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Originally published in Ashton Tweed Connection, April 2012
In 2005, Nick Spring cofounded Topaz Pharmaceuticals — a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing treatments for the pediatric and dermatology markets. As President and CEO for 5 years and a board member throughout, Nick successfully led Topaz through multiple rounds of financing, preclinical to Phase III trials, and a new drug application. Then, in 2011, Sanofi Pasteur acquired Topaz, which generated significant returns for investors. What are Nick’s secrets to success? That’s what we set out to discover during a recent interview with Ashton Tweed.
In 2004, Nick left his Executive Director position at Merck & Co. USA, where he was leading the global marketing and sales for several vaccine brands. As Nick describes, he got “ahead of the wave of change” in the pharmaceutical industry to do his own thing — cofounding Topaz Pharmaceuticals.
Nick attributes the fundamental success of Topaz to identifying and meeting an unfulfilled market need. Topaz Pharmaceuticals’ primary product was a new treatment for head lice, which came at a time when other products on the market were no longer effective due to resistance. So under Nick’s direction, Topaz developed a topical cream formulation that repurposed an endectocide — ivermectin — which had been used safely in animal and human health for more than 25 years. Derived from a naturally occurring soil organism, ivermectin selectively bonds to certain ion channels in invertebrates’ nerve and muscle cells — but does not cross the blood/brain barrier in mammals. This in turn increases cell permeability, resulting in the flaccid paralysis and death of specific parasites, including head lice.
Nick was able to obtain a “high level of investment,” taking the new lice treatment from preclinical through Phase III trials and NDA submission. Subsequently the company was acquired by Sanofi Pasteur. Now to be marketed under the brand name Sklice®, the topical treatment for head lice was recently approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of head lice infestation. A single 10-minute application of the lotion effectively treats a lice infestation, which estimates show affect between 6 and 12 million children aged 3 to 11 years in the United States annually. “And the treatment even leaves hair soft and bouncy,” adds Nick, thanks to the olive-oil component of the formulation.
Which personal traits have been key to Nick’s success in the pharmaceutical arena? “The ability to embrace and enjoy change,” he answers. Sure, he admits he’s entrepreneurial and highly motivated, too, but Nick believes adaptability is the most important trait needed to succeed today. While many people look at the changing pharma landscape and only see downsizing, Nick takes a more positive outlook, describing the industry as “morphing into a new self.”
Topaz is a perfect example of the new type of specialty pharmaceutical companies evolving over the last several years. Nick ran Topaz as a “virtual company” with a core team of six people who oversaw the operations. Although the company was headquartered in Horsham, PA, each of the main staff typically spent only a couple of days a week in the office, gathering for weekly staff meetings and to report significant progress. Nick also points out that tools such as Skype and GoToMeeting came in handy for communicating on a regular basis with key suppliers and vendors.
Having a great team is paramount to the success of any company. When building a team, Nick says he evaluates people holistically, looking for such traits as creativity, curiosity, demonstrated problem-solving skills, a realistic view of their own abilities, a good work ethic, and a glass-half-full attitude. He also looks at candidates’ track records for both successes and failures. “I like to see people who have experience with both,” he observes. “I’m skeptical if they have no failures. That means they probably didn’t try.”
Global experience is also a plus for professionals in the life sciences industry today, Nick observes. Throughout his career, Nick worked in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, as well as the United States. He believes candidates who can demonstrate they are worldly and possess multicultural knowledge have an advantage. Citing Topaz as an example, he notes that the company was involved with many different professionals and experts from around the world, including Macau, South Korea, and Portugal, and eventually sold to a French company.
Nick credits Ashton Tweed for helping him find the right team for Topaz. “Ashton Tweed’s executive talent bank is a great at idea at the right time,” says Nick. Because of the wave of change in the pharmaceutical industry, there are many highly experienced, top-level talent with proven track records looking for new career opportunities. With the help of Ashton Tweed, Nick was able to build an effective team — meeting both his and his team members’ needs — whether on an interim or a permanent basis.
Nick’s latest venture is Rainbow Pharmaceuticals Inc. — a company that will be primarily developing sales of FDA-approved products in the pediatric and dermatology space. The company is still in an early stage, but as it grows, Nick says he will again turn to Ashton Tweed for help in meeting his staffing needs.
Ashton Tweed would like to thank Nick Spring 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.
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