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Liftstream is an executive search recruitment company in the life sciences sector

Leaders on the Front Line


In striving for your goals, you’re occasionally given a cause to reflect on where you’ve come from. For Liftstream, that occasion arrived in September of this year when being nominated by industry colleagues for the ‘Commitment to Diversity’ award in Massachusetts at the Xconomy Awards – owing to the incredible work being done by so many in this area, we were satisfied runners-up.

Being nominated by industry peers provoked us to think about things we have done that might give people a reason to put us forward. Indeed, during the past 12 months, we’ve really upped our game in our diversity efforts and have been leading at the very front line of this issue.

It all kicked off late last September (2016) when we hosted our 2nd annual diversity conference in Boston, with our partner Biogen. The event itself, The Board Meeting on Biotech Boardroom Diversity, brought together 270 C-level delegates from across the sector for expert presentations, a closed-session panel debate, roundtables, and the announcement of the inaugural Women in Bio – Boardroom Ready class. This was supported the following day by another conference held with our partner Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), looking specifically towards the pipeline diversity issues. Both events generated tremendously valuable ideas and insights which we’ve been working on since. We also know that many people took inspiration from the events and went back to their companies to influence change.

In January 2017, we published a study, A Public Reality for Women in Biotech Boardrooms, which looked at the diversity of 177 biotech companies that became public companies in the past 4 years. This research was widely reported on and stimulated a new level of discussion about how we increase the cadence of change, otherwise, gender parity on biotech boards is projected to be 40 years away. This research has confirmed that women remain absent from the most senior levels of companies but gave us some new insights about how governance structures, investors and succession planning are contributing to this lack of gender diversity.

In March we took our Boston event to London, this time opening up the diversity debate to focus on ethnic and racial diversity, as well as gender. We were fortunate to have an international line-up of speakers, Chaired by Annalisa Jenkins – CEO of Dimension Therapeutics, to discuss the industry perspective. These esteemed leaders were preceded by UK policymakers from important corporate governance and diversity stakeholders such as the Financial Reporting Council, Hampton-Alexander Review, Parker Review and the Women’s Business Council. This forum provided many new and useful insights about how to deliver change in the absence of government policy, and how we can learn much from the work done on gender to elevate racial and ethnic minorities to C-suite and board leadership positions. These insights remain a substantial part of the program of initiatives we’ll be launching in the coming months.

Most recently, our productive partnership with MassBio resulted in the publication of a new research paper, The Path to a Diverse Future. This was the culmination of a 15 month study, which for the first time took a deep-dive into the life sciences sector’s talent pipeline and explored why women are not advancing to the C-suite and board. Our extensive data collection and analysis produced the evidence which challenges many commonly held perceptions about the lack of gender diversity, including the notion that women neither harbour executive ambitions or put themselves forward. In keeping with our goal to turn data into advocacy into action, the report highlights 7 broad actions to take, as well as 50 recommendations. It is now over to companies to begin the process of change – and we’ll be assisting them in implementing the change wherever we can through our suite of services.

It has been a progressive 12 months for us, which is perhaps why recognition has come our way. Yet we’re not for looking back. Our sights are trained on the future and we’re excited about all the great plans we have to help companies make the most of their human capital and to bring meaningful change in diversity and inclusion.

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UK shows multi-stakeholder approach tackles diversity

The UK has been seriously tackling the issue of diversity in the senior ranks of British business. The Davies Review, led by the charismatic but challenging Lord Mervyn Davies, pushed UK boards to get 25% of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. This triggered concerted action on the part of the nominated companies because they would be publicly measured, and reported.

The goals of the Davies Review were met, although there were perhaps some unintended consequences, such as the impact on the executive ranks with increased demand for women on boards. However, with the end-goal in mind, the Davies Review recently made way for the Hampton-Alexander Review, led by Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman of GSK, and Dame Helen Alexander of UBM. Their aim is to broaden the scope of effort toward the expanded FTSE 250, and to specifically tackle the issue of strengthening the pipeline of women executives. Hampton-Alexander set a target of 33% of pipeline executive roles in FTSE 100 companies must be fulfilled by women by 2020. The review also recommends that the Financial Reporting Council amend the UK Corporate Governance Code to require FTSE 350 companies to report data on women in leadership positions which serve the talent pipeline.

