Josh Packer sees outside the box

Josh Packer in scrubs.

After graduating from WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Packer joined Medtronic as a preclinical veterinary surgeon and researcher. During five years with this global healthcare technology company, his projects included interventional radiology, neurosurgery, and cardiothoracic, spinal, and soft tissue surgeries.

In May, Packer purchased IBEX and assumed the role of CEO. Located in Logan, Utah, IBEX specializes in preclinical research and experimental surgical studies. The organization supports life science and medical device researchers and companies to bring their products to market.

In this interview, he shares experiences that have guided pivotal decisions and choices during his life and career.

What inspired you to become a veterinarian?

As with many vets, my interest in veterinary medicine started early and grew from my love of animals – particularly horses. Naturally, I looked for ways I could combine the necessity to earn a living with my love for animals. Veterinary medicine was that combination.

When I was young, I watched our family vet care for our animals. We loved our animals, and solving their challenges not only helped them but, in turn, helped us. In other words, I saw how a veterinarian can bless the lives of people. Of course, helping and serving animal patients is central to what veterinarians do but, for me, the greater motivator is how much I can help people through veterinary medicine. That includes teaching and mentoring others in the field.

When did you discover an interest in laboratory animal medicine and surgery?

I discovered laboratory animal medicine almost by accident. I was trying to find a job in Utah while completing my veterinary school applications. The only veterinary company hiring was IBEX. With no other options, I applied and took a job cleaning rat cages. I had no idea it would put me on a path that would transform my career and life.

At IBEX, we did operations with human and veterinary surgeons from around the world, while learning and testing new therapies. I enjoyed the pace, the challenge, and the teamwork needed to pull off these huge surgical projects. So, I chose to pursue surgical training.

While at IBEX, I applied to veterinary school with the goal of becoming a preclinical specialist. During veterinary school, I networked as much as I could with different research organizations. After WSU, I worked as a surgeon at Medtronic in their preclinical division. There, I worked with the most accomplished veterinary and medical device researchers in the world, and my passion for the industry took off.

What are one or two reasons why preclinical research and biomedical research are such an important part of our scientific community?

In my opinion, animal research is critical for safe and accelerated innovation. When it comes to new medical devices and drugs, the risk of harm from these therapies is very real. The only way we can truly know what those risks are is if they are tested. Because we can test and trial so many innovations with our animal partners, we can keep people safe and find potential failures in those innovations in the early stages. This is far better than failing in the later stages and potentially harming people, especially when the resource and time expenditure is so much greater. These early results allow researchers and innovators to home in on ideas that have actual, demonstrated potential, which dramatically increases the effectiveness and efficiency of their resources and efforts.

As you charted your career, were there people who influenced your direction?

I’ve benefitted immensely from good leaders and teachers, personally and professionally.

One of these leaders is Dr. Noah Barka, DVM, a Distinguished Scientist and surgeon at a leading medical technology company. Through him, I met with patients and scientists who benefited directly from the devices we were conducting pre-clinical research on. Without his mentorship, I wouldn’t have been able to see how truly impactful our work as research veterinarians can be.

As I developed and laid the groundwork for my career, I deliberately sought out experiences that exposed me to people and situations that forced me to learn leadership, problem-solving, and how to effectively help people. Passing on to others the example given to me is something that drives me.

Did you envision becoming CEO of a company?

I never set a goal to become CEO specifically, but I did set a goal to build a company that would lead the industry and also facilitate blessing the lives of millions of people. The work we do in preclinical research directly helps create, refine, and discover new therapies and technologies to save people’s lives.

Becoming CEO is a natural evolution of my goals. I’m embracing it until I need to fill a different role, and I’ll continue building toward that ultimate goal.

While at WSU, Packer helped establish a scholarship with fellow DVM students in memory of their classmate, Dr. Jessica Brooks (’17, DVM). Jessica Brooks Memorial Scholarship.