If Madhusudan Peshwa had stayed on the career path he chose as a young eighth grader in India, he may not be where he is today. But his passion for science and persistence helped convince many experts along the way to act as his mentors, giving him invaluable experiences that helped shape his career in bioprocessing and cell therapy.
Peshwa’s original choice to study engineering in high school meant that biology was all but ruled out as a career path. An engineering career seemed almost solidified after he passed an intense nationwide selection process to receive one of only 1,500 seats at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, where he would pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Metallurgical Engineering.
Peshwa began to network, convincing various members of the faculty to allow him to work on small projects that were inspired by his father, who held a doctorate in microbiology and biochemistry. Through these projects, he developed a fascination with applying physics, chemistry and math principles to biological systems, and his interests in life sciences began to take shape. Then he was able to change his major to Chemical Engineering – the closest to Biological Engineering, which did not exist at the time.
During graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where only one of the five biochemical faculty members was doing applied work, Peshwa worked in the lab and was trained in traditional biochemical engineering principles for recombinant protein and viral vector production – known today as bioprocessing. During that time in the lab, Peshwa became interested in using cells not just as vehicles for biomanufacturing, but also as therapeutic drugs. He first trained with an islet transplant surgeon, then with a liver transplant surgeon, applying bioprocess engineering principles to primary cells with the aim of using those cells as therapeutic modalities for treating diseases.
For his doctorate, he developed a bio-artificial liver as a therapy for acute fulminant hepatitis. It had liver cells entrapped inside a 3D matrix in a dialysis cartridge, similar to a kidney dialysis machine, and provided liver support for patients waiting for a donor organ or for their own liver to regenerate. That technology was then used as the basis for a start-up company, where Peshwa worked to build cell-based products, get financing, and go through the regulatory process.
From there, he joined a virtual company that was developing cellular immunotherapies for HIV/AIDS and cancer. The company grew into what is now Dendreon, which is credited with bringing the first commercially-approved cell therapy product to market in the US.
While at Dendreon, Peshwa worked to develop the company’s personalized cellular immunotherapy product platform. As he rose within the organization, he eventually ran all technical operations including process development, manufacturing, Chemistry, Manufacturing, and Controls (CMC) aspects, and interactions with corporate partners. During Peshwa’s 10-year tenure, Dendreon handled the manufacturing for multiple clinical trials, over a half dozen investigational new drug (IND) products in the US and Japan, and infused over 2,500 lots of products into patients. He also helped build the commercial manufacturing infrastructure in anticipation of commercial approval.
After a short stint at a start-up company working on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), Peshwa joined the platform company MaxCyte. There, he focused on building and growing revenues, embedding the platform as an integral part of the manufacturing process that defines critical product attributes and skews the therapeutic index of cell and gene therapy products. Through this, he drove translational development of proprietary non-viral immunotherapy and gene-editing products through data-driven science and clinical utility to human clinical trials. Peshwa also developed the strategic, technical, regulatory and financial plans associated with these efforts.