While the effort on gender diversity was seemingly permeating the boardrooms of Britain’s biggest firms, this progress did not address the broader opportunity of diversity. For this to happen, race and ethnicity also needed to be looked at. And so, Sir John Parker, Chairman of Anglo American; fellow board member with Sir Philip, and former member of Lord Davies steering group, took on that task.

Sir John led a review of the FTSE companies to see where ‘people of colour’ (the term used by the review) were present in UK boardrooms, specifically FTSE companies. The findings reflected many of the early data published in the Davies review, with single digits everywhere. The recommendations published in the Parker Review – ‘Beyond One by 21’ – have built on the foundations of Davies and Hampton-Alexander, to encourage systemic change which would usher in greater levels of participation by people of black and minority ethnicities in UK boardrooms.

Last week, we saw the publication of – ‘Race in the Workplace’ – the review by Baroness McGregor-Smith, who tackles the broader challenges of improving the participation of black and minority ethnicities in UK workplaces. Ruby McGregor-Smith, until recently CEO of Mitie, was formally the chair of the Women’s Business Council and has seen first-hand the importance of action in changing the diversity landscape. Her report is explicit in its recommendation – calling for action now!

Finally, the Financial Reporting Council, stewards of the UK Corporate Governance Code, also took the step of making specific provisions for diversity in the code, and are serving constant reminders to Chairman and directors about the need for diversity.

This all adds up to a considerable pressure on UK companies to report out their diversity data to the respective inquiries, driven by the Department of Business. However, the Sunday Times last weekend reported that UK companies have voiced concerns about the level of commitment needed to satisfy the requirements of these respective directives, and that they wish for a simplified approach. The article suggests that the heads of each of the groups will meet this month with the Minster for Business and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James, to discuss proposals for making the Financial Reporting Council the body to which businesses will report their diversity data.

With UK companies, from FTSE 100 to SMEs, facing increased levels of scrutiny on board, executive and workplace diversity, leaders need to be acutely aware of how they can achieve diversity and inclusion in their companies. Liftstream is really pleased to announce that we’ll bring together a panel featuring: Margot James (UK Minister for Business and Corporate Responsibility), Paul George (Financial Reporting Council), Dr Yvonne Thompson (Parker Review), Dr Elena Doldor (Davies and Hampton-Alexander), Denis Woulfe (Women’s Business Council) and Pavita Cooper (30% Club) at our executive forum on March 28th in London.

To register to attend ‘The Board Meeting on Biopharma Boardroom Diversity’, click here:

We’ll be pleased to host all the main actors for what promises to be an illuminating debate.

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Board Directors with Frequency

Frequency Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, MA, is a company spearheading the movement to restore hearing by harnessing the regenerative potential of progenitor cells in the body, today announced its Board of Directors. Led by Marc A. Cohen of COBRO Ventures as Chairman, members of the Frequency Board were selected for their industry leadership and wealth of management skills to provide a diverse governance team for the company. The Board Members include Tim Barberich, founder and former CEO and Chairman of Sepracor, Inc. (now known as Sunovion), Marc Kozin, Senior Advisor and former President of L.E.K. Consulting, Robert S. Langer, Sc.D., Frequency Co-founder and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and David Lucchino, Frequency Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer.
Frequency Therapeutics was founded to translate the breakthrough work in Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA) by its scientific founders, Robert Langer, Sc.D., and Jeff Karp, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School, into new treatments, where controlled tissue regeneration with locally delivered drugs could have profound therapeutic potential. The company has licensed foundational patents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Partners Healthcare. These technologies will be used to advance Frequency’s PCA platform to create disease modifying therapies that activate the body’s dormant abilities to heal, with the lead program focused on small molecules that can reverse chronic noise induced hearing loss.
“Frequency is poised to become a leader in the treatment of chronic hearing loss, a potential $20 billion market with no existing effective therapeutic solutions,” said Marc A. Cohen. “The technologies licensed from MIT and Partners provide a broad platform for Frequency to uncover and activate the regenerative potential of progenitor cells for unprecedented healing benefits in the treatment of hearing loss, eye and skin disorders, gastrointestinal diseases and diabetes.”
“This stellar Board of Directors brings to Frequency a wealth of business acumen and expertise in the biotech and pharmaceutical communities,” said David Lucchino. “We look forward to working with our Board and advisors to grow Frequency into a world-renowned regenerative medicine company.”


