Comment: Effective leadership and its effect on the drug discovery industry

Across the drug discovery sector, we continuously witness evolution. Many would argue that both the ability and the willingness to adapt and experiment is what drives the industry forward, which was demonstrated on a global scale during the Covid-19 pandemic when empty buildings became laboratories and the global population became participants in one enormous clinical trial. DDW’s Megan Thomas agrees with this sentiment but also believes that what fuels this drive is effective leadership to guarantee momentum in the future.

Biden’s $2 billion biotech boost

Earlier this month, The Biden Administration announced plans for a $2 billion funding package for the biotechnology and manufacturing sector, to ensure a ‘sustainable, safe, and secure American bioeconomy’.1 The announcement detailed funding initiatives aimed at fostering ‘homegrown innovation and R&D, boosting domestic manufacturing capacity, creating a sustainable pipeline of next-generation biotechnologists, and strengthening supply chains.’ Ultimately, this sort of leadership equips countries, in this case the US, with the potential for competitiveness in biotechnology internationally. This competitive edge is vital, especially when you consider that in China, the public R&D investment in biotechnology increased from $26 million in 1986 to $99 million in 2005, and reached US$3.8 billion over the period 2008–20202.

Customer-focused leadership

UK-based H.E.L Group has developed and manufactured scientific instruments and software since 1987 for the chemistry, safety, and biotech industry, ensuring its customers can optimise the efficiency, safety, and productivity of critical processes in the lab. The company’s leadership team highlighted the importance of customer-focused leadership.

Alan Lockley recently joined H.E.L from Anatune, where he was Managing Director. He said: “My career has shown me that for a business to be successful, it is crucial for it to focus on the customer. This is one of the main drivers for me in taking up the role as Director of Global Services and to lead customer services. H.E.L is a customer-focused organisation that adapts based on our customer’s actions, feedback and technical requirements. That’s a sound foundation for us to build scale and value in the business over the coming years.”

Lockley is joined on the leadership team by Edward Quinn, a scientific and technical product development leader, with over 12 years of management experience. According to Quinn, it is still early days regarding the changes he hopes to see and make in the H.E.L product pipeline. Quinn says: “It goes without saying, but the products we develop must be aligned with our overall corporate objectives and support our global growth initiative. We have some very exciting plans at H.E.L and our new product pipeline will be key to successful delivery.”

Mark Appleton has over 30 years’ experience at H.E.L, having joined the company as a Development Manager and progressing to his most recent role as Director of Product Development, leading the design and development of the company’s products and services. It is clear that Appleton’s knowledge of H.E.L’s key markets, customers and core technologies influence how he plans on leading the company. He said: “I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time with our customers during my tenure at H.E.L. From early discussions through to support and trouble-shooting, I get a huge kick from being able to work at the ‘sharp end’ of science, where researchers are really pushing the limits. Working closely with our customers, I get a very granular and practical understanding of not only what they are trying to achieve, but also the reality of how they are going about their work and the challenges faced.”

Diversity and inclusivity

There is a significant difference between effective leadership and effective management. While the latter ensures organisational productivity and cohesion, the former paves the way for growth and expansion. It is uncommon to find anyone who opposes this sentiment, but it is important to spotlight those making active efforts to ensure it is achieved.

Jessica Woodgate and Molly Edwards head up the drug discovery and development space at SciPro, life sciences recruitment agency – they were also the founders of the Women in Discovery round table in February and August 2022. When speaking to DDW for the Summer 2022 issue, Woodgate said: “We felt it was important to provide a new avenue for female pioneers to come together.” This is just an example of the sort of future-facing attitude that will continue to keep the industry striding forward. Another such example can be found on the DDW App, where Reece Armstrong spoke to Anca Ciobanu, Consultant and Strategic Theme Lead at the Pistoia Alliance, about its Women in STEM pilot programme and some of the barriers women face for progressing through the life sciences sector.

By continuing to follow leaders who are working to make sure the industry is more inclusive, the entire pipeline is strengthened. This is not just in terms of the sort of innovation that can be achieved through multiple perspectives, but also in the results we see in clinical trials, for example. When speaking to CEO and Founder of Egality Health, Annette Crosse, the value of diversity in health research was clear. Crosse said: “If we are only working with a segment of the population, we only have a small part of the picture. Working with a diverse range of people will mean rich data sets and new insights on how conditions effect different people, and how effective treatments are.”

Companies to watch

In line with this championing of leadership, let’s take a look at some leadership decisions that have been made recently within the industry.

DEM BioPharma, an oncology company developing therapies that target signals on cancer cells and macrophages to eliminate tumors, established its C-suite and scientific leadership teams with the appointment of Nenad Grmusa as Chief Executive Officer and Christophe Quéva as Chief Scientific Officer. The company simultaneously announced the prior appointment of Loise Francisco-Anderson, Ph.D., as SVP and Head of Biology. Jan Skvarka, Executive Chairman of DEM Bio, said that these three leaders’ combined expertise in immuno-oncology, drug discovery and development, business development, and R&D portfolio management ‘will be critical to our team as we progress DEM Bio forward’.

Flagship Biosciences, a spatial biology and biomarker analytics service, hired Tom Turi as their new Chief Scientific Officer. “He will be essential in driving our scientific strategy along with growing our scientific leadership and expertise,” said Trevor Johnson, CEO at Flagship Biosciences.

Brian Quigley will take over as CEO of Respira Technologies after working as Respira’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the past two years, while biopharmaceutical company TikoMed has announced two new appointments to its Board of Directors as the company focuses on its ILB drug program. It will be interesting to see how these appointments influence how the companies progress.



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