Emerging Pharma Leaders: Nouhad T. Husseini

October 3, 2016

Vice President, Business Development, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

Driving the Deal 

Nouhad T. Husseini, Vice President, Business Development, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

When Nouhad Husseini joined on at Regeneron in 2011, he faced a company at a crucial juncture in its growth. After 25 years of sometimes worrying about “keeping the lights on,” Regeneron was launching its macular degeneration blockbuster Eylea, and a new era was in sight. Cash would be on hand, and the industry would come to know a different Regeneron.

Regeneron had done a lot of deals throughout its history, most notably its strategic R&D alliance with Sanofi and its ex-US partnership with Bayer on Eylea. Those deals were structured and led by the executives in the C-suite; the business development (BD) function had a very different role and mandate at that time, Husseini said. “Finding those partners to help us fund our R&D and execute globally was a no-brainer, but there was little perceived urgency for doing more business development once those deals were in hand.”

Regeneron has always prided itself, and still does, on being a cut above the rest of the industry when it comes to innovative science. If you’ve ever had the chance to hear Chief Scientific Officer George D. Yancopoulos speak toward the company’s scientific pedigree, you know it’s a point of emphasis.

And so with this focus on the company’s internal innovative prowess, the culturally-ingrained attitude toward in-licensing or acquiring external technologies was typically a response of “let’s just build it ourselves.” The cultural confidence in its internal R&D capabilities is important, but as the Eylea dollars began coming in, Regeneron had an opportunity to expand its mindset. In order to fully redeploy its newfound resources and optimally position itself to explore the widest range of opportunities, the firm would have to be willing to expand beyond its traditional internal focus. While leadership had always acknowledged “not having a monopoly on good ideas,” when Husseini arrived in 2011, the biggest challenge facing him was changing hearts and minds to view R&D collaborations as an important part of the company’s strategy-and also to assume a new role of mentorship for promising upstart biotech companies.

The first big in-licensing deal on this new trajectory was struck in 2014 with Avalanche Biotechnologies to collaborate on novel gene therapies for ophthalmologic diseases. Though the deal was moderately sized, it “marked a milestone for Regeneron in its willingness to invest in external innovation,” Husseini said.

Regeneron followed with a deal in April of this year for $125 million upfront and equity to partner with one of the key players in CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, Intellia Therapeutics, and a more recent deal with Adicet Bio in the emerging field of CAR-T therapeutics. Intellia timed the deal with a $108 million IPO, signaling that the public market agreed that Regeneron was making a good ally in this hot field.

The Intellia and Adicet collaborations are a model for Regeneron moving forward, Husseini said. “Doing deals like these allows Regeneron to leverage its standout technologies in emerging new fields while also allowing it to avoid simply ‘growing the mothership’ and risk losing the innovation-friendly culture that has emerged from its many years as a small, hungry biotech.” 

Managing the BD team, which consists of six others and Husseini, brings other challenges. These are high performing individuals who are entrusted to quarterback a deal in  its entirety, from the sourcing and due diligence all the way through the nitty gritty details of contracts, he explained.

Husseini draws on his own upbringing and an impressive who’s who of biotech mentors as he manages the intellectual horsepower of his Regeneron BD team. A Silicon Valley pedigree doesn’t hurt either; Husseini grew up in the Stanford vicinity, the son of an engineer entrepreneur and CEO of a publicly traded semiconductor company. His first coast-to-coast move was to attend Princeton on the molecular biology path. After deciding a career in bench science was not his destiny, he opted for Wall Street to explore the business side, getting his first biotech investment banking position at Robertson Stephens, then moving to Morgan Stanley. Husseini counts a pair of fortuitous and influential mentors from the investment banking days, Steve Harr, now CFO at Juno Therapeutics, and Michael Aberman, currently Regeneron’s senior VP, strategy and investor relations. 

Like these mentors, Husseini decided to pivot to industry, grabbing an MBA at UPenn’s Wharton School along the way. An internship at Amgen preceded a position in corporate finance at Genentech, reporting to then-CFO Dave Ebersman, notably the former CFO at Facebook and currently CEO/co-founder of Lyra Health. Husseini was able to distinguish himself in this role and moved over to the company’s BD side, working under Tom Zioncheck. Zioncheck was a veteran from Genentech’s early days, when the company’s BD unit had a reputation as the “Navy SEALs” of biopharma-highly capable and savvy professionals. 

Roche’s acquisition of Genentech “triggered an exodus, as you might imagine,” Husseini said, and though he was not looking to leave, a meet-up with Aberman at the JP Morgan conference and the rare opportunity to take on the new opportunities at burgeoning Regeneron was all it took to pique Husseini’s interest in another East Coast move. Now building on five years for the biotech, and a revised corporate outlook, Regeneron and Husseini have taken a prominent position in the industry as top science innovators and patrons.

- Casey McDonald