It was inevitable that my father and I would end up working together. What I didn’t expect? That he would become one of my best friends and mentors. Ever since I was a young child, I was fascinated by my father’s job. As a pharmaceutical scientist, he had been involved with the development of many first-line chemotherapeutic drugs, popular hospital-based products, and oral generics. My 6 year old self didn’t understand the impact of it. But I did enjoy playing with the (plastic) glassware he’d bring home, and the experiments we’d perform in the kitchen.
As I got older, my interest in my father’s work grew. When he’d talk about his current project, he’d also teach me about the disease in particular, the current therapies treating it, and how the new one would fit in. I jumped at the chance to join him in his office on the weekends (mostly to restock my Post-It and highlighter collection). We moved frequently for his job, and I peppered him with questions on what was different about the new company and what he’d be working on.
We also marveled at how my mother packed and unpacked our homes at lightning speed. But that’s another story for another day.
It was inevitable that my father and I would end up working together. What I didn’t expect? That he would become one of my best friends.
By the time I started college, my dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer were up in the air. What I did know? I wanted to work in pharma, just like my father. I majored in biochemistry and history, and did every internship I could get my hands on. I worked as a research assistant in a lab, in the marketing department of our alumni association, and in the sales department of a chemicals company. After graduation, I ended up in technology sales at Cisco Systems, with the biggest pharma companies as my clients.
Our conversations about my father’s work continued, especially since he had started his own research lab in India and co-founded a new company, SciDose. I was captivated by the work they were doing (significantly improving existing products through reformulation and licensing it) and I was thrilled to accept an offer when they began to grow their team. I spent the next 5 years building SciDose alongside my father and Joe, his business partner. I loved their work, managing multiple development projects with partners, establishing supply contracts and manufacturing agreements, writing decks and business plans, and licensing late stage programs. But I really loved spending so much time with my father. We’d spend hours at the dining room table, reviewing the status of each project in minute detail. We constantly traveled together, from visiting manufacturing sites to pitch meetings with prospective partners. He continually sent me journals and articles to learn more about the industry, and I’d download the latest John Grisham and Dan Brown novels to his iPad.
I also learned how to mentor (and be mentored in return), how to speak science and business fluently (and to translate the two), and the importance of crediting the team.
I learned so much in those 5 years; from how to run a company, the importance of enhanced generics in the current healthcare market, and the complexities of the pharmaceutical industry.
I also learned how to mentor (and be mentored in return), how to speak science and business fluently (and to translate the two), and the importance of crediting the team. I left SciDose with a deep experience, incredible memories, and with a best friend in my father.
Over the next three years, my father continued to teach me (this time on how to be a parent). He began spending more time in New York, but also more time on teleconferences and tapping away on his computer. As my son Rho grew from a cherubic baby to a feisty toddler, Rho Pharmaceuticals grew from an idea to a promising development program. By Fall 2017, I had my hands full with both Rhos. My father, a superfan of The Godfather, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Who can say no to working with her best friend and helping transform healthcare in America?
Hitha Palepu is the founder of Hitha On The Go and the author of How To Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip, which was published by Clarkson Potter in 2017. She also serves as the CEO of Rho Pharmaceuticals, which aims to deliver highly effective and affordable treatment for the leading causes of death in the United States.
Hitha is an active angel investor and advisor. Her investments include MM.LaFleur, Werk, and Rebecca Allen. Hitha also serves as an advisor to Shiffon Co and an ambassador to HEYMAMA. She serves on the board of Sundara, a nonprofit that combines sustainability and hygiene while empowering women in India.
Hitha lives in the Upper West Side with her husband and son. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring the world with her family. She cheers on the Philadelphia Eagles every Sunday in the fall and crochets while watching female-driven shows and movies, usually while wearing a face mask.