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P. Joseph Campisi Jr. is not the person he was in 2017. Life before that year saw the career-driven Long Island native successfully climbing his way up from a lower middle-class neighbourhood to the top of the legal profession.
Name it and Campisi did it. He had earned business and legal degrees, started his career at one of the prestigious Big 4 accounting firms, and next hit the ground running at a premier international law firm as an associate and, subsequently, as a partner. He took on leadership roles at the likes of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS), where he worked for nearly fifteen years become a leading voice in the transactional practice group and had earned the respect from his colleagues throughout the company.
But everything changed after his cancer diagnosis.
“It’s a profound experience. It changes the way you think about yourself and everything around you, including your people and your work,” Campisi says. “It’s a rude awakening to wake up with the reality that the thing that wants to kill you is inside your body. You have to fight the demons of mortality and demons of the disease. Yet the treatments designed to help you survive are sometimes brutal in their own respect.
“Since my diagnosis, I don’t spend time on small things that used to seem important,” he continues. “You realize how much of life is wasted doing that. People are important. The things that make the world a better place are important.”
To Campisi, who arrived at BMS with a mission to help facilitate curing cancer after he lost loved ones to the disease, his diagnosis placed him even closer to the journey of patients and the work his colleagues were conducting. In 2021, he brought that unique perspective to Turnstone Biologics Corp, a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing a differentiated approach to treat and cure patients with solid tumors by pioneering selected tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy.
As the company’s chief legal officer and secretary, Campisi has supported the company’s mission by helping it go public in July 2023 and helping it transition its focus on oncolytic viruses to selected TILs. He also has worked to deepen his colleagues’ understanding of the people they serve.
“The term ‘patient’ is used to describe those diagnosed with the disease, which is not inappropriate but at the end of the day when we talk about patients, we are really talking about the person that, is in many cases, faced with a life-or-death situation,” he reflects. “They are the ones considering whether to take this treatment or do this biopsy. As leaders, we might sit in the comfort of a conference room, but the people we are serving are sitting with their spouse or other loved ones, having conversations about whether they will see next year. We need to serve the person not just the patient.
“That is the perspective I try to bring to many of my colleagues who are scientists,” Campisi adds. “Sometimes I think it is easy to forget that the things they are working on are very real for the people we serve. I try to use my role to bring my own experience to conversations we have and as an opportunity to remind people that what we are doing has the potential to provide a real-life impact to those we are committed to help.”
The Why Behind the Work
People often ask Turnstone Biologics Corp’s chief legal officer and secretary, Joseph Campisi, why he continues working—why he is not spending his time cycling, golfing, hiking, or skiing like he used to as a way to cope with his cancer treatment. For the leader, the answer is clear: the work is cathartic.
“People do not realize that for many of us, treatment is a debilitating set of events. As a result, I am not the person I was in 2017, physically or psychologically,” Campisi explains. “If I am not working, what am I doing? Work provides me with a sanctuary to use my mind, stay busy, and hopefully make a difference. Plus, when you are a patient working for a company trying to cure people like yourself, it changes the way you work. Yeah, I am a chief legal officer, but ultimately, I also am a patient, so I can really appreciate the magnitude of what I do in the context of Turnstone’s efforts to develop treatments for people living with and fighting against cancer.”
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