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Managing Conflict in Organisations: Have you enough of the right kind

Michael O’Neill is a Biotech entrepreneur, currently R&D Director of his own company Inflection Biosciences. He is also a chartered psychologist and has worked as a consultant and technical and organisational issues in the biosciences industry for many years. He is co-editor of the book “A Biotech Manager’s Handbook”, which is a practical guide to some key areas of managing bioscience companies. In this article, he offers some thoughts on how leaders set the tone for the organisational style of their companies and in particular how they manage conflict within the company.

A classic study in the 1960’s (Boulding, 1964) took several groups of managers who were given a complex problem-solving task. They were told that at the end of the task, a panel of experts would judge their performance based on the solutions that each team of managers came up with. The groups were carefully matched for size and composition so that they were as identical as possible in various ways. Before the exercise began the researchers selected at random one member in half of the teams and gave them instructions to act as a “mole”. That is they were to act as a “devil’s advocate” whose role it was to challenge the team’s assumptions and to critique the logic of their arguments. At the end of the exercise, both sets of groups presented their solutions. Without exception, the groups that had the devil’s advocate or “mole” did better than the groups without. They offered more and better solutions to the problems set. This underlines the importance of internal debate within organisations and the value of creative conflict.

The study also showed, however, the cost of this conflict. After a short recess, the teams were gathered together and told that they were now to solve the second set of problems. Before they began, all of the teams were given the opportunity to vote off one member. In every group that had had a devil’s advocate, that person was the one that was voted off, without exception. This is in spite of the fact that having that person in the team is what had given them their advantage over the other teams. Even where we see the benefit of productive conflict in discussion and debate, the problem is that humans as individuals do not like it and try to avoid it. There is a great cost in an organisation to the person who tries to challenge the group think or push back against an idea that has taken hold in the minds of colleagues. Such an oppositional role, however, is essential to the health of an organisation and those who take such risks should be supported by management. Sometimes the leader of the organisation has to be the greatest sceptic. Everyone in the company might be excited by some new data or a new project, but someone needs to keep the team grounded and not let ideas fly without proper examination.

On the other hand, it is very rare that we find an organisation of any size where there are not interpersonal clashes, rivalries and even disputes. Large organisations are legendary for the office politics, the manoeuvring for position and interpersonal rivalries. Large organisations provide endless opportunities for politicking and jockeying for position and generally the people who do well in such organisations have at least a certain amount of skill in dealing with these issues.

The challenge, therefore, is not how to avoid all conflict but to ensure that you have the right kind and amount of conflict in an organisation. Put bluntly, a vigorous and healthy debate is good, letting it descend into antipathy, endless arguments or even sabotage is not so good.

Personal Style and Causes of Conflict

Personal style carries with it preferences for how we think and behave. We have assumptions, often unexamined or unarticulated about how the world should be, we have ideas about hierarchy and of how others should behave and how we should be treated and be expected to behave.

If our personal worldview expects things to be ordered in a certain way, then having these overturned or undermined is a very challenging and even stressful experience. Scientists, for example, tend to invest very personally in theories, disciplines, projects, and even techniques. When the validity or value of these is questioned, normally very rational and self-possessed people can give vent to some very emotional responses. The world order based on the value of one’s own discipline or areas of research is challenged, even obliquely, conflict can arise.

Within certain disciplines, certain personality types will predominate. Toxicologists, for example, by nature tend to be cautious. They have to look out for any possible indicator that a new drug might be harmful in people. Any unusual finding in an animal study could be enough for them to say that a compound should not go forward for clinical testing. Sometimes if the histological change in the experimental animal is small or the relevance to the human condition is not clear, such caution can frustrate other members of the management team of a company whose very future might depend on that molecule’s progression. Likewise, a clinical expert might suggest that the safety profile of a compound is not good enough or the efficacy criteria have not been satisfied in a particular trial. As this can have serious consequences for the project or even the entire company, other managers might question this judgement, sometimes quite vigorously. It is important to separate the role from the person. It is important to understand that the criticism can be well-founded and well-meant.

Scientists rarely take criticism of their data or working methods impartially or objectively. They may feel that it is inappropriate for other scientists especially from other disciplines to challenge their work, violating their assumptions about how others behave. They might feel that their competence as individuals is being questioned, which challenges some of their core beliefs about themselves and their value as a scientist and as individuals. You can see, therefore, how a simple and very objective exchange of information can become a source of personal conflict if it is not properly managed.

