Alumni Profile
By Kirsten Mickelwait

Jeff Hager

Jeff Hager

Jeff Hager (PhD 1994) — co-founder, senior vice president, and head of biology at IDEAYA Biosciences — has more than 20 years of experience under his belt in tumor biology and oncology drug discovery. As a biopharma executive, he spends much of his time talking to investors and pharmaceutical companies about his firm’s oncology programs. But what still fires him up most is going over data with his team. “It’s still about the science,” he says, “that Eureka moment, however small, when you realize that you may have discovered something new.”

For Hager, there have been a few of those Eureka moments. Before helping to found IDEAYA, he was vice president of biology at Seragon Pharmaceuticals, where he was central to the discovery of novel agents developed as treatment for breast cancer. That company was acquired by Roche/Genentech in 2014. Prior to that, he played a key role at Aragon Pharmaceuticals in the preclinical development of the novel anti-androgen ARN-509 (apalutamide). Aragon was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2013 and Apalutamide (Erleada™) was recently approved by the FDA as a treatment for early-stage prostate cancer.

Hager began his scientific career with a BA from Connecticut College, where he was a “zoology major of no great distinction,” he laughs. The game-changer came when he was a research associate at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he interacted with everyone from hard-working postdocs to Nobel laureates. “This wasn’t about reading some four-pound textbook, memorizing biochemical pathways,” he remembers. “It was about real discovery, done by interesting people.”

Hager was pursuing graduate studies at Princeton when his PhD adviser, noted Drosophila geneticist Thomas W. Cline, announced he’d be moving to Berkeley and invited him to join his new lab here. As an East Coaster, Hager was uncertain about the move. “I left New Jersey on a dreary day and arrived in sunny Berkeley,” he remembers. “I walked up to the Campanile, looked out over the bay, and it was a done deal.”

His advice for those who want to move from academia to industry science? “Academic science is more focused on the individual contribution, while in industry it’s team-based,” he says. “To get an agent into clinical trials, there are many steps along the chain. It’s really about generating a consensus among all stakeholders around an optimal R&D path. Smart people who can do it have a shot at being successful.” Clearly, Hager speaks from experience.

For more information about IDEAYA Biosciences visit their website.