There is no such thing as too much communication. Particularly with working remotely and the distancing necessary because of the pandemic, frequent touch points and listening are important to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sam Barone.
Currently Dr. Barone serves as Chief Medical Officer for Veloce BioPharma, LLC, a topical therapeutics company that focuses on unmet clinical needs in dermatology, ophthalmology and supportive oncology. He is also a founding member and President of Halodine, LLC, commercializing a proprietary antiseptic developed for repeated nasal and oral administration, and proven effective against COVID-19. Dr. Barone is board certified by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a graduate of Boston College with a bachelor of science in biology and obtained his medical degree from The Pennsylvania State University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, and that pretty much epitomizes how nondescript it was. It was generally easy and I was fortunate that my family and I were not faced with significant challenges.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” From my primary career choice as a physician to what I am working on now at Halodine to help reduce the risk of infection during the pandemic, I strive to make the most of my talents with a focus on always trying to give back.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
For motivation, it is hard to argue with Rocky. Rocky is struggling — he’s tossed out of his gym by the cranky gym manager (who doesn’t tell him, just changes his locker combination) and can’t even make it as a strong man for the local small-time loan shark — but he finally recognizes his potential and took his best shot, beating the odds. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976, and because I am just a few years older than it, the story has just sort of always been around for me. It is also frequently replayed on cable television and an in-flight movie option. When I come across it, I can’t resist that training montage.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I am a physician, but I’ve followed a pretty non-standard course since graduating medical school. The Air Force paid for my medical school and I spent time on active duty as a doctor for the pilots, including deployments to Afghanistan after 9/11 and Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I then trained as an ophthalmologist and retina surgeon before taking a role at the FDA while I saw patients part time. The FDA experience taught me the principles of drug development that I’ve applied as I transitioned to the private sector and leadership positions at a few different biotech companies.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I was working on developing a platform of topical antimicrobials with enhanced penetration for dermatology and ophthalmology indications when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, presenting a new need in antisepsis and decontamination. SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus) infects, replicates, spreads and is transmitted from the cells of the mouth and nose. Decontaminating these surfaces in the mouth and nose decreases the risk of infection. I recognized this opportunity and started Halodine with a strategy to develop a product specifically designed to be safe for repeat-dosing, effective against viral pathogens, economical to produce and packaged into convenient formats for use by consumer, healthcare and institutional customers.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Halodine was then one of the first groups to test formulations against the specific SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was really cool to see that Halodine achieved 99.99% SARS-CoV-2 virus inactivation within 15 seconds. It was then that I knew this was something that could make a difference.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Very well. In less than three months Halodine went from concept to launch of products that are part of COVID-19 infection control protocols and support return of economic activities. Like hand sanitizer for the nose and mouth, Halodine has demonstrated activity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and helps to reduce viral transmission in conjunction with personal protective equipment. Halodine’s work has been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals including JAMA — The Journal of the American Medical Association, and has been highlighted by the CDC and hundreds of news organizations, wire services and media outlets around the world. We currently have a line of 4 different Halodine antiseptic products available online, in brick-and-mortar retail, and through medical and dental distributors. Halodine is being used in major universities, healthcare, government organizations and general public all over the world. It has provided an extra layer of protection on movie and TV sets, in doctors’ offices, on airplanes, schools, restaurants, laboratories, at concerts and sporting events, and even led a program for the government of Ghana to enable the safe conduct of their national elections.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My co-conspirator in Halodine is Joe Capriotti. I have known Joe for over 15 years as we were ophthalmology residents together — I often remind him that I was his chief resident. We’ve played soccer together, surfed together, traveled together, and spent a few nights with our good friend Johnnie Walker. Joe was a chemist before he was a physician and is responsible for optimizing Halodine’s concentrations and pH in concert with the microenvironments of the nose and mouth to provide a chemically stable, rapidly effective, non-toxic, non-irritating decontaminating agent. We have complementary skill sets and push each other; Halodine would not be where it is today without Joe.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
What has been most interesting is how rewarding it feels that people other than my mom are using something I created and also really appreciate it. Prior to this I have only worked on developing drugs before they got to the market. Now there are perfect strangers reaching out to me, including some prominent and respected leaders in their own fields of medicine, politics, sports, and entertainment, to tell me about their Halodine use and the protection it affords them while working, traveling, being with extended family, or just doing everyday tasks. It is very meaningful.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- There is no such thing as too much communication. Particularly with working remotely and the distancing necessary because of the pandemic, frequent touch points and listening are important to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
- Unprecedented events are unprecedented. There is no roadmap to follow and no one else who has been here before to provide the answers. Gather as much information as possible, then gather some more. Make a decision and trust in it for you know as much as anyone else.
- Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Realizing that certain activities are a distraction and not dedicating time to them increases efficiency and the likelihood of the achievement of the primary goal.
- Be consistent. Events and the work at hand can be challenging enough that the difficulty does not need to be compounded by unpredictability.
- It’s the journey. Maybe we’ll be fortunate to achieve the success that we are pursuing. It will be that much sweeter if we make the most of the ride to get there.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Exercise is always a great outlet as is unplugging and spending quality time with loved ones. Another thing I have found particularly helpful is really trying to gain an understanding of other people’s perspectives. We spend so much time in our own bubbles that it is often easy to forget that not everyone has the same experiences that we do. An awareness of this and others’ viewpoint can make some of it less anxiety provoking.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
HALODINE FOR ALL!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would find lunch with Bill Gates to be very inspiring. His leadership at Microsoft changed the world by revolutionizing personal computing. Now his significant philanthropic efforts with climate change, health and development, and education are similarly with a global impact. I am amazed by how he sees a problem and immerses himself in learning everything he can on the subject to understand it and design and implement plans to solve it. The difference he is trying to make in the world is also consistent with my personal priority for giving back.
How can our readers follow you online?