Leading Within a Biotech Unicorn – Dr. Suku Nagendran : 1

The Emerging Biotech Leader
The Emerging Biotech Leader
Leading Within a Biotech Unicorn - Dr. Suku Nagendran : 1

Being Chief Medical Officer at an emerging biotech company can feel like draining the ocean with a dixie cup. No CMO can fulfill the duties of the medical office alone. Building a solid team is critical.

In this episode, SSI Strategy’s hosts Dr. Ramin Farhood, Vice President of Medical Affairs, and Kim Kushner, Senior VP, spoke with Dr. Suku Nagendran, President of R&D and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at Jaguar Gene Therapy. They discuss the challenges and rewards of being a CMO.

Dr. Negendran was formerly the CMO at Avexis. A gene therapy start-up that achieved unicorn status and delivered a life-saving drug for babies suffering from Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1. He shares insights from his time at Avexis that emerging CMOs can learn from as they navigate the complexities of the current biotech startup climate.

The Takeaway:

  • Always keep the mission in mind. You’re trying to help patients. Stray from that, and you could hurt patients and your company.
  • You can’t know everything, so you need your team's knowledge, openness, and honesty to develop the right solutions for your patients.
  • Regardless of your company’s share price, you must do the right thing. Speak your mind, and challenge others. Courage counts.
  • Trust in partnerships. Outside partners can act as an “angel on your shoulder” to identify gaps.

Diving deeper: 

Dr. Nagendran learned from years of experience at a large corporation that a good CMO must juggle multiple job functions, manage multiple stakeholder concerns, and deliver fast results. The same lessons apply at start-ups like Jaguar and Avexis, but you have to accomplish it with fewer resources. In either case, the most efficient way to get all this done is to build a well-coordinated team around you.

The CMO role is no job for shrinking violets. You need confidence in yourself and the people around you. If you don’t have internal resources, look outside your organization.

For example, clinical development plans for gene therapies typically take about a year to complete. While at Avexis, Dr. Nagendran worked with SSI Strategy, and together, they completed the clinical development plan in 10 days.

That’s the power of finding the right partners within and outside the organization.

Pro tips for Chief Medical Officers

  1. Find your “true North” – be true to yourself, your patients, and your mission.
  2. Remember to be humble; You can’t do it all yourself.
  3. Don’t be shy about asking for help.
  4. Work on self-awareness, know your strong points, and build a network and team to fill the gaps.
  5. Take calculated risks.
  6. Leave time for yourself and your family—a burnt-out CMO is ineffective.
  7. Learn how to manage the dynamics of your leadership team and their diverse backgrounds and personalities.
  8. Manage disagreement, listen, make adjustments, and then make your decision.

Memorable quote: 

“I’m a nobody who became a somebody because of all the people around me.”



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