Dr. Lynn Seely - Women in Biotech 2012

Dr. Lynn Seely
Company: Medivation ($MDVN)
Title: Chief medical officer
Industry experience: 20 years
Focus: Drug development

When Lynn Seely joined Medivation back in 2005, there was no Xtandi.

The prostate cancer drug--a likely blockbuster--was still in Charles Sawyer's lab at UCLA. The licensing pact for the drug came about 6 months after she joined. And Seely spent much of the next 7 years of her career heading up the team that took it all the way through the clinic right through to a first approval--for late-stage metastatic prostate cancer--earlier this year.

"This is in essence what everybody in the industry dreams about doing," says Seely, who has no trouble recollecting the beautiful academic science that had gone into Xtandi's creation and the hard work involved in pushing a potential blockbuster like this through the clinic. Now it's helping to significantly improve the standard of care for prostate cancer patients, and Seely is hard at work on the studies needed to expand the label.

It's not what Seely had planned when she started out in medicine as chief resident in internal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Early on she had set a career course pointed to the academic life. But the best physicians, she concluded, were physician-scientists, and she landed a fellowship to train as a scientist. A serendipitous presentation at Chiron led to a job. And the job opened up the world of drug development.

"I have been very fortunate to have good mentors," Seely says, starting with her first boss, Hans-Peter Guler at Chiron, who helped teach her the clinical ropes. A lot of what makes any biotech company is excellent teamwork, and she extols the close, synergistic relationship that has existed with Medivation CEO David Hung, an upbeat enthusiast, and CFO C. Patrick Machado.

Risk, of course, is not always rewarded in biotech. Before the big success for Xtandi, Seely and her colleagues at Medivation had to deal with the humbling failure of Dimebon, once considered the leading late-stage therapy for Alzheimer's. Like more than 100 Alzheimer's programs that came before it, Dimebon proved a complete failure in late-stage studies. But risk is an integral part of drug development.

"It takes a risk to learn and gain new knowledge," Seely says. Success in biotech, though, is always a step toward a new challenge. And if you want to succeed in this business, she adds, embrace new experiences and learn the art of mastering the learning curve.

"Surround yourself with the best and brightest. That's how you step up to the next level." And never forget that the best biotech companies require a full set of complementary skills. If you want to build a career in biotech, Seely says, you'll need to remember that building cross-functional relationships is important. Drug development is "a symphony, everybody has to work together." So keep building professional bridges outside your area of expertise.

Now that Xtandi has cleared the goal line for metastatic prostate cancer, there's lots of work for Seely's team on expanding the drug label. In addition to prechemo patients, a large number of breast cancer patients could benefit, as well as patients with other types of cancers. But for a company like Medivation, which is determined to go it alone and build a fully fleshed-out company, more programs are needed to fill the pipeline.

"Stay tuned," says the CMO, because news on that front is coming.

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

Dr. Lynn Seely - Women in Biotech 2012

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