Do pharma BOD rosters clash with biotech strategy?

While some big drugmakers are moving toward R&D structures modeled after innovative biotechs, most large pharmaceutical companies lack biotech executive expertise on their boards of directors.

In a call to action for more biotech representation on the pharma boards, life sciences venture investor Bruce Booth writes on his personal blog Life Sci VC today that only three of the 182 directors on the boards of the dozen largest drugmakers are former senior biotech executives. And the data, provided to Booth by financial research group Capital IQ, show that you're more likely to bump into a veteran of an industry such as manufacturing or retail or banking than someone with knowledge of biologics R&D.

"To have less than 2% of the voices in the board room from biotech while trying to become more biotech-like seems like an absurdity, especially when there are a large number of seasoned (and often retired) executives from biotech available with experiences at Genentech, Gilead, Genetics Institute, Immunex, Centocor, and certainly an even longer list of venture-backed biotechs," Booth wrote in the post. "Board members with intimate knowledge of ongoing experiments like asset-centric project financing and virtual discovery and development models would bring a new perspective into the strategic dialogue."

Booth, a partner at Atlas Venture in Cambridge, MA, provides a lucid case for remaking the composition of these boards, and the piece begs a response from major drug companies that have made huge investments in buying up biotechs or restructuring R&D teams to operate like agile biotech businesses without adding a single executive from biotech to the board. For example, London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has broken up its R&D organization into multiple focused units, and it does have some biotech vets to advise those groups. But the company doesn't have a single board member that used to be in charge of a biotech, according to data presented in Booth's piece.

Indeed, the biotech business often requires a special mix of traits such as an appreciation of the complex science, tenacity to endure the long and rocky road to a drug approval, and passion to deliver new treatments to patients. And an insurance or banking executive might have little to contribute to a pharmaceutical company board's efforts to navigate the unique biotech landscape.

- read the Booth's post