Sneak peek into the industry

By Yi-Shan Chen on Mar, 2019

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Po-Jen (Will) Yen

Business Development

Industry Experience: 4 years

Education: Ph.D Harvard Medical School

Q: How did your career path take you to this position? What motivate your transition?

I have been interested in a career in biotech industry, in the hope that my work can have a more direct impact on patients, but my transition from science to business was not planned. In fact, my first job after graduating from my Ph.D. program was as a Research Scientist at Agios. I then transitioned to Corporate Strategy at Biogen when the opportunity emerged, as it provided me the chance to expose to different aspects of biotech and drug development through a more holistic perspective. From there, it was a more natural transition to Business Development at Voyager Therapeutics.

Q: Could you give a brief introduction of career choices in business development?

A Business Development (BD) department may be structured differently in different companies, but in general the BD process involves sourcing (search & evaluation for in-licensing opportunities, first contacts with potential collaborators), transaction (term sheet discussion and due diligence), and contract negotiation (working with lawyers to draft and finalize the contract). After the deal is done, alliance management will come into play to manage the collaboration. In some companies, alliance management is under the project management function. Competitive intelligence can be within or outside the business development function, depending on the company.

Q: How does your job content impact your company?

Business Development is critical for the continuing growth of every company, either to bring in novel technologies and new programs, or to collaborate with partners with complementary expertise, resources, etc.

Q: What are the major components of your job on a daily basis?

Efficient communication is key to Business Development. We are the major channel of communication between the two collaborating companies. Therefore, a lot of my time is spent on communicating with internal functional leads and with external potential collaborators. There is also a lot of analysis that goes on behind the scenes that I support to inform deals under consideration and to help making decisions. I have also been driving the competitive intelligence efforts, which involves proactively and constantly monitoring new advances of the field, and providing weekly summaries of relevant news, publications, and patterns to the whole company, so again, lots of reading and analysis.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

This role provides an opportunity to get involved in company strategy at a higher level. As mentioned, BD is critical for the continuing growth and future direction of the company. In addition to BD, I have also been able to contribute to strategy projects where the company re-evaluates the current progress and future direction.

Q: What are the key challenges you faced in this job?

Because I transitioned from a research scientific background, there are a lot of new aspects in Business Development to me, so instead of challenges, I would say these are things I need to learn. I leverage a lot of my scientific knowledge and training for analyzing and evaluating new opportunities, but am less familiar with the financial modeling valuation and the legal contract parts of BD. Of course, BD does not work independently and we often work with our colleagues and lawyers with the relevant expertise, but a BD professional needs to at least understand the context in order to guide the process, for example, to inform the model input and interpret the output, and lead contract negotiation. You can learn these through taking courses, but hands-on experience would be much more valuable.

Q: How Ph.D. training helps with the job?

A Ph.D. degree helps but is not required for BD, and a lot of people working in BD don’t have a Ph.D. My Ph.D. training helps me in analyzing and critically evaluating new opportunities. I certainly leverage my scientific training and knowledge while thinking about business strategy, and my colleagues value my insights regarding scientific technology and data analysis.

Q: If people are interested in this type of job, what kind of experiences do you think they should have in their resume?

Anything that shows their interests in this function and that they have actually thought about it seriously. For graduate students without actual work experience or BD-specific experience, there are more and more channels and opportunities to get exposure to the biotech industry and drug development, including taking courses on related themes, and participating in student biotech/consulting clubs. Also, internships at academic technology transfer offices could be a great opportunity for graduate students to get hands-on experience while still at school.~~ ~~Many BD positions value experience in consulting or equity analyst, both are potential routes for newly graduated students to enter the industry. Another potential credential is an MBA. I took a mini MBA course when I was in my PhD program (a 10-week program over the weekends), which was very helpful.

Q: Any advice to people who are at entry level positions?

A contributing mindset and strong work ethic would go a long way. As a student, we think about learning all the time, but at work, the job is more than learning. It’s important to think about what we bring to the table and how we can create value. Of course, it is important to always keep learning for personal growth and career advancement, but your work performance is evaluated by whether or not and how the job gets done. Every job is created because a certain task needs to be done by a certain individual. Therefore, always keep in mind and demonstrate the “fit” while exploring job opportunities.

Writer's Side Note:

As a scientist in Biotech/Pharma, Business Development to me is a function that usually doesn’t have a lot of interaction with researchers unless they need data from you but the decisions they make influence researchers the most. It can be as small as a team goal or as large as the direction of the whole company, which sometimes leads to reorganization. I always feel business development people look at things from a different perspective (money or market-driven but not science); it is good to have people that have research experience in business development.

To people who would like to work in business development: doing an internship, joining a consulting club or taking classes in business school as early as possible will help to build up your resume and knowledge!

By Yi-Shan Chen on Mar, 2019