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How the pivot to corporate development became a natural fit for the once-destined scientist. (The story of Natasha A. Hernday, chief business officer of Seagen and a 2023 Emerging Pharma Leader.)
Growing up in a household where science and data-driven decisions were revered, it seems as if Natasha Hernday, chief business officer of Seagen, was always destined for a career in the sciences. However, in terms of biotechnology, all bets were off.
“I knew nothing about biotechnology, initially,” says Hernday. “I kind of tripped into studying biology for my dad’s approval, to be honest.” Hernday’s father was an electrical engineer, who also loved biology and nature, hence the scientific nature of her life at home, and the emphasis on education and critical thinking skills.
Hernday had thought about a career path in medicine, and it appealed to her, as it was a medium to leverage science and help people. Her interest only grew through her studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she earned her BA in biology and had the opportunity to work in a research lab with Professor Kathy Foltz, PhD.
“I had the good fortune of working for [her] as an undergrad… she mentored me through a really interesting molecular biology research project,” Hernday tells Pharm Exec.
This opened the door for Hernday’s time at Amgen. She spent more than 16 years there, amassing experience in M&A, corporate strategy, product valuation, and cell biology. But in her first few years there following college, she had a realization. “I was not great at science, at least not bench science,” she says. “I enjoyed it. But I was really curious about other aspects of the biotech business.”
To learn more about the business side of the industry, Hernday enrolled at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School and earned her MBA in corporate finance and marketing.
Hernday was recruited in 2011 to join Seattle Genetics, which is now Seagen. Having served as vice president, senior vice president, and executive vice president of corporate development, she is now Seagan’s chief business officer, leading corporate development and alliance management and is at the forefront of prospecting for targeted oncology opportunities in the clinic and technologies to bolster the investigational new drug (IND) engine.
“I love the corporate development and corporate strategy environment because I get to learn about everything in biotech from basic discovery and innovation through manufacturing, corporate law, contract law, commercial, and all the rules and regulations around that,” explains Hernday. “For me, it’s been a ton of fun.”
In terms of the day-to-day in her current role, Hernday leads a group that oversees licensing technologies, prospecting therapies, forming partnerships, and managing those partnerships. She also sits on Seagen’s executive committee.
“It’s been a great pleasure and honor for me to work with my colleagues on the executive committee to ensure that we’re staying laser-focused on helping people with cancer while we build this company that is growing so quickly,” she says.
The Bothell, WA-based oncology biotech, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has gone from zero to four products during Hernday’s tenure. Seagen’s first therapy, Adcetris(brentuximab vedotin), is for patients with classical Hodgkin lymphoma. Takeda Pharmaceuticals holds the rights for the drug outside of the US and Canada. While this partnership was established prior to Hernday’s tenure, her group manages it presently.
Padcev (enfortumab vedotin-ejfv) is for adult patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer. This therapy was the product of an early-stage collaboration with Agensys, which was later acquired by Astellas. Hernday negotiated the commercialization agreement and manages this partnership as well.
Tukysa (tucatinib) is an HER-2–targeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor for metastatic breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Hernday led the acquisition of Cascadian Therapeutics, which Seagen brought in-house in 2018, adding Tukysa to its fold. Two years later, the drug was approved. “That was a very rewarding journey and project to be a part of,” says Hernday.
Finally, there is Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv), which is for adult patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer with disease progression on or after chemotherapy. Hernday recalls this as one of the first licenses she worked on at Seagen. At the time, she wanted the company to focus more on strategic rights over technology out-licensing.
“We needed product rights to build this company,” she says of her thinking at the time. The biotech did just that. Since bringing Tivdak to market through a 50/50 partnership with Genmab, it is now being evaluated in a variety of other solid tumor indications.
“I’ve been at Seagen for 12 years. Being here that long, it’s been special to see the impact of my team’s decisions, recommendations, and work,” says Hernday. “In some cases, I’ve learned a thing or two about what I might have done differently. And those lessons are just as valuable as the wins.”
At present, Hernday is looking forward to continuing to expand Seagen’s technology and pipeline.
“Cancer is a very tough disease that impacts so many of us,” she notes. “The genesis is not always clear. It can be difficult to treat, but it’s a worthy endeavor.”
Outside of the main responsibilities her position brings, Hernday is the executive sponsor of the Seagen Leadership Academy, which aims to develop the next wave of leaders at the company. She is also an executive sponsor and ally member of Seagen’s Black Employees Supporting Talent (BEST), an employee resource network committed to improving diversity, career development, and the experience of Black colleagues.
In her spare time, Hernday enjoys mountain biking, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. She finds that there are a lot of parallels between her work and her hobbies.
“I’m very good under stress,” she says. “I love adventure and calculated risk-taking. And I like trying to figure things out as we go, whether that’s with a mountaineering team up on a glacier or with an alliance management team in the office.”