5 of the biggest fears facing biotech CEOs

What are the challenges that give biotech CEOs headaches?
What are the issues that cause them the most consternation?
To find out, we’ve been interviewing several biotech CEOs in the UK. Below is a collection of a few of their responses:

What is keeping biotech CEOs awake at night?


Terry O’Dwyer, Co-CEO, Biotech and Money: What is keeping you awake at night?

Tim Mitchell, CEO, Sareum: The challenge is to get our programme into the clinic with the funds we can raise from retail investors. We have our sights on becoming a deal-making clinical stage company with institutional backing, so it’s about getting to the clinic as fast as we can.

 Malcolm Young, CEO, e-therapeutics: I’m often asked that question and my default biotech CEO answer is: drug failure - that’s definitely not a good thing! I think with our assets we have operated our platforms as fully as we can, and if we are right that it’s a more realistic approach to what happens when a drug interacts with the body, the probability of a blow-up is slightly lower. So I’d say that’s not a huge worry specifically for me. I think more strategically there are a number of issues: one thing is that if all goes well and the data package around our cancer asset is looking good in late 2017, we’d be looking to out-licence that to a much larger partner in 2018. If it looks good that’s likely to happen. Then, developing earlier stage assets that come from our discovery platform will be critical so most my focus at the moment is on developing the next generation after this asset has gone.

Eddie Blair, CEO, GeneFirst: It’s finding the killer application. We have four technologies, and I need to work out which one I should back in which application area. Once I’ve made that decision, I need to stick with it, but what we’re giving up to do could be massive. It’s the opportunity cost that keeps me a wake – we’re picking a winner and the fear is that we may have missed out on picking the biggest winner.

Davidson Ateh, CEO, BioMoti: Money, money, money! We have compelling data, detailed plans and budgets for formal preclinical development to reach clinical trials - we strongly believe it is just a matter of getting this funding in. Our major block is getting the money in so we can move our lead program forward.

Darrin Disley, CEO, Horizon Discovery: I think it’s how do we deploy the money we raised from our IPO– specifically, how do we deploy it in a way that doesn’t overcook the business. We’re very frugal with every pound and the danger is now you’ve got a lot of cash that you put it to work in ways that are not as efficient as they should be.

Eddie Littler, CEO, Domainex: What keeps me awake at night is worrying if we have sufficient resources to make sure we can take the projects we have, which we really believe in, we’re really committed to, to get them to the value point in the right time.

 At the end of the day it all boils down to money but then it boils down to some of the key infrastructure as well. Because we’re in the service business we know very well that you can’t cover all the aspects of a programme, it’s impossible to do it. So you end up working with specialists, CRO’s and service companies, and there is a lot of risk associated with that. No matter how much work you put behind the diligence of that contract research organisation, you talk to previous clients, you look at the data, you see and present, you have meetings with them -  you still can’t prevent something happening that you don’t have control of, yet the consequences are really quite serious. A bad study, a bad piece of work can set you back a year and could waste a lot of time and money.


So, what does it boil down to?


Running a successful biotech business is clearly a highly complex and demanding job. There are a multitude of challenges that biotech CEOs must overcome to succeed. While the below list is far from exhaustive, I think the biggest fears facing CEO’s can be summarised as follows:

1)   Drug Failure – probably the single biggest concern.

2)   Funding – whether from angels, VCs or retail investors, getting the monies together to advance their pipeline is a chief concern.

3)   Opportunity cost – picking the winner. As Eddie Blair points out, the fear they may back the wrong horse causes great anxiety.

4)   Efficiency – whether it be in deployment of new funds, or just remaining a lean operation, clearly running a tight ship is a top priority.

5)   Mitigating technical and operational risk – picking the right CRO and other specialists partners, and doing as much due diligence to ensure the quality of research and data is up to scratch.

I’d be keen to hear which fears would make your top 5 - let me know in the comments below.

Obviously the challenges vary depends on what stage of development the biotech is in. For Davidson at BioMoti, an early stage biotech, clearly funding is the biggest issue, while for Darrin at Horizon, who have just raised a nice pot of cash, the challenge is more how to spend the money they’ve raised.

This article was featured in the June edition of Drugs & Dealers, Biotech and Money’s exclusive magazine.To get access to 10 other executive interviews like this one and feature articles, download for free the magazine.

Don’t forget to subscribe to get our weekly newsletter, with exclusive advance access to articles, interviews, and executive insight.

Tags :