After two years of virtual Get To Know Your Neighbors, GTKYN 2022 was finally in person. It was great to see vendors and attendees in person at JOYA Kitchen while servers passed around delicious hors d’oeuvre and the bar served wine and beer.
The traditional 30 second pitch featured Kyle Kimmer of Scaled Solution Technologies, Rico Solano of Eutheria Bio, Daniel Gong of BioPioneer, Luis Jimenez of Pharmalex, Patrick McConville of Invicro, and Coleman Murray of Ferrologix.
The keynote speaker of GTKYN 2022 was the CEO of Avidity Biosciences, Sarah Boyce. Sarah started out by saying that she is the least academically qualified CEO in the life sciences industry. She does not have an advanced degree, is not a scientist, and has never started a company from the ground up: she is not an entrepreneur but a builder. One of her college professors was pretty worried about Sarah’s career and was pleased to learn that she decided to get into sales instead of science. Although she did not have a plan, her extrovert character was a good fit for a sales job, and she enjoyed the free car that came with it and the good salary.
Her main responsibility at Novartis was the sale of Rituxan. This came with some challenges, like when Rituxan was held in customs in the UK because it was on the same shipment with Rohypnol, the date rape drug. So, she went down to Dover to try to release the drug.
Over the years, she worked for big pharma companies in four different Countries and got an MBA at Columbia University sponsored by her job. When she was contacted by Avidity, she decided to accept the opportunity. Avidity had been founded a year earlier to use nanoparticles for the delivery of therapeutic substances outside the liver. This technology did not work well; however, the antibody oligonucleotide conjugates (AOC) were promising. Thus, the company pivoted, and it is now in the clinic with RNA-antibody conjugates for rare diseases, including myotonic dystrophy type 1, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), and Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD). This is a testament to the importance of following the science and pursuing what is scientifically sound, even if it takes you in a different direction from what you had initially envisioned.
In the orphan drug space, the price is less important than reimbursement; payor reimbursement comes easy for a transformative drug. In fact, if the patient population is small, a high price tag is not going to break the payors’ bank. Sarah knows this first-hand, as she worked at Alexion on eculizumab (Soliris), a truly transformative drug for certain ultrarare diseases.
As a CEO, one is only as successful as the team they lead. Sarah joked, “I am not good at anything, so I ended up being the CEO!” CEOs need to believe in what they do, dream big, and inspire people. Culture is important, and it can unravel quickly when the company grows. Thus, it is important to pay constant attention to the company culture. Technologies and molecules are important, but it is the people who build the company. As people represent the most important asset of any company, allow them to be comfortable with not being perfect and making mistakes. Avidity has a clear focus on people, but does not write it on the walls. If you need to put the company values on a wall, it means that people do not remember them!
The people focus at Avidity is evident when you first enter the building. The nice and welcoming space represents a very visible way to say: we value you. Nobody has an office, and people can claim spots or move from one place to another. This agile space suits some people better than others, and that is perfectly OK.
It is important to have diverse perspectives in teams and boards. Although it is easier to deal with people who think like you and agree with you, it is important to see different point of views and be humble.