Here’s a fun fact: The first Harvard-Yale Regatta was held in 1852, making it (and rowing) the oldest active college sporting event in the U.S. I bring this up, because during a recent interview of Paula Ragan, Ph.D., cofounder and CEO of X4 Pharmaceuticals (subject of the November 2020 cover feature in Life Science Leader), I noticed her frequently using boating terms when describing certain business aspects. So, I asked if she had a boating background. “I used to row crew in college,” she replied matter of fact. Turns out she was in the bow seat, which is the first person you will see when a boat is rowing towards you. The Coxswain (i.e., the person on board responsible for steering and coaching the crew), sits at the opposite end, and she did some of that too.
According to Ragan, rowing is all about unison, synchronicity, and stability between a team of athletes having to work together to succeed. “You can take eight rowers and put them in a boat, and it can either feel amazing or horrible.” She laughs heartily when asked, “Did you think that when signing up to do this varsity sport at Tufts University that the skills you gained would have applicability to leadership and running a company?” “I wish I could say I was that clairvoyant when heading off to college,” she replies. Still, she does think team sport to be an incredibly important element for future biopharma leaders because drug discovery and development is considered by many to be a team sport. “In team sport, there’s a component about improving your individual skills, but it is also about where you fit in as far as the sum of the parts on the team and your role in supporting and elevating that team to its best level of competition,” she contends. “In crew, you can feel every little bump, and it is actually very intense.” I imagine many heads of biopharma R&D can relate. Afterall, they are making their best educated bets on where to invest billions of $ to hopefully help patients. And whether there are late-stage flops or FDA approvals, failures and successes are attributed to the team, not the individual. Because just as Ragan will tell you that it takes more than one person to start a company, it takes more than one person to develop and eventually commercialize a therapeutic.
While we hope you’ve enjoyed this most recent Beyond The Printed Page installment, we encourage you to subscribe, as you won’t want to miss the upcoming feature where Paula Ragan gets into the many details of the building of X4 Pharmaceuticals, and being mentored by Henri Termeer.