If any of this seems familiar you are in a very common scenario in the world of bioscience. In the next instalment, we will offer a few thoughts on how to deal with this.

Part II follows on this blog.

A Biotech Manager’s Handbook: A Practical Guide (Woodhead Publishing Series in Biomedicine) by Michael O’Neill and Michael M. Hopkins (2 May 2012)

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Managing Conflict in Organisations: Part 2

Michael O’Neill is a Biotech entrepreneur, currently R&D Director of his own company Inflection Biosciences. He is also a chartered psychologist and has worked as a consultant and technical and organisational issues in the biosciences industry for many years. He is co-editor of the book “A Biotech Manager’s Handbook”, which is a practical guide to some key areas of managing bioscience companies.

In a follow up from Part One: Managing Conflict in Organisations. Have you enough of the right kind? – he offers some thoughts on how leaders should deal with conflict in their companies.

Conflict if not dealt with, can cause serious damage to an organisation. A huge amount of energy can go into internal conflicts, petty disputes and personal battles. Good managers spot conflicts as or even before they arise and deal with them as effectively and efficiently as if they were dealing with fires in the building.

Individuals differ in their response to conflicts depending on the degree of assertiveness and cooperativity. A highly assertive person with low cooperativity will simply impose a solution. This “banging heads together” authoritarian style is favoured by a commanding leader. The short-term effect is that it can work if the manager is strong enough but in the longer term it only drives problems underground to resurface (more vigorously) later on. Unless the sources of conflict are dealt with, the conflict does not go away and in fact, it festers.

The opposite extreme is the style which is low in assertiveness and low in cooperativity, in other words, the conflict is simply avoided. The manager simply hides and hopes the issue goes away. While avoiding any immediate conflict, this sows the seeds of greater conflict in the future.

The style which involves high cooperation and low assertiveness can be designated as an accommodating or appeasing approach. This is essentially resolving a conflict by giving in to the demands of others while failing to defend one’s own interests. Again, it might work for a while, but the problem will always come back as the demands increase.

The best way to approach conflict is, therefore, to employ techniques that involve high assertiveness with high cooperation. The question that needs to be asked is “How can we work together to sort this out?” We might have to work our way back through a lot of issues around hurt feelings, injured pride and so on but these are relatively easily dealt with. The main point is to retreat from entrenched positions and look for areas of common interest. Changing the time frame so that people are not locked into the current conflict but have to think about how they will work together at some point in the future is a good way of achieving this.

One of the simplest ways of dealing with conflict, either between individuals or groups within the organisation is to work on the Principle of Charity. This is an idea that comes from critical thinking that allows arguments to flow and both parties to work towards understanding and a solution. It can be stated in a number of ways but essentially it asks all parties to make a simple assumption that the other person might be making sense and that it is us who has failed to understand it.

This misunderstanding can be based on a different use of language, insufficient information or embedded ideas that might need to be challenged or even overturned. One version of the principle is this maxim of translation: “Assertions startlingly false on the face of them are likely to turn on hidden differences of languages.” (W. V. O. Quine, Word and Object)

The principle of charity involves each person suspending judgement on any new idea or data even if their initial reaction is to strongly disagree. It means sometimes having to live with the ambiguity of seeing data that might clash strongly with a particular view or theory. The premise is to allow all parties to explore the new or paradoxical data fully and work to a common understanding rather than simply dismissing it.

One of the corollaries of this assumption of charity is that we can assume that we are more likely to have misunderstood or even misheard something than that the other person is foolish, wrong or even an idiot. It can also spare our blushes if we do tend to charge in and dismiss things that later turn out to be true or useful if we have only partly understood or heard what was being proposed. Another corollary is that people have the right and indeed duty to challenge data and even more importantly challenge the interpretation. The simple question “is there another way of looking at this?” might move the debate in a healthier direction.

This simple strategy can eliminate a lot of needless conflicts simply by making the not unreasonable assumption that the person we are dealing with is working from different premises that we need to understand before we criticise them or their work.

As a leader the aim when dealing with conflict should be to get people to listen to each other’s concerns but also to get them to discuss their expectation and disappointments without descending into abuse. It often turns out that both sides have a strong argument. Getting the groups to focus on the problem as a common issue, not as the fault of one or other group can heal the rift.

