First 90 Days: Sosei Heptares’ Chris Cargill

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Welcome to First 90 Days, a series dedicated to examining how pharma executives are planning for success in their new role. Today, we’re featuring a conversation with Chris Cargill, president and CEO of Sosei Heptares, and Dr. Matt Barnes, president of Heptares Therapeutics Ltd., and head of UK R&D.

When a company takes the leap from early drug discovery to clinical development, a bit of whiplash is unavoidable. As a smaller platform-based company grows and comes into its own, objectives and operating structures need to be defined and aligned, often with fresh perspectives from the C-suite.

The new CEO of Sosei Heptares, Chris Cargill, is happy that the alignment comes from inside the house. The leadership transition, which was confirmed in March 2022, has been conducted entirely through internal promotion, with Cargill transitioning from being CFO to taking the company’s helm.

Sosei Heptares’ platform is focused on G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) — a superfamily of receptors linked to a wide range of diseases. Japan-based Sosei acquired UK-based Heptares Therapeutics in 2015, which will now be led by Matt Barnes as president and head of UK R&D.

To take the company to the next level, Sosei Heptares leaders have selected teams that Cargill says have more of a flat-bed management structure with program centricity and a patient-first culture at the forefront.

“Having program-centric hubs makes it clearer which teams are assigned to those hubs, what the objectives for those programs are, and how best to design incentives to drive greater ownership of programs and the company’s growth,” he says, adding that partnerships would remain a long-standing approach.

In addition to several approved inhaler products for COPD and asthma, Sosei has a deep pipeline of clinical-stage assets being developed through partnerships with the likes of AstraZeneca, GSK, AbbVie, Pfizer and more.

“We historically have been an organization that’s been quite prolific at partnering, not only with pharma but also with technology companies, and we want to deploy that even more as we move into the clinic,” Cargill says. “We really want to embrace digitization, and we’ve begun that journey by building a research informatics data architecture team, but we want to strengthen our data management and commonality of data all through the organization.”

All said, the company has about 40 partnerships spinning at the moment. Barnes’ role will be to push those internal programs ahead.

“For that, we need the very best practice approach to translational medicine to generate those early clinical signals,” he says.

Having financial leaders in both markets is crucial, Cargill says. Moreover, with travel restrictions over the past two years, having an executive team in Japan has helped continue growth of the Japanese business unit, while ensuring employees in both countries have direct access to the leadership team.

This interview with Cargill and Barnes has been edited for length and clarity.

PharmaVoice: Why was a fresh leadership team key to the company’s future success?

Chris Cargill: Making the senior personnel changes gives us an opportunity to do things a little differently, to modernize and really embed program centricity. When Sosei acquired Heptares in 2015, one of the very clear directives from the board was that it was important for Sosei to retain its scientific founders as it looked to invest, scale the platform and commercialize it and add broad-based scientific capabilities. That strategy was incredibly successful. The pipeline grew from a handful of programs in 2015 to more than 40. We’ve inked major collaborations with some of the biggest and best names in the business and our employees have grown from about 30 at Heptares to the 170 that we have today.

With the technology validated and the platform fully established, the board has believed for a number of years that there would come a time when management succession would be required to support the next phase of the company’s growth plan. This phase is not just about investing in scaling a technology that was spun out of the university, but is focused on really growing in the UK, but also adding international strategic growth ambitions, including into the US, and that requires a slightly different approach. The board has been planning and preparing the recent internal promotions. Our scientific founders will remain in the business on a consulting basis, though not on a day-to-day operational management basis.

Why has it been important to establish strategy early in the transition?

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