Prior to this year’s annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, I was contacted by a PR firm regarding an opportunity to interview one of the executives from BioNTech, a German biopharma publicly traded on the NASDAQ (BNTX). After some research I learned it had a market cap of more than $6 billion. Having only IPOed in October 2019, I was intrigued. So, I began looking into the company’s founder, Ugur Sahin, M.D., Ph.D.
I learned Sahin had founded two companies that were valued at over $1 billion. BioNTech was his second; his first was Ganymed Pharmaceuticals, acquired in 2016 by Astellas for roughly $1.4 billion. In addition, he continued working as a professor at the Mainz University Medical Center, while also finding time to found the Center for Translational Oncology and Immunology (TRON), a biopharmaceutical research organization that pursues new diagnostics and drugs for the treatment of cancer and other severe diseases with high medical need. This certainly seemed like somebody I wanted to meet, and thankfully, the PR firm was able to make it happen.
At JPM during our interview, Sahin graciously provided his perspective on his various efforts, which will be the subject of an upcoming feature in Life Science Leader. During our conversation, he spoke about the company’s seemingly meteoric growth, pointing out how the company’s market cap had increased by nearly $3 billion from the time of my first being contacted to when we finally had the opportunity to meet. This got Dr. Sahin talking about how there is a bit of a knowledge gap in Germany around what it means to take a company public. “Before going public, we gave town hall presentations to employees and explained what it meant to go public,” he shares. “We explained how some information has to be shared publicly, while other info must be kept confidential, and why.”
But what about the stock price? How do you keep employees from seeing dollar signs in their eyes? He says he doesn’t view a company’s stock price as a metric indicative of what a company is accomplishing, at least certainly not at BioNTech. In fact, he attests that the organization is much more fixated and excited about factual accomplishments, and the publication of scientific papers than on the company’s stock price. “I only look at the stock price perhaps once a week,” he states very matter of fact. “Why worry or get excited if you can’t change it?” Besides, Sahin believes there are other more valuable metrics that BioNTech employees can look to do determine if they are succeeding, and many of those center on patients (e.g., enrolling patients in trials, patients responding to treatment).
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