By Bob Clarke, CEO of Kinaset Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC
As I ride the Amtrak towards New York City for a series of meetings on Park Avenue with bankers/analysts, face-to-face (F2F) meetings are back as part of my normal routine.
However, the routine certainly has some new facets spawned from our collective experience over the last 3 years. As I read Ankit’s recent blog about hybrid work at Spero and Aoife’s about the rituals of JP Morgan, it seems we all are perhaps re-learning a new world of business travel, the importance of F2F meetings, and opportunities to use hybrid models to maximize efficiency and sensitivity to those who might not be ready for F2F. As we all navigate our own concerns and comfort levels in a world where COVID-19 seems here to stay with influenza and rhinovirus (among others), our world is forever different but steadily moves towards our own personal new normal.
I know most everybody is back to some level of travel/conference attendance. For me, the recent weeks have felt like a return to some degree of road warrior status and it has been an interesting journey (pun intended) with some new wrinkles thrown in. Since mid-December, I have traveled domestically or internationally for business on a weekly basis. As we have advanced our P1b trial in asthma at Kinaset Therapeutics, we have arrived at one of those critical points in our journey. A clinical data readout. The currency by which all our drug development efforts are measured as we work to bring something we hope will improve the lives of patients. In our case, so far so good with a promising safety profile and a signal of pharmacological engagement that supports the clinical premise of our lead program.
Onto the road we have gone for team meetings, business development discussions, BOD meetings, JP Morgan, clinical advisory board, and socializing our story with the financial side of our biotech ecosystem. With Kinaset Therapeutics literally emerging as the pandemic was just starting, I’ve had 3 years off from this kind of travel schedule and it certainly has taken some reacclimitization. With our very small team of 5, travel is a necessity as we work to get our story out there. Particularly as others move back towards business travel and some preference for F2F meetings again.
Thrusting back into travel mode has not been without its perils. In late December following a trip abroad, I managed to pick up an upper respiratory something that took two rounds of antibiotics to subdue. It wasn’t COVID-19 (multi tests), it wasn’t flu (vaccinated and wrong symptoms), but it sure wasn’t fun. Some sort of rhinosyncytialparaflu crud that I certainly didn’t miss through the 3 years of infection-free time of mask/social distancing/remote. And as I’m sure many experienced with me, traveling back from JP Morgan on the day of the FAA computer shutdown was a great reintroduction to the travel snafu. And perhaps most fun, I arrived in London from New York City to find that an enterprising NYC friend had “borrowed” my credit card number and was on an internet shopping spree.
[INTERESTING TIP: Not a great feeling to arrive in London to find credit card was hacked. Good news is AMEX was up to the challenge. Because I physically had the card, they were able to partially cancel meaning no more internet or swipe purchases could be made but I could use the card as long as I used the chip tap which was very helpful across the Atlantic. So if this happens to you, don’t immediately cancel card.]
Despite the challenges and full schedule, the chance to meet with people F2F has been a refreshing return to a feeling of normalcy. While I’ve enjoyed the oddities of Zoom calls with interloping children and howling dogs (my own included), the chance to connect with people in person again has been very uplifting. Perhaps fist bumps will now do where handshakes/hugs once were we the norm, but in-person dialogue is still a very satisfying way to communicate with our fellow humans. Particularly when there is data to discuss. JP Morgan was really the embodiment of this return to the “ritual” as Aoife so elegantly summarized.
While I’ve been lucky enough to meet and reconnect with many colleagues F2F in person in recent weeks, there is still great benefit to expanding those conversations via hybrid means like Zoom. The good part is we’ve all become acclimated to video calls, virtual hand raises, and being certain to monitor the chat bar for additional input. Second nature to us all now.
A good example of the power of the F2F/hybrid combo is a recent clinical advisory board meeting Kinaset held. A couple of takeaways that I hope others might find helpful. 1) We were able to convene the majority of our CAB in person which was important to stimulating dialogue and getting that back-and-forth going between the KOLs. 2) The chairman of our CAB was in the room. This allowed for seamless solicitation of individual opinions as we surveyed answers on key questions. 3) We had two CAB members join via hybrid. This allowed them to participate in what otherwise would have resulted in a travel conflict. Two was a great number as there was not too much Zoom call “talking at the same time” interference while allowing the CAB members to fully engage. 4) And for those that could attend in person, we were able to have a very nice, comfortable dinner after the CAB that allowed for nice old-fashioned social interaction which made the travel and F2F even more worth it.
So, as we continue in 2023 towards warmer weather, key upcoming scientific conferences for Kinaset, BIO in June in Boston, and beyond, I hope we all might continue towards expanded opportunities to meet F2F and share our scientific and business insights in our still challenging (but still strong) biotech market. I will only recommend we all avoid balloon travel in the US for any of our upcoming meetings.