Like so many seasoned industry professionals, we eagerly seek thought leader perspectives — on the current biopharma industry landscape; the investment strategies purported to be in play; and (of course) the likely true impact of the Inflation Reduction Act in both the near- and mid-term.

As leaders in our own domains, it is essential that we hear and understand diverse but experienced points of view. Only then can we define appropriate strategies that will help weather the markets, inform decisions, and incorporate recommendations that balance risk while positively impacting patients.
Within our narrower scope of commercialization in early- and mid-stage biopharma companies, we recognize that we (all of us) are the experienced leaders that can provide a well-informed point of view on the strategies, decisions, and actions needed.
Recently, I was honored to moderate a Corval webinar on “Biopharma Survival Amidst Uncertain Times.” Our use of the word “survival” was not an accident. We know that when encouraging executives to adopt a “commercialization mindset” early in the development of their asset and invest in the critical path areas, we need to be sensitive to the pressures these executives are under and advise them wisely.

Many useful insights emerged from the event. Two subtopics were especially interesting…

#1. Talent and Human Capital Strategies

Of the multiple definitions of Human Capital, the simple focus on TIME, TALENT, and ENERGY to boost productivity and align with workforce needs seems to be most relevant during uncertain times. Our webinar highlighted the following considerations in the early- to mid-stage company:

  • Assess the appropriate profile, timing of headcount additions, and optimal balance of internal hires vs. outsourced capabilities — especially if looking to stage-gate or safeguard the plan.
  • Be aware that big pharma experience in commercialization and launch planning does not necessarily translate to success in early-stage biopharma. The scale at all levels is different.
  • Choose consultants and partners who share the same understanding of the uncertainty and pressures, as well as the same values and need for innovation under constrained budgets and limited capability scenarios.
  • In early-stage companies, it is important to hire people who are experienced and flexible enough to wear many hats.

This last bullet is especially critical. But what does it mean to be a person that wears many hats, and how do you hire (or become one of) them? In my view:

  • They can perform at both the strategic AND tactical levels.
  • If they are not someone who defines the strategy, they spend time understanding it and how it applies across the organization. 
  • They take initiative and communicate effectively. They get sh#t done.
  • They are not afraid to learn new areas and build enduring relationships across the organization. 
  • They are a “heads up” persona, not a “heads down only” individual.
  • They are unafraid of learning new things and getting “into it” to solve problems.

#2. Avoid Wasted Time and Resources

A few years ago, at a team vision-planning session, I asked the participants to share their best Dilbert about the company where they worked (the one paying for the workshop). As you would expect, the examples shared of waste, inarticulate communications, and poor decision-making were soberingly hysterical. But don’t smirk too much — they may have been speaking of you or your current organization! 

The topic remains relevant. When we asked our panelists and others during webinar prep for thoughts on how to reduce waste in early- and mid-stage biopharma companies, I expected financially-oriented answers: negotiate lower prices, do less, delay spending, etc. What was fascinating was that the answers were mostly “human capital” in nature:

  • Get clarity on roles, responsibilities, and deliverables — including interdependent activities across workstreams and functions.
  • Use technology to facilitate efficiency and enable:
    • Maintaining a single source of truth
    • Alignment of assumptions across functions and silos
    • Efficiency of communication
    • Real-time viewing of the status and progress of all workstreams and activities
    • Avoiding duplication of work already completed
    • Coordination to ensure that work is accomplished during the expected timeframe, avoiding unnecessary repetition and wasted resources
    • Maintaining historical documentation — including all documents, decisions made, and work accomplished — to protect against wasted time and resources in case of personnel turnover
  • Ensure clarity on the purpose of an initiative, including what is IN scope and what is OUT of scope, so it doesn’t morph into an unrecognizable large-scale project for a company with constraints.
  • Ask these questions:
    • Do we need this now?
    • What is the risk (added cost) if we delay this decision?
    • What decision, process, and goal will be informed by this work?
    • Do we have the bandwidth to incorporate the outcome of the work?

Final Thoughts

In practice, these two topic areas are intermingled. Bringing on the right multi-hat-wearing individual, whether by hiring a person or engaging an outside consultant, may reduce the need for numerous individual contributors. Further, the right person can prioritize efficiency regarding HOW things get done.

Overall, and as we continually strive to have an impact and manage constrained resources, we need to optimize the TIME, TALENT, and ENERGY of our human capital. We need to empower them to avoid waste in our commercialization approaches, ensuring that we reach the patients who will benefit from our work.