Alex Leech

BioLeader Interview – Alex Leech, Chair at 2N Pharma, Company Builder and CEO (September 2021)

Alex Leech Headshot

An experienced company creator and CEO with a successful track record.

Key milestones in your career journey to date?

  • As CEO, raising $82m in 2020 for Alchemab, which we built in 16 months from a standing start; as a result of having a world-class team and a great concept.  This and our timing created a great UK company and strong investment opportunity.
  • Leading Creabilis between 2015-2017, as CEO; with the remit to exit; during which we explored listing and ultimately sold the company to Sienna Biopharmaceuticals Inc in a $155m transaction.
  • I’m now really enjoying Chairing a great start-up called 2N Pharma.   The company’s goal is to find a treatment for ALS.

Who has had the greatest influence over your career?

  • During my biotech career, there have been too many to mention; I derived golden nuggets from many very smart people.
  • Pfizer was a great place to learn about drug discovery and development; and how to get a drug to market.
  • As an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, I picked up leadership skills which have transitioned well across to different industries.
  • Post-graduation, I joined the Ford Motor Company; My first boss Matt Haigh saw my potential, promoted me quickly and supported my corporate MBA, I remain eternally grateful.

Your approach to spotting and developing top talent?

  • Look for high energy levels and engagement, also look for the individuals’ soft skills.
  • Encourage and support everyone in the organisation to own their career development programme with their line manager.  This is possible in every company.
  • Create the space for people to grow; look for stretch opportunities and recognise the value of flexible working; this was evident long before Covid.

What attributes make an outstanding leader in today’s world?

  • Focus on what’s important, building trust and enthusiasm in the team around you.
  • Create regular communication channels with team members; the value of a regular 15-minute zoom or coffee with every individual in the team is immeasurable.
  • Empower the team to get on with the job; be available to answer questions.
  • Demonstrate flexibility, recognise when you haven’t got things quite right.
  • Encourage colleagues to use coaching capability to support their development; following a career plan; co-funded by the organisation; the returns can be impressive for the company and individual.

How do you create a culture of continual learning, innovation and curiosity; and how might volunteering contribute towards this?

  • Team members hold a monthly workshop they share key learnings from their careers; encouraging cross team alignment.
  • Embracing industry/academic partnerships and collaborate early on, where possible.
  • Never has there been a better example of this than during Covid.
  • Volunteering is to be encouraged and linked, where possible, between the companies are of focus and charity.
  • Equally, there are huge benefits to be derived from young people getting involved in organisations like the Scouts, Guides, and sports teams.

Thoughts on the current funding model for early-stage companies; and the impact on valuations and availability of capital catalysed by the 2020 pandemic?

  • There’s never been a better environment to raise cash; albeit the scientific bar remains appropriately high.  Well-funded early-stage companies have lots of options.
  • There could well be attrition over time; but like all cycles, it will level itself out; no doubt driven by the public markets and the value Pharma attributes to real early-stage innovation.
  • Alchemab is a great example of what is achievable in the current market; outstanding team and concept meant we could raise in whichever market we wanted; but ultimately chose the US given its scale and the option sis generates for the organisation.

Regulators have adjusted their pace to meet the challenges of Covid; how can you foresee this might play out with the approval of future non-Covid therapies and technologies?

  • Hopefully the learnings from the pandemic will continue to be applied to the most urgent areas of unmet medical need, like ALS where 2N Pharma is focussed.
  • With the right level of regulatory collaboration, timelines can be reduced.

What will be the biggest technological transformation in the industry over the next 5 years?

  • New technology always takes longer to impact than we think, a 20-year cycle often involved.
  • Machine learning, computing power, bioinformatics’, QSP; the pandemic has challenged the drug develop paradigm.

What is your hidden talent or something that might surprise others about you?

  • I started my industrial career engineering cars for Ford Motor Company, I never expected to be involved in Biotech company creation!

Your simple philosophy on life?

  • Always try to have fun!

Words of wisdom?

  • Best Advice I was given: Don’t get too high with the highs or low with the lows.
  • Advice I’d give: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What I wish I’d known: Don’t be in too much of a hurry; enjoy the journey.

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