In the “Magnified” series, we take a closer look at the life experiences and career journeys that have shaped AbbVie’s leaders. Meet Darin Messina, Ph.D., our senior vice president, Allergan Aesthetics R&D, as he talks career reinvention, leadership lessons in rock climbing and how his science-forward team is pushing on new discoveries across the landscape of aesthetics and regenerative medicine.
When did you first become interested in science – specifically bioengineering and neurology?
Ever since I was a kid, I loved science and technology. I was enamored with surgery from a pretty young age. This was in the 1980s when I was growing up in Chicago, and I remember watching educational TV programs where they showed surgeries, like a knee replacement. It was also a time when significant research was taking place to better understand the brain. Scientists were exploring new areas around brain function, such as the concept of “consciousness” and how you could potentially treat diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. I was reading journal articles for fun, especially around the potential of stem cell therapy and that really excited me.
I originally thought I’d be a neurosurgeon, but when I spent more time in the lab as an undergrad I discovered that I could help many more people by helping to develop therapies versus treating people individually. It may have been a simple view but it led me to graduate school. And eventually, the opportunity to bring together my passions for neuroscience and bioengineering, while also satisfying my deep-seated need to help others.
How did your early career journey lead you to head up aesthetics R&D?
My career path has not been straight, but I think atypical experiences can help you bring a unique perspective to a role. In my early career, at the same company I worked on everything from preclinical pharmacology to developing a delivery device in the ophthalmology field for a cell therapy. This diversity of experience helped me understand the pharmaceutical business more broadly, from development to clinical trials to manufacturing.
When I was ready to try something new, I was originally drawn to Allergan (now AbbVie) because of its ophthalmology expertise. However, I ended up applying for and accepting a project leadership position in aesthetic medical devices. This took me out of my comfort zone but still allowed me to lean on my experience in cell therapy and tissue engineering. That was over a decade ago and now I oversee the broader aesthetics R&D organization to develop new products in everything from facial aesthetics to regenerative medicine. The one constant has been the many, varied opportunities. I’ve learned so much from each one.