Cell and Gene Therapy Leadership: Building Successful Teams

Nick Stephens

October 23, 2019

4 Min Read


Image: AdobeStock/tadamichi

Cell and gene therapy (CGT) companies are opening the door to a paradigm shift in medicine. They’re rapidly developing some of the most exciting new therapeutics we’ve seen in decades, delivering meaningful results for patients and changing lives for the better. In the latest RSA Talent Equity report (1), we focus on the CGT sector, looking at the profile of leadership teams that bring the most value to shareholders in this exciting area.

Growing Pressure in CGT
CGT companies face a unique set of challenges. They are subject to short time frames, putting company leaders under high pressure from day one and creating the need for a faster growth strategy dependent on people and money. Management teams need to be built faster and be more broadly based than in purely R&D-focused drug discovery enterprises. We analyzed the profiles of the people at the heart of these companies and how they’ve assembled winning teams that evolve and change over time according to available funding and pipeline needs.

We searched for the most prosperous CGT companies worldwide, both public and private, identifying the characteristics of industry leaders who are bringing value to shareholders. To unlock the winning talent strategies, we studied who is added to the team when, and how leadership team talent changes from one stage to another.

Skill, Talent, Agility, and Diversity
To compete successfully in the CGT space, companies must demonstrate innovative science and the ability to scale up operations by attracting the best managerial, scientific, medical, commercial, and manufacturing talent at critical points in development. CGT management teams must meet two requirements: They must grow fast and retain the breadth of skills that can take them from preclinical R&D through to commercialization.

CGT companies are founded primarily by scientific leaders who bring both research and clinical expertise to the founding team. Our analysis revealed that these people typically remain scientific and clinical leaders from the foundation of the company through to its initial public offering (IPO). Scientific leadership is complemented by managerial and operational executives at every funding stage to build a solid commercial organization. In each funding round, the companies expand their commercial, financial, and legal teams. Regulatory talent is added in the preseed/seed stage and then expanded after the IPO.

We examined the profiles and history of the people who fill the key roles in the most successful companies, analyzing the key characteristics of the top chief executives and financial, operational, manufacturing, and scientific officers. As well as technical and managerial skills, we found that adaptability and agility are crucial traits. Leadership teams must evolve as their companies progress, and they must learn new skills and bring in new people with additional high-level expertise as pipelines reach maturity.

The report revealed some of the biggest challenges facing the CGT industry, including pricing, manufacturing, supply chain transportation and product security. Talent shortages also are a significant problem for the industry, forcing companies to think outside the box and challenge conventional wisdom. It is essential to be creative when building a team: Rather than looking for previous experience in specific indications, ask how agile individuals are and whether they can use their skills in a new environment. This lateral thinking can help solve problems of talent scarcity and the expensive delays they cause. It is important also to think about team diversity. Not everyone needs to be a specialist, and diverse teams are stronger teams.

The Future Looks Bright
We’re just at the beginning of the CGT story, but the future looks promising. The sector has unique challenges to overcome: Pushing forward complex science, scaling up production, and developing new supply channels will be key.
Our survey revealed that a strong balance of science and commercial expertise changes over the lifetime of drug development to bring drugs to patients. Different skills and personalities are needed on the journey. Characteristics such as accountability, agility of mind and attitude, open-mindedness, communicative excellence, and leadership are needed from people in the team. Add to those the necessary scientific, medical, and commercial skills, and it becomes clear why talent shortages are affecting CGT. This sector is surely one to watch in coming years.

1 Talent Equity: Cell and Gene Therapy Report 2019. The RSA Group: London, UK; https://thersagroup.com/our-services/talent-equity/cellgenetherapy.

Nick Stephens is executive chairman of The RSA Group. For inquiries, contact Emma Pickup of Sciad Communications Limited, Amadeus House, Floral Street, Convent Garden, London, UK, WC2 9DP; [email protected]; 44 (0)20 3755 0571.

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