Confessions Of A Planner

Posted April 3rd, 2020 by Samantha Truex, in From The Trenches

This blog was written by Samantha Truex, CEO of Quench Bio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC. 

I am a planner.  I like to plan most things well in advance; in fact, maybe too far in advance for some. This has often been an asset for me, yet I am pretty sure it can also drive people crazy.  A teenager doesn’t like to be asked for the plan to complete a project that is due in 2 weeks.  A scientist doesn’t always like to think in decision trees to map out the path of possible outcomes from an assay or a study – and from the assay or study after that.

My family does not seem to mind, however, that there is always a next vacation planned.

Except for right now.  There is no next vacation planned right now.

Right now, it is exceptionally difficult for any of us to plan for any future.  I planned and drafted a great piece for this blog; it was about planning. Then I saw Bruce’s excellent piece posted last week – about planning:  Strategic Planning in Biotech During a Pandemic Crisis.  That piece makes the key points I had planned.   So much for planning.  Just as Bruce quoted Eisenhower: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Taking advantage of the very optionality Bruce advises, I’ll take the option to riff off of that blog.  Quench Bio had a board meeting this week.  I had laid out plans for potential 6-week and 4-month impacts of COVID-19 in the pre-board materials with recommendations on how to proceed and maintain optionality.  Then I received an e-mail Saturday evening asking me to add another scenario: 12-month impact.

I must confess: it was one of the few times in my life when I was put off by a planning challenge.   (Another time was when I was asked to model “all of gene therapy” – but that’s a different story.)

Again, I must confess: my first reaction to the request for a 12-month impact model was I don’t want to model that.  I don’t know what will happen over the next 12 months and I don’t really want to consider it.  There are all kinds of trajectories that could happen over 12 months. 

Yet, I knew I could and would do it.  I slept on it and did it the next morning.

In 1989, I took multivariable calculus on the path to an engineering degree.  The professor told us, “To solve an equation like this, we assume an answer in the form of the following…” and then he wrote a complicated formula on the chalkboard.  I distinctly remember wondering how the hell I was supposed to know to assume an answer in that particular form.  Over the course of the class, I realized: after a lot of experience, one can reasonably narrow down to the likely outcomes.

Biotech planning is most certainly a multivariable calculus.  When it’s difficult to plan for the future, we can draw on our experience to narrow down to some likely outcomes.  After sleeping on it and considering the range of possibilities for a 12-month COVID-19 impact, I applied experience, overarching value-driven principles and a will to maintain strategic optionality.  I came up with a 12-month plan and realized that the near-term recommendations for Quench Bio are not much different for the 12-month plan than for the shorter-term impact plans.  That’s good news for us.  That gives us optionality.  It’s a time when the simplicity of a single-program company is an asset.   I realize this is probably not true for larger, more complex firms.  For them, the 3×3 matrix shared in Bruce’s blog is more critical and more outcomes are possible.

So much has been written on this in recent weeks, so I won’t dwell on it but rather just acknowledge that it has been wonderful to feel the camaraderie across the industry and across the globe in this difficult time.   Yes, it’s difficult to plan.  Hell, it’s difficult to focus let alone plan. Yet we are all in this together.  100+ CEOs are now gathering on 7:30am calls organized by the amazing Jodie Morrison of Cadent to help each other plan.  This is just one minor way of the many impressive ways in which this industry is pulling together.

In the last blog I wrote, I ended on a point of maintaining hope in the face of a nation that viewed the pharma industry with very low regard.  I had no idea where we would be now when I said: “I believe we can pull together and continue our quest to understand and harness new biology against those diseases that still challenge real people every day.  Today’s patients are waiting.”  Thanks to the countless efforts of biopharma companies and individuals too numerous to name who are working tirelessly to harness this unexpected biology.

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