamburger grinder at work. It had a pedal to start it up, like a sewing machine…and he accidentally stepped on it. When he came in, he still had the hamburger grinder on his arm — all the way up to his elbow. There are so many stories like that — people getting thrown from vehicles and impaled on things and coming in with branches, metal bars, etc. sticking out of their bodies. Wear your seat belts! At the same time during college, my wife worked in the ER in radiology at the same hospital, so we still have a collection of some crazy x-rays as well for the occasional show and tell.
On an actual lighter note: You’d mentioned before that something you love to do in your free time is binge watch your current Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/HBO series. What’s your current binge?
Right now we’re watching a sci-fi mini-series Orphan Black, and we just finished “Hell on Wheels” — it’s about the construction of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. It actually hits close to home because it was finished just north of where we live in Salt Lake City at Golden Spike (National Historic Site — where a 24-karat gold spike was to be the final spike drilled into the rail). “Hell on Wheels” is the name of the town that basically moved along with the railroad as they built it across the plains. It was really fascinating. I highly recommend it!