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Originally published in Ashton Tweed Connection, September 2011
As market conditions and the economy continue to improve, the specialty pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow substantially in the future. According to Bourne Partners’ Specialty Pharmaceutical Industry Update, spending on specialty pharmaceuticals is predicted to increase to more than 40% of total drug spend by 2030. What does it take to succeed in the specialty pharmaceutical business today? During an interview with Ashton Tweed, Jane Hollingsworth – co-founder and chief executive officer of the publicly traded specialty pharmaceutical company NuPathe – shared her industry insights and experiences.
When we spoke to Hollingsworth, NuPathe was on the cusp of its first product approval – a sumatriptan transdermal patch for the treatment of migraine. Founded in 2005, NuPathe focuses on the development and commercialization of branded therapeutics for diseases of the central nervous system (CNS), including neurologic and psychiatric disorders. NuPathe is the second specialty pharmaceutical company Hollingsworth has successfully founded and launched. Before NuPathe, she was the co-founder and executive vice president of Auxilium Pharmaceuticals – a specialty pharmaceutical company that was founded in 1999 to develop urology and sexual health products and went public in 2004.
During our interview, we asked Hollingsworth what she believes are the most important skills and personal traits that helped her achieve success in the specialty pharmaceutical arena. “Persistence, a practical approach, optimism – and the ability to project that optimism to a team,” she answered. “Seeing possibilities and seizing opportunities also are important. They’re around us all the time, but we often don’t seize them.” She also added listening skills and a certain degree of humility to her list of traits that are important for all leaders.
“Persistence is key,” she explained. “But the trick is knowing if you’re just beating your head against the wall, or if you’re chipping away and gradually making progress.”
Developing therapeutic products requires major financing, especially in CNS. Less and less money is going to CNS drug development because of such issues as the number of trials needed, the degree of risk, and concern about the payoff in the end. To overcome this challenge, said Hollingsworth, “We’ve taken a new path in CNS that we believe can mitigate the risk and still bring treatments to patients.” NuPathe has combined an effective active ingredient with technology unique to the migraine market – a patch delivery system. As people who suffer with migraine can attest, the nausea that frequently accompanies a migraine can interfere with oral treatments. That’s why the patch provides a good choice for many patients. “As technology moves forward at a rapid pace,” Hollingsworth observed, “there’s a lot of opportunity for addressing the right problems.”
No matter what stage of pharmaceutical development you’re in, Hollingsworth admitted, financing is always a “massive challenge.” When faced with the financial challenge at NuPathe, Hollingsworth reviewed the options of private versus public funding. After taking a hard look, Hollingsworth determined that the private markets would likely not generate adequate funds to launch, so the company opted to go public.
“If you see an opportunity, you need to seize it and seize it quickly,” said Hollingsworth in describing the biggest lesson she learned raising funds and taking NuPathe public. “You never know what’s going to happen in the future. You can plan, ask experts, but you never really know.” When NuPathe was ready to go public, for example, Hollingsworth and her team considered waiting until the fall season so vacations wouldn’t be an issue. Instead, they decided to push really hard to “seize the moment” and go public during the summer. The timing was right, Hollingsworth noted, as the economy deteriorated in the fall.
In addition to the financial challenges in drug development, Hollingsworth recognizes that managing personal issues is also a major challenge. “We all have a life,” she observed, “and it doesn’t go away while developing a product. The trick is to build a team of individuals who have the skill set to cross over, are interested in learning new things, and can get good at doing them.”
In specialty pharma, the companies tend to be small. Currently at NuPathe, for example, there are about 30 employees. That means there aren’t a lot of extra people around – and every employee matters. When it comes to hiring people, Hollingsworth looks for individuals who would thrive in that type of an entrepreneurial environment. So professionals who have spent their whole career in big pharma, she suggested, should think carefully about whether they’d be happy and successful in a smaller specialty pharmaceutical company.
She also looks for people who really believe in what they’re doing and want to be there. “If you like CNS and appreciate and believe in the migraine market,” she exemplified, “doing your job is much easier.” She added, “Building something out of nothing – and developing a product that is going to really help people and make a difference – is a lot of fun.”
Ashton Tweed would like to thank Jane Hollingsworth for this interview. If your company needs help from members of the Ashton Tweed Life Sciences Executive Talent Bank, we can supply that assistance either on an interim or a permanent basis. Additionally, if you are among the many life sciences professionals affected by the changes in the industry, Ashton Tweed can help you find the right placement opportunity — from product discovery through commercialization at leading life sciences companies — including interim executive positions and full-time placements. In either case, please email Ashton Tweed or call us at 610-725-0290. Ashton Tweed is pleased to continue to present insightful articles of interest to the industry.