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Angus Grant, Ph.D., Chief Business Executive of BeiGene, talks to Pharm Exec about his role and his vision for the company’s programs in oncology and beyond.
Founded in 2010, China-headquartered biotechnology company BeiGene operates on five continents, with a transformational mindset to improve treatment outcomes and access for patients regardless of where they live. The company’s 4,400+ employees work to expedite the development and commercialization of a diverse pipeline of internally discovered and partnered treatments.
Angus Grant, Ph.D. joined BeiGene in July 2020 as Chief Business Executive, leading business development and alliance management, while helping drive the external innovation and investments as part of the company’s global growth strategy. Grant took time to speak with Pharm Exec about his role and his vision for the company’s programs in oncology and beyond.
PharmExec: Can you outline how you came to BeiGene?
Angus J. Grant: Throughout my career, enabling change for patients has been a driver of everything I have done. I was the son of a physician and a nurse, born in London, who was conditioned to try to do something useful. In the 80’s in grad school, I got the “biotech bug.” After a fairly long career at the lab, at the FDA, and in industry, I got to know BeiGene and its CEO John Oyler.
In 2017 I helped drive a strategic collaboration between Celgene and BeiGene, which among other things, would help transform the latter into a commercial organization. I was immediately impressed by John’s passion for helping patients, and his vision that the drug development ecosystem, with changes in China, created an opportunity to expedite global clinical trials. John was at the forefront of understanding China’s reforms would enable and expedite the quality data required for regulatory submissions around the world. This approach has already been proven successful. Three years after working on the Celgene deal with John and BeiGene, and a career shift to run the Dementia Discovery Fund, I was compelled by John to shift back to an oncology focus by joining BeiGene and helping him build on the momentum to advance treatment options for people with cancer and other unmet medical needs.
Can you talk about the importance of BeiGene’s partnerships?
BeiGene has been growing exponentially over the last few years. Partnerships have driven a significant part of that growth, and they are a key tool for expanding the pipeline and broadening patient access to treatments. For example, the company’s partnership with Amgen in 2019 – the biggest to date – included Amgen’s 20.5% ownership stake in BeiGene, worth approximately $2.8 billion, and our commercialization of three existing Amgen cancer treatments in China, as well as joint development of many assets in Amgen’s oncology pipeline. Over the years we have cultivated multiple collaborations with exciting assets and collaborators based upon our unique model. In addition to the great partnerships, investors recently added $2.08 billion to enhance our organic and externalized innovation growth opportunities.
One thing I’ve learned over my career is that while the financial and pipeline components often draw attention externally, great partnerships are formed when two organizations share the same scientific and medical objectives and share core patient centric values. Cultural alignment is vital to a partnership’s success. BeiGene’s growth has been bolstered by partnerships and the team continues to look for collaborations with companies that are a good fit with our mission, values, and objectives.
BeiGene has a deep R&D and innovation focus in oncology, autoimmune, and areas of high unmet medical need, so I think joining the company fits my career well. I completed my doctoral work in immunotherapy for cancer when it was quite novel and then my postdoctoral training was at the National Cancer Institute, so helping to advance cancer treatments in the field we now call immuno-oncology has long been a goal of mine. While I have spent a lot of time in oncology and time in a variety of different therapeutic areas, most recently dementia and neurodegenerative disease, I’m excited to bring my perspective to the company. We currently have a keen interest in immuno-oncology, and the progression from immuno-oncology treatments to those for autoimmune diseases is a common path. This also lends itself to neuroinflammation and exploring how we can adapt those learnings in the future for neurodegeneration.
Partnerships are key to our mission to work with innovators to help bring new therapies that enable meaningful change for patients. BeiGene has great capabilities to work with other innovators to accelerate the time from development to commercialization and broad patient access. My charge at BeiGene is build a team which is able to find great innovation, form the partnerships, and guide the collaborations to advance our global growth strategy.
With each new partnership and project, we have the opportunity to build on the momentum created to date. Over the past few years, BeiGene has been increasing its number of deals, so I am joining at a time with great momentum. The company is fortunate to have a strong and committed Leadership Team, Board of Directors, and investors who are aligned with the strategy to build internally with great research, clinical development, and commercialization, and to enhance the internal work with great external innovation via partnerships. So, I am fortunate to work with this strong foundation, to continue expanding the company and the advancements we make for patients.
How would you define your approach to partnerships?
From my experience, great partnerships are formed when there is a shared vision, where the partnership is greater than the sum of the parts, and where teams enjoy working together to solve medical challenges to bring innovative and meaningful treatments to patients in need. Bringing novel treatments to patients where none existed, or where inadequate treatments were available, is incredibly satisfying. But as we all know, the human being is extremely complex and breakthroughs can be hard to find. The frequent failures remind us how hard it is. So, finding and creating great partnerships where each party brings their individual skills, expertise, resources, shared values, and determination to solve complex medical issues together, can be most rewarding.
What is your vision for the future of cancer treatment development?
Disease doesn’t have any borders, and for that reason, neither does BeiGene. Over the course of my career I have seen greater harmonization of the regulatory and drug development landscape enabling companies to look at diseases, cancer especially, as global challenges and opportunities. I have had the great pleasure of working with inspired scientists and physicians from around the world, from so many countries and cultures, all fighting disease together. With greater harmonization of regulatory processes and clinical standards, we can continue to accelerate the development of important new treatments for all people around the world. Beyond this, there is a need to ensure that not only are better treatments developed, but that patients can access these treatments and that they are affordable. BeiGene is committed to trying to develop new treatments faster and for less, so they are more affordable once they reach the market. This is done with the utmost attention and care to the quality of our discoveries, their clinical development and manufacturing.
What does the next five years hold for the company?
I joined BeiGene after experiencing over a decade of tremendous growth at Celgene, with the belief that there were some lessons I learned at Celgene which could help BeiGene as it embarks on its second decade. It is always tough to anticipate what the future looks like, this year reminds us of that, but we know we have so many diseases with unmet needs. For that reason, I think it’s important to be guided by a good mission and core values. My goal is to advance the great work to date in the process of vetting, establishing and advancing partnerships that, over the next five years, will complement BeiGene’s business and bring us into the upper echelon of biotech companies.
I expect partnerships to be a major driver of growth for us over the next five years. Companies should see us as a great partner in China, and beyond. I look forward to building on work to date as we look for opportunities to forge meaningful world-wide collaborations that advance the treatment of serious diseases.
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