What it takes to lead a cell and gene therapy company

By Vassia Barba

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/sarote pruksachat)
(Image: Getty/sarote pruksachat)

Related tags cell and gene therapy Management Research Cell therapy

Research shows how cell and gene therapy companies are driven to success despite the talent pool in management still being quite shallow.

The cell and gene therapy market requires leadership skills and knowledge spanning from the raw scientific foundations of academia, all the way to the sophisticated, fully-compliant manufacturing of complex advanced medicinal products.

Transitioning from research and early stage of development to commercial manufacturing is a very challenging process, which cell and gene therapy companies face at the beginning of their advancement.

However, according to the RSA Talent Equity Cell and Gene Report 2019​, “The scientific, clinical, technical, regulatory and commercial challenges are all surmountable if the necessary team of engineers, scientists, investors and executives are available to put it all together.”

The results of the research highlight the importance of combining a wide range of skills in a leadership team and concurrently processing the recruitment choices quickly, due to the short timeframes under which cell and gene therapy companies operate – usually four years from launch until stock market listing.

Cell and gene therapy companies are mostly started by scientific leaders equipped with research expertise, who typically remain with the company through to initial public offering (IPO). Juno Therapeutics, where seven of the founding members had scientific backgrounds, as well as Nightstar Therapeutics, in which both of the co-founders had a scientific background.

Scientific founders then often move to different management roles in the company, according to the dynamic leadership needs during the company’s evolution.

Bobby Gaspar, the CSO of Orchard Therapeutics, and Sander van Deventer, uniQure’s CSO, hold their positions, focusing on the science, after being members of the companies’ founding teams.

According to RSA, 72% of founders come from a scientific or medical background, while 24% of founders possess managerial experience. The need for managerial talent rises as clinical trials advance to a pivotal stage, while regulatory talent is in greater demand during the commercial scale.

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Leaders’ profiles

CEOs in the cell and gene therapy market are often ‘dedicated risk takers’, according to the research, and, unusually for the biotech space, they are members of the companies’ founding teams.

The CFOs are brought on board through different phases of development, as enablers of capital-raising and deal-making, as well as usually being equipped with transactional experience.

In order to contribute to the complex challenges of cell and gene therapy market, the COOs need to be ‘masters’ of integrating data from across the organisation and implement data driven decisions, RSA notes.

Close engagement with the patient care teams is a critical and common skill among the CMOs of cell and gene therapy companies, as they establish the credibility of the company’s R&D plans. The research found that many of the CMOs in the space have a ‘remarkable’ track record of building successful clinical development or research teams.

Finally, the CSOs, the ‘bedrock’ of cell and gene therapy companies, are typically passionate and with a tight grip on the technologies they employ. Most CSOs will have advanced scientific and/or medical expertise acquired through a PhD or MD or, in many cases, through an academic research career.

According to RSA, investors looking at the cell and gene therapy market prefer to partner with management teams that can ‘pivot and adapt’.

This is due to the development complexity involved in cell and gene therapy advancement and the lack of mature companies in the area, which ultimately leads to all of the participants in leadership teams developing new skills alongside the evolution of the company.

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