OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing the launch of their survey into gender diversity in biotech leadership, Karl Simpson, CEO of Liftstream, explores the field of executive life sciences leadership in Europe.

In pursuit of scientific progress aimed at improving healthcare for society, the industry has gone global. Yet despite the inexorable drive towards globalisation, greatly aided by the digital age which has unlocked the knowledge of the developing world, local ecosystems too have flourished. The dynamism and connectivity of clusters and their combined capabilities have been essential in achieving much progress in the life sciences industries.

The fact that life science companies have clustered in this way is a highly significant feature of the sector. The most evident example of how these clusters have been such hotbeds of collaborative innovation is evident in Boston, MA – where the collection of assembled participants has been both progressive and impressive, largely eclipsing the efforts of others. One critical feature which continually dominates many discussions at the investor level, at least in Europe, is the lack of leadership and entrepreneurial talent required to create, build or turnaround aspiring innovation companies in areas like biotech and medical technology. The pool remains shallow and heavily fished.

So what of this ‘limiting factor’? Well, Europe has been incredibly successful in research, including translating this research to the clinic. Where the competitive deficiency comes, is in the number of truly successful ventures which have effectively achieved highly valuable outcomes in terms of successful exits (for investors) and in particular, created businesses of sufficient scale and value which remain independent of large pharma. This function of the talent marketplace and the competition for executives creates distinct challenges for the aspiring bioscience clusters. These clusters need to be highly capable of attracting the ‘world’s best’ executives. For that to happen, the ecosystem needs to generate continuous opportunities.

A look at recent trends in biotech leadership

There are new sources of executive leadership emerging. Successful biotech CEO Katrine Bosely ran some numbers on the recent IPO biotechs. This analysis revealed that of 58 biotech companies that have gone public, 60% of them have a first-time CEO at the helm. Of the 35 first-time CEOs, the average age was 51 at IPO. 43% of first-time CEOs were founders (15 out of 35) but only 26% of repeat CEOs were founders (6 out of 23). The figures illustrate that biotechs are being led successfully by first time CEOs. Of course, IPOs are just one measure of a company’s maturity and its value creation, and they do not always signal ultimate success, but it is an interesting indicator.

In Europe, executive talent which has ‘serial’ status is becoming more of a feature. The seasoned Executive Board members with all their battle scars and war stories are more present, although securing their services remains a stiff challenge. Configuring and appointing Boards with Executive / non-Executive Chairman, and non-executive Board members with vast reservoirs of experience at the sharp end of start-ups can be achieved when calling upon the right resources, although competition for their time and commitment remains very high. But Europe does now have a growing base of talent which is far more accustomed to start-up culture. This is further enriched with many more highly experienced industry executives who have emanated from progressive global biotech innovators like Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Gilead, Amgen, Celgene and Shire, who understand the R&D business and who can offer effective leadership to early stage biotech companies.

So as Europe’s executive talent pool is tempted overseas, both West and East, it is incredibly important that the local ecosystems of these European clusters provide the right environment for aspiring executives to show their credentials, which would be good news for both the individuals, companies and the bioscience clusters.

How can biotech enhance executive leadership? Liftstream invite you to follow the link below and complete the short, 6-10 minute survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/gender_diversity_biotechMore details of the research study being conducted can be found at www.bit.ly/genderstudy

**All responses provided are anonymous and no personal information (or IP address) will be collected**