Could you share with us an overview of your career?
My career of 25 years started back in the mid-90s as an Investment Banker helping companies from Asia execute public listings in international stock markets and M&A transactions. Upon moving to Switzerland in 2000, I started covering the healthcare sector as a healthcare banker.
As a coverage officer, I was responsible for the mid cap companies both in pharmaceutical and medical devices. Over the next decade, I builtrelationships with many healthcare companies globally advising on and executing their strategic financing and M&A transactions.
Afterwards I co-founded and led Sirius Healthcare Partners, a healthcare advisory boutique in 2009 just after the financial crisis to focus on advising emerging healthcare companies.
In April 2018, I took on the role as COO of a Swiss/Israeli biotech, Novaremed, which was my first operating experience. I was promoted to CEO a year later. I led a team of scientists that was developing a drug for diabetic neuropathy. I raised roughly CHF 12.5 million of private financing and USD 50 million SSF facility with GEM, a US-based alternative asset manager. I also negotiated term sheets with six pharma companies for regional partnering.
At the end of January 2021, I stepped down as CEO. Since March 2021, I have been working as a consultant with a few Swiss biopharma companies advising on corporate finance and BD projects.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy the variety of roles that I’ve had, and I’ve always been very fortunate to be thrown into projects which are complex, interesting and where I was least prepared. I enjoyed being involved in helping companies solve their strategic problems, successfully in most cases and that’s what keeps me going. I like the variety and I enjoy working in the healthcare sector because it’s very innovative.
From my experience of being on both sides of the table, before on the advisory side and now on the operating side, what I like about the job is that you advise and then execute. I enjoy execution as I am a very hands-on and like to see the results of my advice at the end of the day.
Do you miss your time working as an investment banker?
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Working in investment banking, in a very deadline-oriented environment where perfection is necessary gives you a lot of education and training. There is no room for error and it’s highly competitive, so you must be good at what you do. But I didn’t like the politics that pervades these large banks.
Having worked with larger companies in investment banking, then working with smaller companies in a boutique environment really prepared me for taking the operating roles that I’m doing right now. I wouldn’t have appreciated what I needed to do to be successful in an operating environment if I didn’t have those experiences. So for me, it is a logical extension of my career from a healthcare banker to a healthcare corporate executive.
What is it like advising and working with scientists without a business background?
I think there are two types of scientists – one that are deeply interested in science but not interested in business. This is an easy group to manage as they rely on you to do the things that they don’t know how to do.
The second type of scientists are more challenging to work with as they profess to know something about the business but they’re not good at it, but they still try to impress upon you. You just have to be diplomatic in your approach and make them feel important and a part of your decision making process.
Can you share the differences working with Americans vs Europeans and Asians?
I don’t want to generalize because every individual is unique, but I think by and large, I would say the Americans are much more pragmatic. They are straightforward and very focused, razor sharp on the commercial aspects. However, I feel they lack the global experience.
With Europeans, some prefer to remain core to their roots while there are those who are more open and seek to go out there, embrace the world and be more diverse. I think they are the more interesting people to work with.
Asians are very opportunistic. Ambition makes Asians very resilient and are very interesting people to work with.
You’ve done and seen so much and this big deal that you’ve just done before you left your last ROLE. Any other highlights to share?
For companies which are in the life sciences space, which have constant need of financing and to stay ahead of the competition, they need to be open-minded. They need to have an approach where their companies are profiled, way ahead of the time when they need to raise financing or do a M&A/BD deal.
In my experience, many companies simply just don’t do it enough. If they aren’t able to do this internally, the management team and the board need to seek out external advisors’ support.
The cold calling approach some companies use may not work. It is after all a people’s business. Whatever you do, whether you have an asset or a product, all deals get done between people, not between companies. It’s very difficult to convince a person about the value of an asset by cold calling, either by the management or by their advisors. Building relationships within the ecosystem is key to future success.
Imagine you’ve never heard from me, but someone tells you, you should do this deal because it’s a great asset to have – it normally doesn’t work. Start talking to people and build relationships early on. One day, use those relationship to say, I’m ready to do a deal. Let’s talk. The chance of getting traction then is much higher.
Would that be your biggest advice to life science entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself not only with a good asset but also good people. As much as you want to be asset focused in this industry, the people focus is key. When an investor looks at a company, the first thing they do is to go on the website and see who are at the helm of the company. If they do not recognize a single person in the company, the chance of them investing in the company is very small.
Therefore, I keep on emphasizing on building that core team. Not only the management level, but also at the board level – those who can add value, not to run the company on a day-to-day basis, but to help with the company raise its profile by their presence, which then attracts other people to join the company. I think that’s the leveraging effect that you need to drive a good asset forward.
How different is it to work in this industry now versus 20 years ago?
I think 20 years ago, the number of companies doing cutting-edge innovation work were limited. It was primarily focused on big Pharma and companies which are more established. I would say over the last 10 to 15 years, the entire biopharma sector has exploded. Smaller companies are doing innovative work, razor focused on what they do.
By law of averages, if you work with a big sample size, you know, something will work. Whereas for a biopharma company, they mostly work with one drug, their life depends on that drug’s success and failure. I think that also brings their motivation to really hone their expertise into that drug. And then once that drug reaches a certain development stage where the risk/reward aspects are more visible, that’s when it gets interesting for large pharma for partnering/acquisition.
As the large pharma business model has largely turned from internal R&D to in-license or acquire products, it makes sense for smaller biopharma companies to focus on basic research and early-stage development. Late-stage development and commercialization should be left to large pharma who are infinitely better resourced and more capable.
Anything else to add?
This entire life sciences ecosystem works if everybody puts in their efforts. Being an advisor myself, I personally think that the companies under appreciate advisors’ contributions. As you need your clinical team, finance team and your board, you also need advisors. Advisors bring expertise and best practices from their experiences of advising different companies which can be invaluable if one doesn’t have those skills and expertise in-house.