PODCAST | Product Development

Bio€quity Europe recap, part 2: leadership amid turmoil & start-up talent

Shorla’s Sharon Cunningham, BII’s Bobby Soni discuss a CEO’s role in a downturn, untapped talent pools and the Irish bio-ecosystem

May 20, 2022 1:46 AM UTC

Ensuring that a biotech reaches its key inflection points as effectively as possible during the ongoing capital crunch affects a company across the board, including its people, pipeline and financing toolkit, Shorla’s Sharon Cunningham said on a special edition of the BioCentury This Week podcast. Cunningham and BII’s Bobby Soni joined the BioCentury podcast team to discuss navigating the downturn as a CEO of a private biotech, the untapped talent pools able to run start-ups and the ecosystem in Bio€quity Europe’s next site, Ireland.

BioCentury Associate Editor Stephen Hansen opened the podcast, which recapped the final day of the Bio€quity Europe conference in Milan, by discussing the “Capital Markets Showcase: Surviving a Bear Attack” panel, detailing the variety of ways companies are financing themselves during the down market.

Cunningham, co-founder & CEO of Shorla Pharma Ltd. (dba Shorla Oncology), gave a CEO’s perspective on navigating the extended downturn facing public biotechs. She stressed the importance of having a “cash conservation mindset” in which the company needs to forecast its runway further into the future than was previously necessary, and potentially identify areas where pipeline priorities need to shift.

Looking to the longer term, Cunningham said it’s important for companies to assess how to optimize and extract value from their portfolios. That, she said, can require exploring dilutive and non-dilutive sources of funding, and ways to unlock value via BD. Along the way, it’s essential for CEOs to keep their teams in mind. 

“That all, of course, has an impact on our people because we’re going along nicely in one direction, and then you require everybody to pivot,” Cunningham said. “Navigating that as a CEO is challenging. But I think it’s about being open and transparent with your people, communicating and ensuring that everybody’s eyes are on getting the product to patients because at the end of the day, that’s why we exist.”

Soni, who is CBO of the Copenhagen-based translational non-profit BioInnovation Institute, was upbeat about the other crisis facing industry: the competition for top talent. 

“We have plenty of European talent that isn’t being used,” he said. “We also have a latent potential in our academic founders and all these start-ups that can also be used to work in early-stage companies and get them going, rather than always bringing in professional management right from the beginning.”

He also believes that one silver lining of the pandemic has been re-energizing people in industry to pursue riskier, more rewarding roles at smaller companies. 

“I think people were at home just wondering, ‘what do I want to do with my life here? And am I really happy’? And we’ve seen this all over, and we at BII are beneficiaries of this. We’re seeing qualified, competent people from pharma in our local area want to come to start-ups, take pay cuts, take all the risk. They’re all in because, finally, maybe they’ve been numbed by where they’ve been working, and they just want to do something and do it now,” Soni said.

Cunningham then set the scene for next spring’s Bio€quity Europe in Dublin, describing an Irish biopharma ecosystem that has a robust talent pool, favorable tax regime, an “unrivaled” compliance track record, biotech clusters across the country, and, of course, easy access to Guinness

This week’s podcast is sponsored by MSD (Merck & Co. Inc. in the U.S.), whose London-based European Innovation Hub includes a business development and licensing team, clinical teams and its U.K. Discovery Research Centre. For information on how to sponsor BioCentury This Week and The BioCentury Show, please contact Sarah Shoaff at