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Pete O'Heeron, founder, chairman, and CEO of FibroBiologics, explains the key principles that biotechnology companies should follow.
Pete O’Heeron, founder, chairman and CEO of FibroBiologics, has a long history of medical technology development experience, covering a broad range of disciplines, from business start-ups and biologics to medical devices and patient centered healthcare delivery. He has founded companies including SpinalCyte (now FibroGenesis); operational investment group, Advanced Medical Technologies, LLC; and NeoSurg Technologies. In this Q&A, O’Heeron takes his extensive experience to inform principles to make biotech companies more successful.
PE: Why do you think it is important for biotechnology companies to put in place certain governing principles to be successful?
PH: I think it is important because of the nature of the field of biotechnology. It is dynamic and driven by competition among numerous established and nascent companies striving to develop new treatments, cure diseases, and improve patients' lives. This competitive environment drives innovation but also presents numerous distinct challenges, and throughout my nearly three decades of experience in the medical device, healthcare, and biotechnology industries, I have learned that it is important to focus on guiding principles as a critical component for surmounting obstacles and achieving successful outcomes for both patients and shareholders.
PE: What are the governing principles that you consider important?
PH: In the challenging fields of biotech and pharma, and really in any endeavor, success is never guaranteed, but to improve upon your chances, it is vital to have a high-functioning team surrounding you, the input of an elite scientific advisory board, and the resilience at both the individual and organizational levels. I have found these guiding principles to be widely applicable in building successful organizations that benefit shareholders, and provide real value, and hope, to patients.
PE: Can you explain the role of teamwork in success?
PH: Well, of course, we want to assemble an all-star team that will work together to implement the company’s goals, but this can be hard work when considering the many options for talented individuals in the industry. In the case of FibroBiologics, we emphasize that we are working at the forefront of regenerative medicine, and thus require individuals with extensive training and experience, and a deep understanding of the biological processes being targeted. We want to combine talent, intelligence, passion, work ethic, a sense of urgency, and most of all an obsession to develop cures for chronic diseases. The research involved in biotechnology can be demanding, but the mission of developing cures for suffering patients is extremely rewarding. Individuals who embrace the culture are vital to the development of new drugs and treatments. Technical expertise can be developed through the traditional educational process, but we also are looking for creative minds to help us drive innovation and to circumvent problems that may arise, and to take initiative, so it is important to empower individuals so that they feel comfortable taking charge of their component of a project, at any level within the company structure. However, teamwork starts with the CEO, and I try to clearly articulate the vision and values of the company to all team members and act as the guide.
PE: Where does the scientific advisory board fit in?
PH: The composition of the scientific advisory board (SAB) is critical, as scientific integrity is paramount to the mission, and requires broad expertise, but also open communication with other board members and with the leadership team. The SAB provides the internal challenges needed to maintain scientific veracity. If the internal hurdles are set high, then the hurdles imposed externally can more easily be surmounted. Fibroblasts, unspecialized cells from connective tissue, hold great promise for regenerative cell therapy for chronic disease management. They possess both immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory properties. Currently, cell-based therapy is dominated by the use of stem cells, so it is important that we attracted internationally recognized experts in stem cell research to the SAB. Part of our early focus has been on lab studies using fibroblasts for treating multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, and cancer, and thus we recruited board members with expertise in these areas. Finding the right set of scientists who are willing to share their expertise and collaborate with us is a challenge, but critical for success.
PE: How does the idea of resilience complement the other principles?
PH: Even with the right team and board in place, the road to success can be winding and is not always easily navigated. Obstacles and challenges are commonly encountered when building businesses from the ground up, and scientific development in a new field adds to the challenge Hence, reaching the goals of producing treatments to improve patient outcomes and providing value to shareholders requires resilience and determination. Early-stage companies should always aim to be developing new data points and discovering new methods, even if the steps are incremental. When research progress is grudging, as often happens out at the frontier of science, resilience, and determination are the principles that keep the project moving forward. Similarly, when pursuing funding to keep supporting research progress, these same qualities are invaluable, as the competition is tough, and investors want to be convinced. Flexibility is also important, so we also make sure to build that flexibility into both our scientific and funding acquisition processes.