June 19, 2017

It's All About Relationships

BD&L Highlights from BIO Day One - Lessons Learned from Decades in Biotech Business

It sounded as though Jeremy Levin - one of the most influential people in the biopharmaceutical industry - was about to tell everyone a secret. He shared what he considered his most valuable trait when negotiating a deal.

“Know more about the person sitting across the table then they know about themselves,” said Dr. Levin, Chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics Inc. He, along with three of the biggest dealmakers in biotech, shared their advice to a standing room-only session at the 2017 BIO International Convention in San Diego, CA yesterday.

“You must put yourself in their place emotionally, you must put yourself in their place economically, you must put yourself in their place strategically,” Dr. Levin said.

Levin helped transform a failing Bristol-Myers Squibb in the early aughts, by developing and leading its "String of Pearls" strategy of alliances, partnerships and acquisitions.

The session felt like a fireside chat with a group of old friends sharing childhood stories, only they were the leaders in the industry responsible for billions of dollars in transactions.

Bio 2017

Plays Well with Others: Lessons Learned from Decades in Biotech Business Development, was moderated by Nina Kjellson, a partner with Canaan Healthcare, where she focuses on early-stage investments in biopharmaceuticals and digital health.

Ms. Kjellson led a lively discussion that often broke into funny anecdotes about the deals that fell through and the ones that were wildly successful.

Faheem Hasnain, Chairman of Tocagen Biosciences and Sente Inc., talked about the time “Company L” was interested in acquiring Facet Biotech, where he was President and CEO from 2008 until 2010.

“I got a call from our banker, ‘expect to see an offer tomorrow in this really nice range that will make you all happy,’” Mr. Hasnain said.

But instead, the next day the same banker called and said “‘the deal was off.’”

“Turns out it had not been properly socialized by the CEO,” Hasnain said.

It was Hasnain’s “aha” moment.

“The company was a black box to me because I allowed my banker to actually deal with the company,” he said. And he hadn’t formed relationships with the senior officials of the company - people he could have called upon to try and salvage the deal.

Hasnain never made the same mistake again.

“It’s all about the relationships.”

That was the theme among all of the panelists.

“Is this a person I can trust? Is this a person I can go to dinner with,” said Paul Sekhri, President and CEO of Lycera. Mr. Sekhri said business development can't all be learned, there are so many intangibles, such as the ability to connect with people.

And, there's curiosity.

“Personally, that has kept me going,” Georg Golumbeski, Executive Vice President at Celgene, said.

“That moment you’re at your first or second meeting with a company and you realize this could really be a transformative drug,” Dr.Golumbeski said.

“I don’t have a formula for this. One knows it when you see it or smell it.”

All of the panelists agreed, in the end it’s what motivates them, knowing they are contributing to something bigger, medicines that change the lives of people.

More than 16,000 people from 76 countries will attend BIO over the next few days, and are expected to engage in at least 35,000 one-on-one partnering meetings.

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