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Leadership skills must adapt for rare disease success

In pharmaphorum’s rare disease focus month, Karl Simpson of Liftstream explores whether a different set of skills, experience and talent are required to develop orphan drugs, and questions how different the business model of rare diseases is. The article was originally published in pharmaphorum on 18th February 2014. 

The biotechnology sector has long been seen as the innovation engine capable of driving a renaissance in a beleaguered pharmaceutical sector and over the past 12 months, this engine has been roaring. One of the growth propellers driving this engine has been the rare diseases business. Successful new product launches, numerous licensing agreements, acquisitions and many initial public offerings have heightened both sector and investor interest in this orphan drugs segment

“But how different is the business model of rare diseases, and does big pharma ‘get it’?”

This question is asked not only of the R&D approach but equally of the commercialisation. Culturally there are significant impediments for many large pharmaceutical companies in orphan drug development. The internal competition for R&D budget allocation and the pricing model for rare disease therapies are just two of many specific issues. For large pharma to build rare disease franchises effectively, they need executive and cross-function leadership with conviction to the business model.

This begs a deeper question: which is whether the experience, skills and talents employed to develop orphan drugs are starkly different from the mainstream pharmaceutical business? Those who’ve long worked in rare diseases cite the uniqueness of the business and imply that those from mainstream pharma could not adapt to the particular orphan approach. But given many already have this background, are the differences really so contrasting from so-called traditional drug development?

Multi-stakeholder partners

The pharmaceutical industry has a very long history of creating vertically integrated companies. The recent output of this has been poor levels of R&D productivity and innovation. This declining output has necessitated a relatively recent and growing wave of externalisation and collaborative working, giving way to a more open and partner-oriented culture which is still very nascent. It is this collaborative culture which is absolutely central in defining the difference in rare diseases. Success in the rare diseases business demands the very highest levels of multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Patient-centric approach

At the very heart of this constellation of stakeholders is the patient. The proximity to patients, and the engagement with them or their advocacy groups, inculcates a ‘patient-centric’ mentality which is a key success factor in those employed in the rare disease sector. The very small populations of patients mean companies and their employees become very close to the individual people they’re trying to treat.

“For large pharma to build rare disease franchises effectively, they need executive and cross-function leadership with conviction to the business model.”

The patient community of any rare disease you choose to nominate is often strongly represented by a group of highly active, strongly passionate and well-organised people comprised of patients, parents and volunteers who are campaigning tirelessly for recognition, funding and research into their particular disorder. These advocates have been hugely impactful in the field of rare diseases and remarkable outcomes have resulted from their incalculable commitment. People who choose to work in rare diseases have to be prepared, as well as show an ability, to work constructively with these individuals or groups, even when their objectives are not necessarily aligned. The patient stakeholder not only exemplifies passion and dedication but often possesses extensive knowledge of their disease and so effective interactions with them are integral to the development of better disease knowledge leading to possible therapeutic breakthroughs. This engagement demands leaders to possess advanced communication skills, as well as empathy and relationship building skills.

One such example is the ultra-rare disease of Alkaptonuria (AKU). Nick Sireau, the father of two children with this rare genetic disease, founded the Alkaptonuria Society and undertook huge efforts to identify people across the globe with Alkaptonuria, engage with academia and physicians and to increase understanding of the disease. His efforts have led to a possible breakthrough collaboration with Swedish Orphan Biovitrum (SOBI) who have been performing trials of their tyrosinaemia treatment (Orfadin) for treating AKU, while patients are also being provided with the therapy on a named-patient basis.

Commercial execution

Commercialisation of a rare disease therapeutic is often very different from the more common diseases. Owing to the smaller patient populations, the opportunity exists for smaller biotechs, often the originators of such innovative therapies, to commercialise their own products. However, small patient populations in rare diseases do not necessarily equate to rapid or effective launches. The identification of patients with these rare diseases can often require very specific strategies to recruit patients and engage with physicians. Forecasting the resource and infrastructure required can be incredibly difficult with such small and unpredictable patient numbers. With disease diagnosis, a primary issue in rare diseases, the identification of patients is notoriously difficult and has commercial implications. The provision of therapies can also require high levels of physician education and training.

“The very small populations of patients means companies and their employees become very close to the individual people they’re trying to treat.”

