Three lessons learned from signing one of Canada’s largest-ever biotech deals

Chris Micetich is a serial entrepreneur and the Founder, President, and CEO of Fedora Pharmaceuticals (Fedora). Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Fedora specializes in the discovery and development of novel antibiotics. In 2015, Fedora signed a licensing deal with Hoffmann La Roche for Fedora’s world-class anti-infective, the beta-lactamase inhibitor Nacubactam. The deal was valued at USD $750MM + royalties and at the time was the largest biotechnology licensing deal in Canadian history. Chris has learned many things from his many successful start-ups, but three key lessons came into focus after the Roche deal:

Take Advice and Persevere

Everyone – and I mean everyone – will have an opinion on what you should and should not do with your start-up. Although it is well-intentioned, some of the advice is contradictory, confusing, and even impractical. The important thing, however, is to solicit advice from those you trust, and those who have “been there and done that”. Prior experience beats theoretical knowledge 10 times out of 10. So, heed all the opinions you respect and discard the rest

But along your entrepreneurial journey you may get one set of feedback that is hard to brush off: “This will never work.”

The virtues of failing early and failing forward are well known in the entrepreneurial world. But it’s very different when you hear those words from those around you, and what if they don’t jibe with what you know in your heart to be true? What if you know that it will work? What if you are clear eyed and still disagree with their assessment?

That is when your entrepreneurial grit must kick in. After making sure they’re not pointing out something essential that you missed – note the feedback and carry forward. It’s certainly easier to explain why something will not work than it is to believe in an entrepreneur’s vision. I had countless people tell me that a start-up couldn’t play with big pharma. We were out of our depth. We could not get a deal done. But I knew in my heart that we were right. And when vindication came, I was not surprised, I saw it all the way back from the beginning.

Start with the End in Mind

Speaking of seeing the end way back in the beginning, that is where your start-up needs to start – at the end. What’s the end game? How do you see this story ending? Is it a licensing deal? Are you going to build a worldwide success from the ground up? Maybe it’s an early sale or a partnership once you hit the right stage. The specifics of your ending are less important than the fact that you need to know it at the beginning. It will be your True North and the basis of your strategy and decision making, informing each and every aspect of your business.

With Fedora, I knew we wanted a licensing deal with big pharma, and I knew which stage we wanted it at. Starting from the end, we worked backwards and built a plan that we could execute on, with each step bringing us closer to the finish line that we designed and placed. By dictating the terms of our own success, we became masters of our own entrepreneurial destiny.

Validate, Validate, Validate

At this point it’s cliché to say, but I’m still seeing start-ups with solutions in search of a problem. So, I’ll say it again here: Validate, Validate, Validate!

Validate your problem. Validate your solution. Validate it with end-users. Validate it with payors. Validate it with industry. With Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). With decision makers. At Fedora, we made sure that our validation was second-to-none. We asked Big Pharma: is this a product you would acquire? We asked KOLs: is our science sound? We asked reimbursement specialists: is this a product you would pay for? With binders full of positive responses, we charted our course.

It’s more than asking if people like your product, they must be willing to pay for it. Validate the problem as well as your solution inside and out before diving in.

About the Author