Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012 - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Emerging Pharma Leaders 2012


Pharmaceutical Executive


David Lowrance

Chief Financial Officer, Acucela Inc.



David Lowrance, CPA, who became CFO of the Seattle-based biopharma firm Acucela in April 2011, says that "doing his job well allows its scientists to do the most important work" of developing drugs to treat blinding eye diseases.

Lowrance's overall objective is to ensure that the firm remains fiscally healthy and also "to steer it in the right direction in the complex world of drug development...despite the long timelines and risks associated with it."

Beyond fiscal responsibilities, his position includes oversight of operating functions such as business development, IT, product launches, and alliance management. Acucela does not use the traditional venture capital model, he notes, but collaborates on its R&D programs.

Acucela's partner is Tokyo-based Otsuka. They are co-developing the firm's lead product, ACU-4429, which is in Phase II clinical trials for dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). No currently approved treatment exists for this condition. Acucela is also developing ophthalmic drugs for glaucoma and dry eye.

He attributes his success, as he takes on increasingly more responsibilities, to his tenacious but positive approach, willingness to work side by side with team members, and honesty and integrity that help build his relationships with people.

His tenacity was clearly visible in his former CFO position at Cumberland Pharmaceuticals, when it launched an IPO around the same time that the US markets collapsed in 2007. The experience was to become one of the most challenging and rewarding in his career.

Instead of pulling back, Lowrance and other Cumberland officers persevered with their road shows, document updates, and other activities over the months that followed. Two years later, Cumberland completed an IPO worth $85 million, becoming one of only a handful of companies to complete an IPO in 2009.

His first position in pharmaceuticals was with Cumberland starting in 2003. Lowrance's prior experience with aerospace and automotive manufacturers had caught their attention, as he had the manufacturing experience needed to prepare for a product launch.

Lowrance began his career earlier as a CPA with a big four accounting firm.

He has seen many changes take place during his nearly 10 years in pharmaceuticals. The resources for R&D have become scarcer as blockbuster drugs come off patent. On the growth side, the aging population is creating the need for more drugs to treat chronic diseases.

For him, the key to good leadership is being able "to strike a balance between managing the fiscal pieces and understanding their role in helping drive the people part of the business."

Such balance, he notes, enables a firm to achieve process improvements, cost savings, and strengthened financial position as well as improved employee morale and productivity.

"I'm a big believer in the motivational importance of honesty and integrity," says Lowrance. "Communicating with the people here has not only allowed me to take on more responsibility—because I've been able to gain trust—but also to deliver with results; and my team delivers with results."

Lowrance communicates his vision for the organization so his people understand not only what the directive is, but also the reasoning behind it. "When you do that, they become motivated to do something, and they do it," he notes.

Lowrance contends that whether you are affecting change or leading people, your success depends on motivating them. His eighth grade English teacher defined motivation in a way that he has remembered for thirty years:

"[Motivation is] the stuff that permeates your entire being when you have a clear vivid picture in your mind of what you want to do and an intense burning, all-consuming desire in your heart to fight for it."

Among his personal challenges, how to strike a balance between personal life and the demands of the job is first and foremost. "If you allow yourself to become burned out at work, your decisions become less effective, and you lose out on your life with your family."

"If you flip it the other way, your work family suffers," he notes. Lowrance tries to change the nine-to-five work place to become part of people's lives. "You then have more invested in it and, therefore, are willing to do more to accomplish the goal."

In today's fast-paced environment, which has never been faster, "you have to make sure you're making a full investment in all aspects of your life."

—Ann Roberts Brice


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