“ We need to show rigor, be more thoughtful and creative when developing business in the biotech industry at these challenging times. We must be well crafted and fully prepared.”
Prior to joining Laekna, Dr. Rosenthal was the business development (BD) officer at the Technology Development Group at The Regents of the University of California. What prompted him to move from a multibillion-dollar investment arm to a clinical-stage biotech startup based in China?
Q1 Why did you join Laekna？
A: One of the many things that really attracted me is that Laekna and I share similar values and goals. The chemistry that I had with Chris, our CEO, in the very first conversation was just fantastic. We discussed the path and vision for Laekna, our strategic focus, how we could position Laekna in the global market, and we had almost the same approaches and views. It felt like an open discussion and conversation rather than an interview.
I had more than 10 open, intense conversations with the management team before I joined the company. They were all very receptive and we covered a lot of materials, including some of the challenges and opportunities Laekna was facing at the time.
Clinical-stage biotech companies usually have two or three ongoing clinical trials, plus maybe a couple of preclinical programs. But Laekna is conducting six clinical trials and developing over 10 pre-clinical programs which is highly impressive for such a young company.
One of my career goals was to serve in a senior management position in a company with strong research and development capabilities like Laekna to advance innovative drugs to the market successfully.
I joined Laekna two and a half months later after my first meeting with the management.
Q2 As an American, how do you integrate into a company headquartered in China?
A: Originally my roots are in Israel. Israeli culture has many similarities with Chinese culture. I am also part of the U.S. team. The U.S. culture emphasizes social aspects. The integration of these three cultures is very interesting. I think the most important thing is to communicate productively founded on mutual respect and in person communication.
Every single person on the management team is very humble, open, and receptive. They can be open, listen and make changes even for difficult decisions, and we are all willing to grow and evolve together as a team. Keeping everyone aligned and together is critical, especially when the industry landscape is so complex, challenging, and competitive. I feel that I can really add value to the team.
Q3 People who don’t work in the pharmaceutical industry may not understand BD. Could you share with us the scope of it and why it is becoming more important than ever for drugmakers?
A: At Laekna Therapeutics, I lead the Corporate and BD group. My group's responsibilities span from leading all transactions, strategic partnerships, licensing, search and evaluation, due diligence and commercial strategy and alliance management.
In general, the biotech industry depends on two major forces that are driving business development activities: investors and acquirers. The former, invest in companies they hope will sooner or later be acquired; the latter partner with companies that develop medicines of significant clinical and commercial value. The main issue we are facing recently is that while acquirers were willing to pay significant premiums for drugs which had proven their value in clinical trials, the acquirers and large pharmaceutical companies now want their potential partners, such as Laekna, to prove more than just clinical value and path for approval, but commercial value too.
Now more than before, companies like Laekna need to show their potential partners they recognize the various hurdles that they face, commercially as well. It is on the business development group, along with other stakeholders within the company to show we have a sophisticated understanding of market strategies, commercial challenges, the ever-changing development path to NDA, get closer to a drug launch event, distribution, and pricing. In addition, we need to be able to articulate why Laekna will succeed in a market filled with competitors, whether that competition is direct or indirect.
Q4 What are some of the biggest challenges in BD for biotech companies in the current climate?
A: Today, the competition is significantly fiercer in the biotech industry due to macro economical events and recent changes in the capital markets and biotech sector specifically. Large pharmaceutical companies today can be looking at hundreds of buy-side opportunities per month, instead of just 10 per month in the past several years.
We must be more thoughtful and creative when developing business in these extremely difficult times. Every single email and conversation need to be crafted well and deliver original content. As an example, when my group presents one project to three different companies, I will use three different approaches. This is because I need to really know my audience, understand what their motivations are, and get their attention. I need to really show how Leakna is better positioned than its competition, how we're different and present a compelling development path for our drugs to eventually get approved and be delivered to patients.
One of my favorite quotes is “be greedy when others are fearful” by Warren Buffett.
Q5 What are your life goals? Do you think working at Laekna could help you achieve them?
A: I’ve always wanted to work on something that has impact on people’s lives I knew this when I was only a teenager. I chose to study biotechnology and then molecular biology in university, hoping that I could develop new drugs. When I was in grad school, my mother died of cancer. This has made me more determined than ever to continue this path and obtained my dual PhD degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology, alongside my MBA.
When you work on your PhD project, you could only focus on one project. This was not enough for me. I wanted to oversee multiple projects simultaneously, improve the business environment and help scientists deliver new drugs. At Laekna, I’m part of the executive management team and I am able to help lead the company, influence strategies and create global partnerships. I can help develop innovative drugs to benefit patients worldwide. This would be a meaningful milestone for me.
Q6 Congratulations on the birth of your daughter in July. How do you achieve work-life balance as a father of three?
A:Having three young kids is a blessing, although it is not easy to manage work-life balance as a parent. A rule I give myself to spend quality time together with them every morning before they go to school, then I will try to dedicate a portion of the afternoon or evening before they go to bed. During weekends I spare at least one day to spend with my family outdoors to recharge. My family motivates me and gives me comfort.
It is important to invest time with one’s family. Home is a place that provides us perspective on life. The fact that working from home has been somewhat normalized during the pandemic gave me the opportunity to spend time with my kids that I will cherish for a long time. I'm also encouraged by our ability to continue and develop our careers while caring for our families.
● Book recommendation
《The Four Agreements》
A friend recommended this book to me during the most difficult time of my life. It tells you how to face the ups and downs in life and provides you with tools on how to continue and become a better version of yourself every day.
● Career advice to young colleagues
I would say focus. Being focused is extremely important in our industry. Learn something new every day and share it with others—maybe just something small and it doesn't need to be big, but it could be meaningful to others. We tend to not celebrate our accomplishments enough. I advise everyone to celebrate more, even the small wins. Over time, this will help us overcome difficult times.
A typical day of Guy
Communicating with colleagues in China or partners in Asia
Answering emails and preparing for the day
Working on materials, engage with partners on the East Coast
Calls with colleagues in China or partners in Asia
Wrapping up work and preparing for the next day
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