A Day in the Life as a Bonum Therapeutics Principal Scientist
When Shannon Okada’s morning chai goes cold, it’s because she became immersed in her work in the lab.
“We have a lot of fun solving mysteries,” said Okada, who works as a Principal Scientist at Bonum Therapeutics, a Seattle-based biotech focused on development of a new class of cancer drugs with enhanced safety and efficacy. “Every day you don’t know what’s going to happen or what you might discover.”
Okada spends much of her time designing experiments to test new potential therapies in the lab. The goal at Bonum is to design proteins that are active in the right place and remain inactive in other conditions. She helps build the tools to study how these proteins work and evaluates all the data she and her team generate, which then informs further designs.
“Big picture, I am motivated by the opportunity to design a drug that you can dose at the level you need to get rid of a tumor, while avoiding the toxicities currently associated with such high levels of dosing,” Okada said.
Both the day-to-day results, as well as the big “ah-ha” moments, keep her spirits high. She thinks back to a moment three years ago when her experiment proved for the first time that an early prototype was working. The whole team gathered around her computer to view the exciting data.
“We did it in vitro. It was a straightforward experiment, in a format we use all the time. But, this time, we were able to show the protein functioned with the mechanism we had designed. It was a breakthrough,” she said.
Okada, a working mother, has no time for inefficiencies, which is why she optimizes her day. The flexibility she has at Bonum lets her organize her time, enabling her to split her work day between the lab and home, dodging rush hour and being productive where it works best for her.
Looking Back at Washington’s Life Science Industry Okada, a homegrown Washington resident, began her career in life sciences in 1999 as a research associate at Seattle-based ZymoGenetics, which Bristol Myers Squibb acquired in 2010 for $885M.
“When I was at ZymoGenetics, especially during the early days, there were not a lot of local employment options if I lost my job,” Okada said of the state’s early 2000s biotech scene. “The longer I worked, however, the more Washington biotech grew and expanded. Now, there are many more opportunities.”
After Bristol Myers Squibb closed the ZymoGenetics offices in Seattle, Okada looked for her next opportunity. It came in the form of a two-person, biotech start up position with John Mulligan, CEO and founder of Good Therapeutics (and now Bonum Therapeutics).
“I’m not a risk taker by nature, but I knew of John from my network. He’s very bright and thinks differently. He had a track record of success. Even though taking a job at a start up seemed high risk to me, I was looking forward to seeing what would happen,” she said. “In hindsight, I can say he did have a really good idea that’s simple and elegant and has the potential to reduce toxicity for cancer drugs. It has been totally worth it.”
Good was acquired in 2022 by Roche, for $250 million upfront plus milestones. Bonum is a spinout of Good, and at least one compound developed by the Good (now Bonum) team is well on its way towards testing in humans. Okada’s expertise continues to be foundational to development of Bonum’s targeted, highly active, and less toxic medicines.
Sponsored by Life Science Washington and Bonum Therapeutics