At this week’s BIO-Europe meeting, Vaughn Kailian asked his panelists: why don’t biotech’s most innovative executives ever join pharma? But they do, argued back panelist and Merck VP Barbara Yanni: look at Peter Kellogg, who joined the company from Biogen-Idec.
Irrelevant, countered Kailian. Counting money in biotech or in pharma: same thing. What about research?
In fact, biotech CFOs could probably contribute some innovation to Big Pharma, in particular perhaps Kellogg will begin applying some of the lessons of biotech finance to Merck – like figuring out some alternative strategies for financing a broader pipeline.
But Kailian is mostly right.*
Mostly they don't get asked to join. Big Pharma likes to promote from within. Fewer square pegs in round holes. And leaders of large research organizations, goes the argument, need experience in running large research organizations. Which in turn perpetuates the problems of large research organizations.
So should Pharma go after biotech for their R&D bosses? Yes, and for the same reasons it should probably go after their CFOs: a sense of creative urgency. Paul Stoffels, we understand, is forcing his research executives to submit business plans, not budgets (the latter permits spending; the former posits results). And he tapped J&J’s top biz dev guy (a lawyer—no scientist)—Tom Heyman—to run J&J’s discovery (and force into the open arguments about the relative quality of internal vs. external projects).
We don’t know whether Stoffels will be any more successful than his recent predecessors (J&J’s research has been manifestly unproductive). But at least he’s thinking differently. And that’s a good start. [UPDATE: J&J is shaking things up at the top as well.]