Named patient usage programmes

Given rare disease therapies are often the first in class and treat unmet medical needs, there is a clear desire on behalf of the patients for early access to new treatments. Therefore, Named Patient Usage Programmes (NPUs) are a key feature of the rare diseases business. NPUs demand the integrated knowledge of many of the functions inside the company. The consideration to offer a drug via an NPU requires medical affairs teams to ensure physician training and adequate educational materials are provided. The regulatory affairs and clinical teams must advise on the inclusion criteria for eligible patients and prevent any contravention of the regulations or actions which could later jeopardise ongoing clinical trials. The manufacturing and supply of drugs must be sustainable. Oversight and management of these functions are imperative for those wishing to lead effectively in a rare disease therapeutics company.

Adaptable in uncertainty

Innovation is the process of addressing the unknown. This is acutely true in rare diseases. In whichever direction you look there are huge unknowns that create ambiguity. A lack of disease history and the absence of existing treatments impose challenges at each stage of the pathway towards new therapies. In discovery and development, there are a plethora of hurdles; a lack of recognised and validated animal models, biomarkers as surrogate endpoints are rarely available or acceptable, little or no reference data, and comparators are often ill-defined. In clearing regulatory approval, the risk/benefit balance between promising clinical trials and the real-world clinical data needs to be accepted. Effective dialogue with regulators must be achieved and opportunities for approaches such as conditional approval explored. In achieving pricing and reimbursement, the landscape is fast changing, with dialogue increasingly oriented towards the use of real-world clinical evidence as a determinant of value as the cost of orphan drugs comes under increasing scrutiny by payers.

However innovative the science, clearly the translation of this science into accessible medicines is the subject of considerable unknowns. Leaders, therefore, must exhibit the qualities to manage effectively in highly ambiguous situations, while continually managing innovation and retaining strategic agility.

While there are more similarities than differences between mainstream pharma and rare diseases, a rare disease business must have leadership that possess the ability to adapt to the nuances and successfully preside over the multitude of function-level specificities.

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Demand Grows for Cancer R&D Executives

Authored by Karl Simpson

Published: 22/07/2014

The recent acquisition of Norway’s biotech frontrunner, Algeta, by Bayer for $2.9 billion, purchasing their exciting new prostate cancer drug Xofigo, has brought considerable attention on Oslo, a small biotech market by global standards, but one with a dedicated focus and big ambitions. In a discussion about the plans for Oslo’s Cancer Cluster with its General Manager, a key question arose: where is the expertise or competence to build the companies with a strong focus on cancer therapeutics?

Cancer therapy landscape

First, it is important to understand the landscape. Market-wide, solid tumour oncology and haematology drug development are at an interesting stage of scientific progress. With new drug therapies like Kadcyla hitting the market, antibody technologies such as Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs), bi-specifics and protein scaffolds are driving new possibilities.

These antibody-engineered approaches are benefiting from a broader-based philosophical shift in the culture of pharmaceutical drug development. Both large and small companies are now invested in the idea that externalisation, partnerships and licensed technologies are central to the success of innovative drug development addressing many different but specific tumour types. These collaborative and open innovation approaches are fundamental in the development of breakthrough therapies for oncology, as many of them combine important technologies, such as linker technologies or payloads with existing and novel therapeutics.

Cancer vaccines and immunotherapy, too, have been showing great promise. The checkpoint modulators as monotherapies have proved efficacious in trial data for melanoma and lung cancer, in particular, the relative success of the new PD-1 and PDL-1 drugs from the likes of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Merck and Roche are attracting plaudits from key opinion leaders and the scientific community. However, combination therapies remain a central idea in cancer therapy and these are emerging in immunotherapies too.

European outlook

Europe is seeing a groundswell of activity in these variable approaches to oncology drug development. Antibody approaches, cancer vaccines, modulators of the innate immune system and cell therapy are all attempting to achieve greater clinical or disease outcomes for patients with different forms of cancer.

As often happens, numerous companies are clambering to reposition themselves strategically in immunotherapy. This increase in research, translational and clinical development activity has created a strong demand for proven, experienced scientific and medical executives with particular knowledge of, and experience in, developing these innovative approaches. This demand is particularly acute in the field of immuno- oncology, witnessing a sharp increase in demand for experienced R&D professionals.

In many cases, European companies in immuno-oncology, with senior recruiting needs in R&D, are having to conduct truly global searches to pinpoint the requisite experience or face making considerable compromises on the ideal candidate profile.

