The World Cup of Conferences

Posted December 7th, 2018 by Jason Gardner, in Corporate Culture, From The Trenches

This blog was written by Jason Gardner, CEO of Magenta Therapeutics and Liverpool soccer fan, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Nine presentations, three press releases, forty-two satellite meetings. One conference.

Most biotech companies have that pinnacle conference – their soccer World Cup — that represents the venue to showcase the latest new work with the scientific community. For Magenta, that conference is ASH, the American Society of Hematology annual meeting, which is the largest gathering in the world for hematology, oncology and cell therapy with close to 30,000 physicians, scientists, investors, analysts, patients and beyond (here). This year’s event just wrapped up this week and it seemed like an opportune moment to reflect on how we trained for the tournament and how we kept score.

A quick throwback: We launched Magenta to transform bone marrow transplant, gene therapies and CART medicines, at ASH 2016 (launch blog) and presented our first data at ASH 2017. As a newly public company at ASH 2018, we had plenty of additional progress to share, from Phase II clinical data on our stem cell therapy to a series of 5 studies on our targeted conditioning and first line mobilization drugs in preclinical development. We even had back-to-back oral presentations, which was a very special milestone (here).

Rewinding to the start line for the “dash to ASH”. In January each year, we lay out our communications strategy as a company and ask simple questions: what data will we have and when? Which are the best conferences to present each data set? What other Magenta news will we have running in parallel? For ASH, we think about which data sets might be ready to be submitted by the abstract deadline in August and what incremental data we will have for the actual presentations in December. This requires a lot of planning, coupled with some educated guesswork and dosed with a bit of luck, as the science can be hard to predict.

We start with basics and a heavy focus on quality data, including all the critical controls and comparisons to standards of care – the signature of solid science. We have found that preparation needs to be a team sport rather than a solo activity, and the road to a medicine is paved only by these teams. Slide decks and posters are assembled with data sets and first reviewed within the project teams.

The team tactics also involve integration of key scientific and company messages, iterating on how to provide meaningful data sets for all our key audiences, including the scientific and medical community, investors and analysts, reporters and potential partners. We test drive all presentations through a rigorous and constructive review cycle, with presenters initially rehearsing with R&D teams at the company and then onto the fun internal mini-ASH conference at Magenta, where we have an all-company session for oral and poster sessions. This has a dual benefit to be both useful for presenters with early Q&A feedback and helps cultivate an inclusive culture with the whole organization involved and informed on the newest developments.

In parallel, we include a structured external communications strategy, laying out our strategic objectives across each audience and our key messages. These messages become the foundation for all the ASH communications: press releases, investor and business development decks that are closely synchronized, together with a supporting Q&A document for all team members. In the final days before the meeting, the R&D teams are busy developing a game-plan and warming up for which sessions at the conference they will attend. There are assignments to key talks and posters across the teams where they will take notes and debrief the company on key intel in the field. As a biotech company with a limited set of attendees, we need to be focused and deploy our resources in a smart, not duplicative, manner during the massive conference. We also need to be out-and-about at the poster sessions to really get into energetic scientific discussions with collaborators.

During the conference, our teams have numerous satellite meetings with collaborators, clinical teams, investors, analysts and potential new partners.  We are very interested at Magenta in progress from groups working on similar areas in transplant and technologies such as stem cell gene therapy and CART that have made great strides for patients.

Once the final whistle sounds on the conference and we’ve all made it back to our home field, we have a broad meeting with summaries from the program teams. We discuss key feedback we heard on our work, debrief on our meetings with investors, analysts and potential collaborators and integrate this valuable feedback. Finally, we also circulate an internal set of ASH-micro blogs from each attendee: vignettes of their experience with photos, like letters sent home, compiled and emailed to the rest of the company, including the Board of Directors. This is intended to give the team a window into what’s going on and make all Magentini (collective noun for a group of Magenta employees) feel included and engaged with our progress in our mission to transform patients’ lives.

People often ask what’s different in life as a public company, and a couple of key themes resonate in conference culture as a private company, as we were in 2017, and today as a public company. First, we have a virtual Disclosures and Publications committee, which is an agile group of legal, business and comms leadership for final approval of presentations and press releases. This team reviews content by email and in person every quarter and has proved to be a very effective mechanism for speedy communication. We are happy that it was established proactively before going public to evolve to this way of working.

A second, but deeper change has been how we handle dissemination of confidential, material results internally. As a public company, we update our employees on key results at the same time of press releases, to avoid any insider information risks. This type of data disclosure shift as a company grows up can change culture from a time when everyone knew everything in a small and young company, which can now feel quite different and requires coordination.

As a public company we also hosted our inaugural investor event at ASH this year with attendees from many domains, where we reviewed the latest updates and webcasted (here). The companion press releases were synched up with the presentations and a set of individual analyst and investor meetings rounded off a very full agenda, especially as many of these external meetings were at the bookends of the day.

For a science-driven company created with the goal of helping patients, the ASH conference is a highlight of the year, just like the annual Superbowl in America, and the quadrennial World Cup. The value for Magenta goes well-beyond the synthesis of the specific feedback and deeper into the broader programs and strategy. Indeed, we have already integrated ideas from last week’s conference into Magenta, from the design of new experiments to potential collaborations. For a fast-moving company, the significant investment of human capital in our World Cup goes well-beyond just the slides and posters that are presented. It requires committed orchestration, and the planning for next year’s ASH has already begun with plans on what data Magenta would be ready to present, and how we might initiate new collaborations next year with various groups. For us at Magenta, it is really is the beautiful game…… O Jogo Bonito, as Pelé said.

The Magentini playing in their World Cup






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