// July 28, 2015

'Listen, Learn, then Lead' says Top Scientist at USP: A Conversation with Jaap Venema

Q&A with Top Scientist

Jaap Venema, Ph.D., is USP’s new Chief Science Office (CSO). He succeeds Dr. Srini Srinivasan, who retired after twenty-nine years of service to the organization. A native of the Netherlands, Dr. Venema brings a wealth of research, development, and leadership experience to USP—particularly in the area of biologics.

We sat down with Dr. Venema to discuss the vast responsibilities of a CSO, what makes USP important in the contemporary landscape, and what he has in mind during his tenure.

The depth and breadth of your global experience—from academia to industry, from the lab bench to leadership—enables you to chart your professional course according to your passions. What about the CSO role at USP spoke to you?

It feels as if everything I have learned and worked toward for pretty much my entire scientific career culminates in the CSO role at USP.

With twelve years in academia, both at the bench and supervising students and technicians, and another fifteen years in drug discovery and development in a variety of roles, I regard the CSO post as the pinnacle of my profession. It is gratifying and humbling to have this opportunity at a global organization with a unique mission.

The most common question posed to a USP staffer is “What is USP?” So, what is USP to you? In your short time here, has your idea of USP changed, and, if so, how?

My idea of USP has not fundamentally changed since I started; in fact, it has only been reinforced now that I have met and spoken with many employees in all parts and at all levels of the organization, as well as with many of our expert volunteers. I sense a strong commitment to--and pride in--what we do, and I am very impressed by the quality of our work.

USP is a truly unique organization. I don't believe there is any other of its kind in the world. Many other pharmacopeias exist, but not as independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations.  

You occupy our top scientific post. You manage a scientific staff that spans the globe. You, along with our volunteers and staff scientists, share the responsibility of providing trusted public standards for thousands of medicines, foods, and dietary supplements to more than 100 countries. As of July 1, 2015, you added Chairman of the Council of Experts (CoE) to your responsibilities. Walk us through your typical day—if such a thing exists.

As you might guess, I don't have a typical day and I like that. I am still onboarding, so I spend a lot of time learning about the organization. At the same time, I hit the ground running in two areas: strategic planning and the Council of Experts (CoE)--both of which required my immediate attention. I have dedicated a lot of time to organizational strategy and getting to know the new Expert Committee chairs and understanding my role as CoE chair.

Your predecessor leaves a legacy of global expansion. USP now has a footprint in China, India, Brazil, Ghana, Switzerland, and Ethiopia. What’s next for USP on the big-thinking front?

It's still a bit early to define this. I am committed to the three L’s: listening, learning, and leading--in that order. While I am already immersed in leadership of the Science Division and the organization, I am also acutely aware that I have to keep listening and learning to avoid forming opinions or making decisions too soon.

When you look at our strategy and the resolutions adopted at our most-recent Convention, it is clear USP will increasingly advocate for global health. At the same time, we have huge challenges ahead in monograph and chapter development and revision, maintaining and/or improving our relationships with key stakeholders, in particular the FDA, and capturing strategic growth opportunities in all of our program areas.

So, while my view is still developing, I feel the next five to ten years will see USP focus on building a global organization, but perhaps less on global expansion.

How will USP’s role in improving global health change over the next five years?

While remaining true to our core mission of protecting and improving public health in the United States—this includes ensuring the USP-NF is up to date, strengthening relationships with FDA and industry, and expanding our products and services across all program areas—we need to ensure USP remains relevant and is perceived as a partner of choice. I would like our stakeholders to want to--instead of having to--collaborate with us.

We live in a global world and healthcare is no exception. USP will increase its global role by collaborating with many international partners through the Global Public Health programs, training and educating regulatory agencies in developing and emerging countries, and being a frontrunner in pharmacopeial harmonization.

What elements of USP’s work do you plan to emphasize?

USP needs to continue, and, where necessary, increase our commitment to innovation.

I would like to see USP establish itself as a thought leader on what quality will look like twenty years from now. For example, I cannot imagine our users still relying upon physical books as a primary source of information, so we have to remain competitive in finding user-friendly ways to reach our customers while reinforcing the criticality of our science and quality.

I aspire to put our Science Division in a position to be regarded as the world leader and partner of choice in everything we do. For that, USP needs to continue, and, where necessary, increase our commitment to innovation, and we will take specific steps to stimulate that. Another area I am exploring is how to integrate peer-reviewed publications and other types of communications into our science. I believe that increasing our exposure will benefit USP in many ways, from making it an even more attractive place to work for scientists, to attracting the best expert volunteers.

You have significant experience in biologics —an area of particular interest to USP. How will biologics impact the future of medicine and disease management and prevention?

Biologics have revolutionized medicine in the past decades, just as vaccines and antibiotics did many years before. I am proud USP recognizes this trend and is poised to play a leading role.

Biologics will provide treatments for previously-intractable diseases, and may present opportunities to cure diseases currently managed through symptomatic treatments.

Another area where I believe we will see great advances is in diagnostics--where biology and biologics will enable us to detect and prevent diseases. It is imperative that societies find ways to cope with the high costs of biologics without losing incentives for the innovative research necessary to accomplish this.

For USP, this means we will see trends toward introducing more cost-effective treatments, either through biosimilars or cost reductions in developing and manufacturing biologics. USP needs to be at the forefront of these technologies in order to understand the impact of these trends on our standard-setting processes.

Learn how you can become an expert volunteer and get involved in USP's standard-setting activities.