This inevitably means that companies are scouting US-based talent, facing the inherent complexities that go with that, to try to attract the relevant skills. US biotech is again booming, and biotech clusters such as Boston and the Bay Area are acting like talent magnets, so the competitiveness of Europe in attracting these sought-after skills is seriously constrained. In fact, this talent is more likely to show a statistical migration towards the US, rather than in the other direction. So, there is a distinct deficiency in the research and early development skill-sets needed in immuno-oncology in Europe.

As investor Bruce Booth asserts in his May blog article about Talent Acquisition, the source of much of biotech’s research and development talent originates from large pharma. The discovery and drug development process require many different skills and qualities and in large pharma, this experience is honed to a high standard of experience and professional competence. The symbiotic relationship between the biotech world and pharma provides a source of innovation, as well as a wealth of talent.

This presents a challenge in Europe. Any rudimentary research into the source of the most advanced skills and knowledge of immuno-oncology R&D will invariably lead to the achievements of BMS, Merck, Medimmune or Roche/Genentech. The research and/or development of many of these programmes are conducted and run in the US. These companies also work hard to keep employees engaged and thereby retained. This creates a substantial shortfall in the experience available and accessible in Europe to develop immuno-oncology therapeutics.

The problems for aspiring European companies and clusters

This challenge affects any company in Europe, irrespective of the hyper-connectivity of the cluster, or proximity and access to pharma. European companies dedicated to immuno-oncology face considerable impediments when acquiring the core practical expertise in either the research or development fields. Clear and sustained effort is needed to attract the world’s best to work for them, physically or virtually.

Of course, virtual company structures offer a possible solution, but these are not without limitations. And at some stage there has to be the physical assimilation of expertise, otherwise, they are competing in an open and borderless talent market where the thresholds to attracting people will be lowered but, equally, remain low to losing them too.

Companies will typically raid the academic sector to bridge their need but the depth of knowledge around drug development is best sourced from those companies who have lived the rigours of challenging cancer drug development programmes.

The Oslo Cancer Cluster is an embryonic cluster with exciting possibilities. It is building a nucleus of companies closely aligned with this field of cancer therapy. Its infancy is perhaps partly attributable to the absence of a recognised pharmaceutical industry in the country capable of fostering growth.

A cluster like Oslo has to find ways to leverage the diffused expertise of the cancer development marketplace. But how? It is neither reasonable nor practical to expect a sudden influx of expertise, at least not without seriously attractive incentives offered through governmental policy. This means the companies themselves will need to adopt innovative approaches to the way they source people.

Oslo Cancer Cluster’s strategy is well conceived and its focused therapeutic approach in oncology, and specifically immuno-oncology, has an above-average chance of building a real community of highly qualified and credible international experts in the field of cancer medicine. The practical implementation of their vision requires them to bring together academic research, hospitals, company incubation and international experience, all of which will need competitiveness in an international talent market already characterised by a dearth of strong experience. At the heart of the matter is the understanding that the best science still needs the best people around it – and in immuno-oncology that recently became a global battle.

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David Epstein emerges at newly named Flagship Pioneering

Flagship Pioneering today announced the appointment of industry veteran David Epstein to serve in the newly created role of Executive Partner. Epstein will join as a strategic resource to the firm that systematically conceives, creates, resources and grows first-in-category ventures to transform human health and sustainability. The appointment follows Flagship’s recent additions of industry leaders Dr. Michael Rosenblatt (formerly of Merck) as Chief Medical Officer and Jim Gilbert (formerly of Boston Scientific and Bain) as Senior Partner, and supports the firm’s goal of driving accelerated value growth within its portfolio companies.
“David is a leader and long-time pioneer within the pharma industry, having developed dozens of new medicines benefiting millions of patients around the world,” said Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Flagship. “His progressive approach to science and business acumen gleaned over his tenured career in the pharmaceutical industry complements Flagship’s culture and team. We will apply his expertise broadly as we continue making and realizing the maximum potential of disruptive innovations that yield unprecedented therapies.”
Mr. Epstein’s first significant involvement within the Flagship portfolio will be as Chairman of the Board of Rubius Therapeutics, a venture founded and launched by the Flagship VentureLabs® innovation foundry to exploit the potential medical impact of endowing red blood cells with therapeutic properties. The company’s disruptive platform provides off-the-shelf, enucleated cell-based therapies that promise to treat a wide array of ailments including cancer and autoimmune, metabolic, and hematologic diseases.
“Flagship Pioneering is breaking boundaries and exploring new frontiers that, I believe, could dramatically improve the quality of human life,” said Epstein. “Joining Flagship’s disruptive innovation engine is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I welcome the opportunity to bring my passion for medicine, deep knowledge and ties to industry, and commitment to solving some of the world’s greatest health challenges to bear. In particular, I am tremendously excited by the promise of Rubius’ Red-Cell Therapeutics™ platform, as it portends the broad impact of off-the-shelf, precision cell therapies.”
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Chief Medical Officer appointed to Albumedix management

