Elliott Sigal, Bristol’s Former R&D Chief, on Life After Big Pharma

2/25/14Follow @benthefidler

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adjacent to what I was doing before, that I can contribute to, that’s very interesting, and that I want to be a part of? So the small company environment, the patient foundation, the academic relationships with biopharmaceuticals, some of the venture world—those are things I’m trying to capture in my new ecosystem.

X: Why did you choose these first two advisory roles with NEA and Amgen?

ES: [With NEA], I can see a lot of the interesting biotech deals in the early formation/discovery space that I’m used to following, but do so in a very concentrated way, and align myself with a very respectable, very strong venture group that’s made it through the shakeout and has become even stronger. At the other end of the spectrum, Amgen’s senior leadership, including the head of R&D [Sean Harper], wanted to consult with somebody who has been through a lot of battles and has, in their words, “accomplished a lot in a tough environment.” It’s a sweet spot of mine to be able to think about corporate strategy, R&D interaction (with commercial R&D changing over time), business model changes, portfolio analysis. So I’m available to them to do what they would like me to think about as an advisor. Those two platforms [NEA and Amgen] bracket the R&D space. And I’ll carefully pick non-conflicting situations that I think are distinctive in how they can impact medicine.

X: So you have no interest in going back to a full-time job again?

ES: That’s my feeling now. R&D chiefs sometime change their mind—Roger Perlmutter finished 10 years at Amgen, and then jumped to Merck. I considered things of that nature, but at my stage of life, I’d like to pick and choose the people, the projects, and hope my experience helps them do what they’re doing.

X: Why did you choose a gene therapy company like Spark as your first biotech board role?

ES: I was burned by gene therapy as a Big Pharma guy about 15 years ago. Many of us stopped investing and betting on it. It went into hibernation, [but continued on] at places like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which funded what’s turned out to be a very successful program and team [at Spark]. I think what we were missing back then was the identification of good targets that have [since] come out of genomics, plus a refinement of how to deliver gene therapy, where it’s best to deliver it, and how to deliver it with improved viral vectors. All of this kind of came together at the [CHOP]. And instead of licensing all of this [out], the [CHOP] spun out a company. The application of gene therapy to cure blindness in both children and adults in a rare [inherited] disease first—with perhaps a broader application—is, I think, going to be a very important contribution to medicine. I’ve seen the videos of some of these scientists who were at the [CHOP], and now at Spark, essentially enabling a child to see, and to integrate from Braille classes to mainstream schools. It’s quite remarkable. So, I see a pipeline there, a new technology, and an interesting business model.

X: What else do you hope to accomplish professionally with your newfound time?

ES: The ecosystem has several other interesting things going on. One is interaction between academic groups around the country that want to translate some of their science, and keep ahold of it a little bit longer before it goes out for licensing or company formation. And some VCs have shied away from funding that early space. So I find that an interesting challenge. I have not selected what type of advisory role I’d take there, but that’s a possibility.

X: What type of questions are you getting?

ES: I think what I’m getting consulted for the most is, have you seen something like this before? And what have you learned on the regulatory front, the medical front, the interaction with commercial, for example, or when to invest in a discovery program, and things of that nature. The string of pearls initiative…has drawn me closer to the innovative, entrepreneurial world of biotech. And I’ve seen it from the pharma side, and a lot of people want to know, what’s that all about?

X: Through your dealmaking experience at Big Pharma, what were some of the mistakes you’d see small biotechs make?

ES: With the confidence of treading in unknown territories, sometimes comes a little bit of arrogance of what you can accomplish on your own. That’s true for all of us. And I would say the smart biotech leader realizes … Next Page »

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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