Beyond The Printed Page | October 25, 2021

A Tough Business Lesson To Learn

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

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Lisa Conte

“When I started out as a biopharmaceutical entrepreneur in 1989, I did not think I was going to run the company,” states Lisa Conte, founder and CEO of Jaguar Health and the focus of our November 2021 issue feature article (don’t miss by subscribing here). At the time, she was a biopharma VC, and back then (unlike today) VCs didn’t typically take on CEO roles. “The opportunity seemed so compelling, and I guess I was young and arrogant enough to think I could do it better, or at least with more passion, energy, and commitment.” Perhaps life could have been more comfortable and easier had she remained a VC. But if she had, would anybody else be attempting to demystify and give legitimacy to traditional medicines (i.e., therapeutics derived from plants)?

When asked as to the most valuable lesson learned from her entrepreneurial journey, without hesitation Conte references the decision to collaborate with Salix Pharmaceuticals. “When we were negotiating, I was uncomfortable with the people to the point that I did not even want to attend the closing dinner,” she states. Conte had been through tough negotiations and lawsuits before, so she understood that sometimes it’s just business. “We should not have done that deal,” she concedes.

Editor’s Note: The collaboration agreement (executed Dec. 2008) between Salix Pharmaceuticals and Napo Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company founded by Conte in 2001, became a protracted legal battle starting in May 2011. The two companies reached a legal settlement in Mar. 2016 (details here).

Let this be a lesson for those wanting to learn from Conte. For starters, she reminds that you don’t have to work with people you don’t like. “If you don’t like someone, most likely it’s because your values are different, and at some point, that’s going to come into play.” A contract can only cover so much, and when that’s violated, the next step is often a lawsuit. Conte advises to do whatever you can to avoid a lawsuit, and the best way beyond automatic fixes and built-in consequences is to work with people who have similar values. “You want to work with people interested in finding practical ways to deal with problems, not jumping at the chance to use mechanisms of last resort,” she concludes.