Is There Life After Big Pharma? - Pharmaceutical Executive


Is There Life After Big Pharma?

Pharmaceutical Executive

When leaders like Paul, with strong commercial backgrounds, come in, they help set financial goals early. They don't drive R&D, but they help focus it because they have very strong networks in the marketplace. They're able to think about in-licensing issues, diversification of platforms, markets, and whether the research is focused on true unmet medical needs. They bring a commercial perspective to the strategic decisions that all biotechs are faced with. It's not to say that people with R&D backgrounds can't do the same, but Paul is a good example of the value and perspective that a leader with a strong business background can bring to the table.

What's the response to recruiting from commercial, Big Pharma people? Are they interested in these opportunities at biotechs?

Making the decision to go from Big Pharma to biotech leadership depends on how well the company is funded and who the investors are. Also important is what phase of development the companies products are in, what therapeutic areas the organization focuses on, and how risk-averse those areas are.

The compensation gap has narrowed over the years between Big Pharma and biotech, so Big Pharma therapeutic area heads are more likely to be lured to run those companies. The wealth creation opportunity is also attractive to many Big Pharma executives. The pharmaceutical industry has consolidated so much in recent years that it's not as much fun as it used to be. There are enough "drool stories"—stories about people who went into biotech and made a lot of money—out there that people are taking interest.

Is the migration of Big Pharma execs to biotech companies a fleeting trend or does it having staying power?

It's more than a trend. It's sort of the biotech industry's and investors' coming of age story. They are recognizing the importance of business leadership for companies that are at early stages of development. It's not that they never had this thought before, it's just that it's now becoming more validated.

What about succession planning inside biotech companies? Who do you see as the next generation of leaders? Will they come from the commercial or R&D side?

Commercial. Boards of these companies are increasingly challenging their scientific founders to bring commercial leadership in sooner, for the purpose of succession planning. If you're a founder of a company, and you didn't grow up in a commercial organization, it's going to be hard to make the transition to a more commercial focus, because that side of the drug industry is pretty complicated.

What's going to be the response from biotech founders, the people who tend to be more focused on the science?

There's a lot of hubris in the pharmaceutical industry and there are a lot of smart people. The scientific founders come in every shape and size, so there are some people who will be quick to recognize that the value of their company will be significantly enhanced if they pass it on to a commercial leader. Then there will be others who are so thoroughly wed to what they do that they can't walk away from it. If it's your baby and you founded it, it's hard to walk away. But I think the boards of these biotechnology companies are very cognizant of the need for commercial leadership today.

At any given time, I'm working on multiple recruiting assignments for these kinds of companies, where a chief executive officer or board member suddenly recognizes that they have reached a point that calls for a different kind of leadership. Their compounds have reached Phase II, and now they need somebody to come in and bring a different perspective to the table, in order to take things to the next plateau.

Stephen Israel, who manages the biotech practice for industry recruiting company Korn/Ferry, says yes—there certainly is a world of opportunity out there for top pharma marketing and commercialization executives who want to make the jump to biotech. In fact, Israel says, they are the most sought after professionals for C-level positions at biotech companies.


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