Albumedix A/S announced on January 4th 2017 that it has appointed Dr. Giles Campion as Chief Medical Officer (CMO). Dr Campion brings with him more than 25 years’ experience in drug development from both large pharma and biotech companies having worked in senior development positions in the US as well as Europe.

The appointment is key to Albumedix’s on-going strategy of advancing its albumin-based drug delivery platform to support the development of improved biotherapeutics. Dr. Campion will be responsible for leading Albumedix’s global development efforts, establishing a proprietary pipeline, as well as strengthening the company’s partnered drug pipeline. He will join Albumedix’s executive management team, reporting to the company’s CEO Peter Rosholm.

Prior to joining Albumedix, Dr. Campion was Senior Vice President of Research and Development and CMO at Prosensa Holdings and then Group Vice President, Neuromuscular Franchise at Biomarin following the Prosensa acquisition. Previously he had held positions such as Global Head of Clinical Research and Development at General Electric Healthcare and European Head of Exploratory Clinical Development at Novartis. With experience across multiple therapeutic areas, most recently in orphan neuromuscular disorders, Dr. Campion has overseen global and regional filing and approvals of new products in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, oncology, neurodegenerative diseases and hormone deficiency. During his career he has been responsible for the development of over 40 therapeutics and diagnostic agents.

Discussing the appointment, Albumedix’ CEO, Peter Rosholm, said, “I am delighted to welcome Giles Campion to Albumedix. His depth of experience across a broad range of therapeutic indications, drug development track record and expertise in the filings of specialized pharmaceuticals, will be invaluable to us as we move our pre-clinical drug candidates towards the clinic. The appointment marks the latest step in our growth strategy as we work to advance breakthroughs in the use of albumin based technologies in the development of life-changing therapeutics.”

Albumedix has developed Veltis®, a technology platform based on human albumin variants engineered for both increased therapeutic half-life and increased drug payload capacity. The use of albumin to extend the half-life of therapeutic proteins has been clinically validated through the approvals of GSK’s Tanzeum® (GLP-1/albumin fusion for Type 2 diabetes) and CSL’s Idelvion® (rhFactor IX/albumin fusion for Hemophilia). Since the establishment of Albumedix, the company has been working on the development of proprietary albumin-based biotherapeutics by utilizing its Veltis® technology to improve therapies and enable more effective treatments. Through the appointment of Dr. Campion as its CMO, Albumedix further strengthens its commitment to improving patient quality of life.

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Shire adds to board with appointment of Ian Clark

Shire plc has joined Agios Pharmaceuticals in announcing the appointment of Ian Clark to the Board of Directors.

Mr. Clark served as Chief Executive Officer and Director of Genentech Inc (part of the Roche Group) and Head of North American Commercial Operations for Roche until December 31, 2016, having held several senior strategy, operations and commercially focused roles since joining Genentech in 2003. Prior to this Mr. Clark held various senior operational, sales and marketing roles in other pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. He is currently appointed as a Non-Executive Director of TerraVia Holdings Inc. where he serves as Chairman of the Compensation Committee and as a member of the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.

Susan Kilsby, Shire’s Chairman, commented: “We are very pleased to announce Ian’s appointment at this important time; his in-depth knowledge of the biotechnology sector and breadth of operational experience stand to serve Shire well as we look forward to growing our business and addressing unmet patient needs world-wide.”

Mr. Clark added: “Shire has demonstrated commitment to being the global leader in rare diseases and to delivering value to its patients, physicians, shareholders and other stakeholders. I look forward to working with Susan and the rest of the Board in pursuing a successful future for the Company.”

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