By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
One of Life Science Leader’s newest editorial advisory board (EAB) members is Pamela Reilly Contag, Ph.D., cofounder and CEO of BioEclipse Therapeutics. You might recognize her from the May 2020 issue in which she is featured. I first met Contag during an interview at this year’s annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (JPM). Afterward, I commented how she gave a great interview. Upon further reflection I thought that she would be exactly the type of person who’d make a great addition to our EAB. She was authentic and transparent, while possessing a willingness to passionately speak her mind in a constructive, yet non-confrontational way, even when in disagreement. So, after publication of the May issue, I asked if she’d want to join the EAB, which she did.
The first thing we try to do with new EAB members, is to get them engaging with readers as soon as possible. The first question sent for Contag’s consideration is, “What has been the greatest biopharma business-related insight you have gained from continued operations during the first half of this year?” She provided the prerequisite 160-word response, accompanied by a 600+ -word rationale and explanation. While we truly appreciate EAB members striving to work within our print publication word-count constraints, we applaud whenever their passion to go above and beyond strikes. With Contag’s permission, we’d like to share her full response to the “Ask The Board” appearing in our August 2020 issue.
Q - What Has Been The Greatest Biopharma Business Related Insight You Have Gained From Continued Operations During The First Half Of This Year?
Here Is The Most Important Insight: Make Space
Innovation is less about a specific discovery and more about how that discovery is applied to advance a field. Innovation takes place during the gaps in our everyday schedule. Innovations can be large or small. They arise out of a person’s specific observation and consideration of an unmet need. We must provide the space in our company timelines for everyone to observe and be thoughtful. This time allows us to envision opportunities and debate new ideas, as well as listen carefully to our colleagues, analyze our mistakes, accomplish more with less, and create a clear mission and a vision for our team. We are dedicated to the routine time and space to thoroughly discuss problems and solutions in a forum that rewards the act of mutual respect. Our goal is that respectful interactions become a core company value, which in turn creates common ground for difficult discussions needed to navigate the sometimes-overwhelming hurdles facing small companies that address big problems.
Here Is How I Realized It:
The first half of 2020 brought challenges that have never been encountered by present-day society. At BioEclipse we have six coordinated teams with seven board members, five full time employees and 28 paid consultants. On March 5, 2020, we altered our operations to allow non-laboratory employees across six states to work remotely, while continuing operations in our California laboratories with full social distancing, masks, disinfection, and staggered schedules in place. During this period, we filed our IND for our lead drug candidate, CRX100, while the FDA performed the GMP runs for our therapy and began work to open three sites for a clinical trial in refractory solid tumors.
I used to think mission and vision were simple exercises and could be dashed off in the first slide of a pitch presentation. But our mission and vision for BioEclipse’s future helped lead to the successful filing of our first IND with the FDA and efforts to advance CRX100 into the clinic during a time of great upheaval. Clarity of mission inspires the passion in our colleagues to continue working as a team in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges, as we have recently experienced. A vision for what BioEclipse can be, both now and in the future, will guide us as BioEclipse evolves into its best version.
Through The Pandemic Response, Lockdowns, And Curfews, Here Is What I Observed At The Company Level.
Coordination among teams is critical to advancing therapeutics to the clinic, especially for the first time. This must occur in an environment of transparency and mutual respect, especially when a company faces a short timeline. If there is no mutual respect, there cannot be a common vision. Respect can be earned over time, but a priori mutual respect allows our company to advance our timelines and meet our milestones.
Small drug companies, especially startups, often feel and act as if they do not have “the time.” But companies must take the time to lay the groundwork for an open environment that allows collaboration and teamwork. Employees are asked to contribute as both individuals and as team members. Individuals can serve be both leaders and followers, experts and novices, pragmatists and dreamers, quiet and outspoken. As BioEclipse increased its staff, the expectation was that each person was needed for all their skills, and we formed a deep respect for each other and our mission.
Here Is What I Observed About The World That Improved My Own Leadership.
- Our environment improved when our motion stopped. This created the time and space to envision the opportunities for environmental improvement and demonstrated the capacity to change how we work and live as a society.
- Solutions to our technology and business challenges happen both by huge leaps and by small increments. We need to continue to create space for both. It’s not always about the blockbuster.
- Good ideas can come from every corner; we should be better listeners.
- We are a nation with a consumer-driven economy, but we all can do more with less. Sometimes more money does not ensure a better outcome.
- We all need the time to think and act thoughtfully and to be forgiven if we make a mistake.
- Mission and vision aren’t simple exercises to be dashed off in the first slide of a pitch presentation. A clear mission inspires the passion to continue working as a team in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. Our vision for what our company wants to be, both now and in the future, will guide our company’s evolution to its best version.
For another example of how an EAB member expanded upon their initial Ask The Board question, be sure to check out “Disappointments In Alzheimer's Therapeutic Development — A Conversation With John LaMattina.”