Educator and Scientist Samba Reddy, Ph.D., Discusses His Approach to Leadership and Research Success
By Mark Crawford
Known internationally for his groundbreaking research on neurosteroid regulation, Samba Reddy, Ph.D., R.Ph., is a professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M University College of Medicine. He is a board-certified pharmacist-pharmacologist developing new therapeutics for epilepsy and brain disorders that affect 65 million people worldwide. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have continuously funded his research for over 16 years, especially his projects on innovative treatments for organophosphate and nerve agent exposures.
Reddy has received many honors throughout his career. The Texas A&M Association of Former Students recently awarded him a Distinguished Achievement Award for his research on new drugs for life-threatening brain disorders. In 2020 Samba received the AAPS Global Leader Award to acknowledge his many contributions to the pharmaceutical industry and education and public health.
“Such recognition attest to our lab’s excellence in research endeavors and our positive impact in the pharma field,” says Reddy. “These include developing new methods, platform models, and therapeutic strategies that are now a foundation for new drug discovery by numerous researchers. We are proud that our work can influence our fellow scientists for the ultimate shared goal of developing effective new therapies.”
Empowering Excellence in Others
As a leader, Reddy is eager to empower others to develop their own talents and ultimately thrive in their pursuits. He believes in setting reasonable goals and timelines for his research teams yet staying agile enough to redirect research efforts should goals or circumstances change. “As researchers, we are confident that our data, methods, and results are sound and our peers and lab mates deserve that same confidence,” he says. “It is with their help that we make the complex discoveries. In this way, we adhere to science, which means trusting and guiding others through the unknown.”
Strong, empathetic leadership is essential for creating optimistic teams, even when facing significant challenges. “Limited entanglement is a hallmark feature of a strong and effective leader, who trusts his team to excel in their policies and practices,” says Samba. “Rather than micromanaging, strong leaders put their teams in their most comfortable positions and then lead by example, using their ethical values and virtues.” Other characteristics of strong leadership include being humble, truthful, respectful, a good listener, loyal by affiliation, and possessing the knowledge, intellect, and skill to adapt to increasingly challenging conditions and make well-informed decisions.
Professor and Mentor
One of Reddy’s greatest joys is teaching and guiding the next generation of pharmaceutical scientists. He teaches both medical and graduate-level courses, mentors students and postdocs, and serves as an expert member in federal panels and organizations. Reddy emphasizes to his students that persistence is vital for success and cites his own story as an example.
“A total focus on research, with absolute involvement in tackling a question, has had the greatest impact in uplifting my career in pharma,” he says. “There have been daunting obstacles at every step in my career and learning how to surmount them has allowed me to advance my career with confidence.” That is why, he adds, “that when you observe successful people, there is sense of ‘timelessness’ in their pursuits. They often put in long cheerful hours in seeking answers, exploring the landscape, making a product, or completing a task. I am fortunate to have had a similar journey—I have experienced the joy of lab work, publishing papers, winning grants, and meeting scientists around the world. Such happy efforts, I think, make a big difference in the net outcome of projects.”
Reddy advises students to commit maximum effort in whatever field or topic they are passionate about and to take advantages of all opportunities that arise for growth and collaboration, even if they seem daunting. A great way to do this is joining a professional network or organization like AAPS.
“AAPS has provided an exceptional platform for my career,” says Reddy. “It has been a major podium for expanding my network with many talented researchers in the pharma industry, academia, and regulatory agencies. It has served as a strong thread in my network to accomplish unique things in the field of drug discovery research. My services on various committees have enabled me to better understand the global perspective of addressing complex tasks. And I am grateful to AAPS for contributing to the pursuits made in my research career.”
A professional network provides many practical lessons for students and young professionals so they can accelerate their paths toward a satisfying career. One way to enable this process is to find an experienced mentor who will offer the frank and critical advice need to advance. “Strive to be friendly and compassionate and always be patient with firm conviction of your path,” adds Reddy. “There will be ups and downs, of course, “so be sure to keep a steady head and find value in everything you do.”
Reddy’s research over the past 25 years has opened new frontiers in neurotherapeutics, with a substantial impact on brain disorders that affect over 500 million people worldwide. His lab has discovered novel mechanisms of neurosteroids in the brain, invented neurosteroid-replacement therapy, discovered an epigenetic therapy, identified novel antidotes for chemical-warfare agents, and helped develop first-in-class medicines for epilepsy and brain disorders. “Another significant impact is our development of brexanolone [neurosteroid], the first FDA-approved drug therapy for postpartum depression, a life-threatening condition in childbearing women,” says Reddy. “Moreover, our research work on therapeutic countermeasures has significant potential in military medicine, such as treatments for chemical warfare exposure, brain injuries, and Gulf War illness in veterans.”
Reddy is most content when he is involved in multiple research investigations. Future projects include a significant interdisciplinary electroceutical venture and several projects relating to epigenetic interventions for military combatants with traumatic brain injury. He also hopes to establish an NIH Center of Excellence at Texas A&M for researching 21st century precision medicines for the treatment and prevention of chronic brain diseases. This would be the first center of its kind, aiming to capitalize on the significant potential of this modern technology for treating brain diseases.
“Many people are disabled due to lack of effective therapies, and precision medicine is the key to harnessing their capabilities and helping them lead their best lives,” says Reddy. “The variability and complexity of neuronal networks requires individualized tailoring to fill the gaps where one-size-fits-all therapeutics fail. “Precision medicine as a clinical practice is feasible with strategic collaboration of biomedical, engineering, medical, and big-data experts. Such a Center of Excellence is needed to surpass critical challenges in the drug discovery field and to harness the emerging technologies and leverage unique faculties and diverse teams.”
Mark Crawford is a science and technology freelance writer based in Corrales, NM.