When I sat down to interview Jeffrey Nau, Ph.D., president and CEO of Oyster Point Pharma, I asked him how he became fascinated with the human eye. “Did your parents work in the medical field?” I asked. “No,” he replied. Nau then informed me that neither of his parents had graduated from college, and that he was the first person, even in his extended family, to do so. He then mentioned that when he went to college at Stony Brook University in NY, he wanted to do two things: play ice hockey, and go into something in the life sciences, though he wasn’t really sure what. But with aspirations to attend medical school, he knew he’d need some clinical experience, and that’s how he came across an opportunity to work as a technician in a multispecialty ophthalmology practice. Funny how that seemingly inconsequential job sent him down a lifelong path of researching and developing therapeutics for the human eye.
In an upcoming feature in Life Science Leader, we dig into some of the foundational experiences that best prepared Nau for becoming president and CEO of a biopharmaceutical company, along with a bit of his approach to building Oyster Point Pharma at breakneck speed. But he also shared some other interesting anecdotes and information. For example, he grew up in Rochester, NY, and is a lifelong (suffering) Buffalo Bills football fan. “After four straight Superbowl losses in the 90’s, and the fact that they continue to disappoint, I’m not sure how much longer that [he being a Bills’ fan] will continue,” he stated. But he also shared the story about when a career opportunity took him to the West Coast. “My wife Lynne (also from the east) was about six-months pregnant when I dropped that career opportunity on her, and we ended up driving across the country to California with a dog and six-week old.” He noted that the middle of the country was definitely a lot different from the coasts, and perhaps they didn’t get to enjoy the sights as much as they could have based on having a newborn. “We did a lot of driving from about 5 AM until maybe noon, and then we’d stop in some town along the way.” And while a great experience, he’s not sure he’d want to do it again with six-week old. Eventually his expanding family would move back east, in part driven by the allure of promising science at a clinical-stage company and the opportunity to be closer to immediate family.
In 2017, Nau saw an opportunity to become the CEO of a startup. And as he was the very first employee at Oyster Point Pharma, he could have located it wherever he wanted (i.e., those hot biotech hubs of Boston or San Francisco). So, I asked him why he decided to locate in New Jersey. “I can make up a really great story, but Mrs. Nau and my family probably had more to do with that than anything else.” He recalls his wife’s saying, “You can play CEO if you like, but we’re staying here in the NJ area until the boys have finished school.” Sure, Boston and San Francisco are great places to attract talent and infrastructure, but they are also very expensive when it comes to real estate. Plus, there’s a lot of competition for talent. But there are a lot of benefits to locating in Princeton, NJ. For starters, there is plenty of industry talent nearby. Second, it is almost equidistant from New York and Philadelphia. “Boston’s a quick plane or train ride, and Washington, D.C., is not too far either,” he adds. “On the supply chain and manufacturing side, we’ve really benefited from having access to manufacturing in our backyard as compared to having to fly overseas or across the country.” And, when you consider all of the professional football teams (and their recent history) located in the cities referenced, Nau could easily jump off the Buffalo Bills bandwagon and have his pick of teams to provide the misery to which he has become accustomed (cue the rim shot!).
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