Playing To Win: Building A Position Of Strength In Biotech

Posted July 8th, 2021 by Josh Brumm, in From The Trenches, Leadership, Talent

By Joshua Brumm, CEO of Dyne Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC

When I play board games, I play to win. That requires thinking several moves ahead. In the game Risk, for instance, it’s not enough to just conquer Australia. If you want to use the continent as a launch pad to take over the world, you need to design and execute on a long-term strategy.

In the company context, I adopt the same mindset of building to win.

At Dyne, our goal is to build the world’s leading muscle disease company dedicated to advancing life-transforming therapies for people living with genetically driven diseases and their families, and to deliver value for all our stakeholders in the process.  And just as in any good board game, “winning” in biotech requires a long-term strategy. I believe the most crucial step in any strategy is to build an early position of strength. You want to have the assets you’ll need to achieve your biggest goals in place well before you need them. That way, you can execute every step along the way with confidence, knowing that you have the necessary resources and support required to advance.

What does that look like in biotech? Here are a few of the strategies I’ve found most useful to plan for and build that position of strength.

Hire key talent early

This is not as easy as it sounds. We are fortunate at Dyne to have a Board and team that aligned early on the mission and vision of the company and the steps we need to take to execute, including attracting exceptional talent. I know that’s not always the case. Sometimes Board members and even colleagues may push back if you unveil plans to hire a Chief Medical Officer or a Head of Regulatory when you’re still in the preclinical phase. My advice: Don’t take no for an answer. It’s critical to have top-tier talent in place early. These hires will have the expertise to help you think through all those interim steps you need to execute on to achieve your big-picture goals. They will have your back when you hit the inevitable rough patch. Most important, they will be living and breathing your mission and vision, helping to advance the company through the challenging early stages of drug discovery and development.

Hiring for high-value positions early on has two other advantages as well:

First, it gets your investors and other stakeholders thinking about the long-term vision of the company – so they, too, start to focus on what it will take to get to the moment when the top-notch Head of Regulatory you just hired can lead the effort to start filing for global approvals.

Second, it allows you to screen candidates in an interesting way. I prefer to hire individuals who are willing to throw their heart and soul into a mission. Those tend to be exactly the kind of people who will jump at an opportunity to join a startup before there is a full-time need for their specific skill set. They know we will need them soon enough to focus all their energy on medical affairs or clinical development or future product planning, but in the meantime, they are eager to have an opportunity to contribute to the plan and willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to move the company forward. Those team players are invaluable to any biotech. Hiring for big roles early is a great way to get them on board.

Plan aggressively

In biotech, there are a great many things you can’t control. That makes it that much more important to double down on the things you can control.

Hiring great talent is one of those variables you can control. Setting a clear pipeline and business development strategy is also another element you can control. In one of my previous blogs I wrote about the importance of thinking broadly about dilution in building a transformative biotech, including avoiding dilution of focus.  After careful consideration at Dyne, we made the decision early on to focus aggressively on driving our core programs in myotonic dystrophy type 1, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy to the clinic ourselves and not to partner them.  And, while we believe our FORCE™ platform has potential in other areas, including rare, skeletal, cardiac and metabolic muscle diseases, we knew the risks of expanding our pipeline too broadly and too quickly. Instead, we have maintained our focus on preparing for the three INDs we intend to submit for our programs between the fourth quarter of this year and the fourth quarter of 2022.

Three INDs in a 12-month period is an ambitious goal for any company – and we know it’s going to take discipline and execution to do it. We also are preserving the optionality to expand into other areas at the right time in the future. With clear strategy and decision-making, we have created a strong position to continue to build the company.

Seize the moment

You need a long-term business strategy. You also need to be nimble. To achieve a position of strength, it’s often the latter quality that’s most important.

At Dyne, for instance, we thought about our capital strategy and various options so that we could be prepared to seize the moment when it arrived.

Sure enough, we determined conditions were right for a public offering while we were still completing our second round of private financing. Because we had put in the groundwork ahead of time, we were able to execute the two transactions in rapid-fire succession – raising $116 million crossover round in August 2020 and $268 million IPO the following month. That advance prep put us in a strong position to seize the moment when market conditions were right for an IPO.

To carry the example one step further, next we did a follow-on offering of $168 million in January 2021. While we had ample runway from the two financings, we thought it wise to seize the moment to maximize our financial standing and put us in a position of strength going forward.  It’s very important to stay off the typical “capital treadmill” and as I often say, if you are planning to raise money when you need to, you’re probably doing it too late.

A prudent capital strategy fuels the elements I mentioned earlier.  It enables you to make key hires early, not feel pressured to partner valuable programs, and it supports investments across the business that can help put you in the best position for success.

Pay attention to patina

Success attracts success. And it’s therefore essential to make sure your brand, your culture, your company project a positive image – or what I like to refer to as the patina.

This does not mean creating a glossy marketing campaign. Anyone worth having on your team will be able to see right through that type of superficial window dressing. It does mean working hard to build a company with genuinely strong values, an authentically innovative culture and an iron-clad commitment to mission and vision. Build it right, invest resources in strategic communication to get your story out, and the patina will come.

Having a positive patina builds confidence among key stakeholders – investors, board members, collaborators, KOLs, patients, advocates and of course, your own team members. Their support, in turn, puts you in that position of strength you’ll need to achieve your goals.

At Dyne, I believe our patina derives directly from our values. We do what we say we’re going to do. We execute with excellence. As the Dyne Family, we wholeheartedly embrace the principle “one mission, no ego.” Those values are the source of our greatest strength and have given us the launchpad to deliver tremendous value for patients, families and investors. As a result, we’re operating from a position of great strength – which is exactly where I’d hoped to be at this point in our growth. To return to the Risk analogy, we have secured Australia. Now, let’s make our mark on the world.

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