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Raising Funds in a Tight Market: Q&A With Sharon Cunningham, CEO of Shorla Oncology


Cunningham discusses the obstacles to raising funds in the current climate.

Sharon Cunningham

Sharon Cunningham
Shorla Oncology

Shorla Oncology recently announced that it successfully raised $35 million in Series B funding. This news comes on the heels of the announcement of the company’s first FDA approval in the US for its Nelarabine Injection. Shorla CEO Sharon Cunningham spoke with Pharmaceutical Executive about raising funds in the current economic climate.

Pharmaceutical Executive: Could discuss your experience raising money in the current economic climate?

Sharon Cunningham: It was tough, it was definitely tough. We're not going to lie, it took a lot longer than we expected. It took a lot more meetings in order for us to get there, but thankfully we're very pleased with the valuation. The amount that we raised was in line with our target.

PE: What are the current struggles or benefits that you see for advancing your properties on the pipeline?

Cunningham: Things like macroeconomic factors, such as a couple of weeks ago when we were facing an impending government shutdown. That would have been something that would adversely affected us. We experienced challenges like that previously, such as during the pandemic, for example, when FDA suspended all overseas inspections. One of our manufacturing facilities is in Germany, which meant we were significantly delayed in coming to market with our first product. It tends to be the regulatory landscape that has the most impact on us. Obviously, the funding landscape was also a challenge up until now and thankfully that's behind us but certainly those would be the two key areas that have impacted us to date.

PE: What are the next steps after receiving your first FDA approval in the United States?

Cunningham: The funding will enable us to accelerate the growth of our portfolio by advancing the pipeline and bring therapies to market that will address or continue to address drug shortages while also improving the preparation and application of oncology medication. Our goal is to have at least one additional product on the market each year and add at least one new product to our portfolio each year. Whether that comes from in-house, out of development, through in licensing, or product acquisitions, we're agnostic as long as we can continue to build upon the pipeline that we currently have.

PE: What made you decide to focus your work on orphan cancers?

Cunningham: There are often underserved patient populations areas that are often overlooked. We feel as a relatively small company that we can take advantage of some of those smaller opportunities that may be larger pharma companies would not be interested in. It represents an opportunity for us to help those patients and but also to create significant technical and commercial benefit.

PE: What is your prediction in regards to the drug shortages?

Cunningham: Drug shortages have been a very serious issue in recent years. It often leaves clinicians with no choice but to ration treatment and obviously there's a significant adverse effect on patients because of this. Regulators and industry bodies really need to come together to tackle this issue. It's probably going to need more stringent measures and obligations put on companies to prevent this happening. Oftentimes there's an issue with the supply chain with access to raw material, or with quality and compliance and so on at manufacturing level and those are often the reasons cited as to why a drug would go into shortage. Sometimes, however, it's the result of drugs no longer being commercially viable and that's something that does need to be addressed. Ultimately, it is leaving patients without important treatments.

PE: When a drug becomes no longer commercially viable, how can patients who need those drugs be helped?

Cunningham: It's a company like us who can make a business case for these types of smaller drugs and smaller patient populations.

PE: What advice would you give to other smaller companies looking to raise funds now?

Cunningham: You need to be creative and open to different variations of what you're looking for. When I say creative, I mean staying one step ahead of your investors, really trying to understand what their motive is, what their abilities and desires are and trying to match that with what might work for your company. It's that kind of proactiveness that's often overlooked that's necessary in these times in terms of getting a deal done.

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