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SBN Mentor in the Spotlight: David Matthews

Sophia Peng - Monday, November 16, 2015

Cody Lo, November 16, 2015.

This month’s Mentor in the Spotlight is David Matthews, current Chief Financial Officer of GenomeDx and experienced senior finance executive in the life sciences industry. With over 20 years’ experience, he has worked in both start up and large multinational companies such as Allelix Biopharmaceuticals (now part of Shire plc) and Aspreva Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Galenica). In these positions, David has formed numerous corporate partnerships and completed a number of public and private financings raising over $400 million for his companies. We got a chance to chat with David about his experiences and thoughts on upcoming biotechnology hubs and advice for life sciences graduates interested in the business side of biotechnology companies.

1) I noticed that the company you're currently at, Genome Dx, is based out of both Vancouver and San Diego. I think most would agree that California is definitely a biotechnology "hub," how does Vancouver compare in terms of opportunities in the biotechnology industry? What other places do you anticipate may become biotechnology "hubs" in the next 5 years?

“The major hubs in North America are Boston and the Bay area.  Even San Diego is viewed somewhat as a secondary hub.  Primarily I believe the major hubs will continue to expand – it is driven by an eco-system that is created by good academic institutions, entrepreneurs with track records, a network of access to capital, and a complete support system of legal and finance expertise.  Vancouver is a very small market in comparison and lack many of these attributes.  The good news is that investors are becoming more willing to look far afield for good opportunities, so good companies should find funding and the necessary support needed to build the business.

The bigger hubs I see forming in the near future are in the European Union.  The US tax system (and tax rates) are driving head offices out of the US and other recent international tax developments will drive more personnel to be relocated to these head offices.  The UK for example, has an excellent track record of commercial products coming from academia and a good financing environment.

There are some other areas where there has been a push by entrepreneurs with support of government to build critical mass.  Seattle has done a good job leveraging some their successes and creating a fertile ground for growth.  In Texas the state is very aggressive in offering funding to companies who will relocate there.”

2) What advice do you have for new life sciences graduates that want to be more involved in the financial side of biotechnology as opposed to R&D?  

“I think there are two ways to move into the business side of life sciences.  One is through the accounting side and these roles, for the right person, can be developed far beyond “accounting” into raising capital, deal structuring and negotiations, business development etc.  For grads with a science background they could consider a sales/marketing role by becoming a Medical Science Liaison, or start in business development by doing technology assessments and competitive landscape analysis.  At the end of the day, as you grow with any company your role will become more and more “business” related.

One other thing I will mention is that for new graduates the excitement of joining a “start-up” can be very appealing.  I certainly understand this, however, small companies don’t have resources or in many cases the skill sets to provide on the job training.  In these situations, you have to be ready to commit personal time to find mentors, read industry journals and (always) ask lots of questions.”

3) You have experience working in both smaller start up companies and larger multinational corporations. Can you comment on some of the differences in company culture or atmosphere between smaller and larger corporations? 

“The one great thing about this industry is that most people are involved first because of their interest in science and in improving patient outcomes.  It is a great common denominator.  The biggest difference between small and big companies is the speed at which they can act.  Small companies have to realize that this is a key competitive advantage to exploit.  The great thing about larger companies is the collective depth of resources and experience held by the employees.  You can learn a lot, quickly in the bigger companies which can be advantageous to your career.”

4) I see here that part of your position at Genome Dx involves collaborating with academic institutions. Can you comment a bit about the role that academia plays in private-sector corporations, especially in the biotech field? 

“Academia is still the seed from which many if not all good ideas and products come from.  In addition, many of these institutions also house the clinicians who are the end users.  Developing strong relationships can be extremely beneficial.  The academic institutions are slow moving so it is important that the company – the commercial enterprise – drive the project timelines.  There is also a real cross section of skill sets in the technology transfer departments.  Some are very sophisticated, they can be good allies for the company, others can be much more difficult.  What most academics are looking for is a true collaboration, they have their own research objectives and taking time to understand these is important as they usually are not contradictory to those of the commercial enterprise and can lead to stronger relationships over the long term.”

Want to ask David a question? David currently serves as mentor in the SBN’s mentorship program! Register here and be paired up with David or another one of our other amazing mentors!

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