The Emerging Biotech Leader

Characteristics of Successful Chief Medical Officers - Dr. Benit Maru

September 19, 2022

At biotech companies, things often evolve at light speed, and the natural tendency of a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) can be to try and manage every detail. But it’s a superhuman task, especially when powerful egos are in play.

This episode of The Emerging Biotech Leader features:

  • Dr. Ramin Farhood, Vice President of Medical Affairs, SSI Strategy
  • Kim Kushner, Senior VP, SSI Strategy
  • Dr. Benit Maru, Senior Vice President, Medical, SSI Strategy

The team recaps Episode 1’s conversation with Dr. Suku Nagendran – President of R&D and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at Jaguar Gene Therapy, and former CMO at Avexis, a gene therapy start-up that delivered a life-saving drug for infants suffering from Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 and achieved unicorn status – about the challenges and rewards of being a CMO.

Anyone in a leadership position or who aspires to leadership will benefit from listening to the conversation.

The Takeaway:

  • You can’t know everything, so surround yourself with a team that can help you achieve the end goal.
  • Courage counts. A CMO must take charge, speak their mind, and challenge others. And be able to take the hits.
  • Understand the dynamics of your leadership team. People on your team don’t always know each other: their backgrounds and strengths/weaknesses. This is especially true for start-ups that are rapidly growing and evolving.
  • Do the right thing for your patients and your company.

Diving deeper:

A good CMO at a biotech company is like the conductor of a large orchestra; they must coordinate each section’s part in the symphony, as well as play to the audience. The conductor can’t play every instrument, and as CMO, you need the self-awareness that you can’t do it all, so surround yourself with people with expertise in areas you don’t have. Strong leadership requires confidence, emotional maturity, and faith in the team around you.

To make the most of your resources, be resourceful. You can outsource specialized expertise to fill stopgap needs rather than onboarding new hires. Especially early on in the development process.

But perhaps the best quote is from Dr. Nagendran: ”I’m a nobody who became a somebody because of all the people around me.”

Challenges for CMOs

  1. It’s tough to admit you need help when trying to step up and take charge. This can be more difficult for younger “up-and-comers” than more experienced CMOs.
  2. Development timelines are truncated and complex; sometimes, expediency wins out.
  3. Investors are looking for ROI, and startups can’t afford to fail, so a CMO must construct a rationale that speaks to the CEO, board, and investors.
  4. You don’t always have time to consider the implications of your decisions, so you will make mistakes. But it’s better to make a few small mistakes than one big one.

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