In addition to helping patients, biotech companies need to focus on the commercial potential of their work. Stephanie Bewick at Destiny Pharma outlines her experiences of how a Chief Business Officer maximizes their company’s commercial appeal and lands deals in the biotech industry.
Stephanie Bewick began her career as an academic researcher before spending more than two decades in business development. She has occupied senior positions in biotech companies such as Summit Therapeutics as well as mid-sized pharma firms such as Mayne Pharma. In this time, she has negotiated and closed transactions ranging from the early research phase to late-stage clinical development.
In 2021, Bewick became the Chief Business Officer (CBO) of Destiny Pharma, a UK biotech focusing on novel medicines for infectious diseases.
What led you to take up the role of CBO?
Becoming a CBO is something that happens after a long time of being in business development. I came out of academia after my PhD, which I think a lot of people do. I enjoyed the science, but I actually didn’t enjoy being at the bench. I decided to go into business development in a biotech.
Business development in many large organizations might be conceived as sales. But in a biotech developing therapeutic products, that’s not the case. My first role involved a lot of market analysis, looking at indications such as cancers, stroke, or infectious diseases, and looking at how many patients get that disease. What is the unmet need for those patients? And what are companies developing to meet that unmet need?
What was the transition from academia like?
As a scientist in academia, you say ‘I’ll go off on that tangent, because that’s interesting.’ Whereas in a company you say ‘is there a need for this?’
As a CBO, this is what I drum into the R&D teams: do you think that there is an opportunity here and will it be commercially viable? In the UK, most biotech companies don’t market products. They rely on doing development or commercialization deals with big pharma who then take it to the market, but bigger companies won’t do a deal unless they can see a commercial opportunity.
I think the least intuitive thing was realizing that I had to convince R&D teams to think like that, or clinical teams who aren’t thinking about reimbursement. We all need to think commercially. You need to bring products to the market that will serve patients well and that’s ultimately what you have to keep at the top of your mind. You can’t serve patients well if you’re not developing the right products.
Are there any differences between how you negotiate early-stage deals and late-stage deals?
With an early-stage opportunity, there is a very high risk that the product will fail, so you are unlikely to get a very big upfront payment and there will be a lot more milestone payments down the line that are based on you achieving success at a value inflection point. With late-stage deals, you might have taken a project through phase II. A lot of that development risk has gone away, and there is a much higher chance that it will be successful in phase III, so you want a bigger upfront.
It also depends on the therapeutic area, the technology platform, and obviously IP is important. With the early stage, you’ve got less validation and so you need a very good story behind it, but with the later stage you already have that story, because you’ve got serious clinical data. Yet you’re also hitting that point where to take it to the market, it has to go through very expensive phase III studies. So you need the partner to be able to take that on.
How does a CBO typically interact with other executives in a biotech company?
As a CBO in a smaller company, you have to communicate across all the other C-Suite positions. A CBO doesn’t just make deals; they have to make sure that the company understands why they’re doing it and they have to interact with all those functions including clinical, regulatory, the CEO, the chief financial officer, and investments. In a small company, you get to do a lot.
In a larger company, your teams are so much bigger. You don’t have to have such a heavy hand in making sure that what they are developing is right. I think in a smaller company you get your hands dirty on so many more things, from doing your own market analysis to doing a financial model on a product opportunity and organizing market research to get external validation for the positioning of your product.
What are some of the key qualities that a CBO needs to have?
I think being able to see the big picture. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s very true. Being able to challenge the status quo, and being able to communicate — you have to be able to talk the language of scientists, but also talk the language of investors who may not be specialists. So you have to wear lots of different hats.