Propelling Your Future: A Roadmap to Start, Build, and Scale a Life Sciences Company

By David Thompson

Oct 05, 2022 01:37 AM EDT

Dr. Kawas(Dr. Kawas) (Credit: Getty Image)

The life sciences industry can transform the human experience for the better, with forward-looking companies producing innovations to cure illnesses and improve health and wellbeing.

Like any other industry, life science entrepreneurs face a myriad of unique challenges, particularly in the biotech field. These companies often have to jump through more regulatory and development hoops than startups in other industries.

When starting out "your initial idea is the very genesis of what will hopefully be a very successful endeavor, so it has to be focused and actionable," says Leen Kawas, managing director of Propel Bio Partners.

Dr. Kawas, co-founder and General Managing Partner of Propel Bio Partners, has deep industry expertise and is looking to support the next generation of lifesaving and life-changing ideas, from biotechnology to MedTech and healthcare IT. 

Through her experience with drug discovery, operation, clinical trial development, regulatory strategies, and financing, Kawas has the hands-on knowledge needed to help launch and grow promising life sciences companies. She gained this insight partly in her prior role as CEO of Athira Pharma, which develops drugs to tackle Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, being one of the few female founders to take her company from launch to public offering. Now she's applying that strong background to help others.

During development, many life sciences companies create a scientific advisory board, where impartial experts can offer their insight as a concept is realized. "You need expertise in regulatory, manufacturing, supply chains, medical, finance, and corporate development," Kawas says. "Most entrepreneurs, especially first-time, won't have the expertise, so they need to build a trusted group of advisors that are domain experts."

Finding funding is also a crucial part of the process because, no matter how good an idea might be, without the resources to bring it to market, it will remain just an idea. That's where funds like Propel Bio Partners can help.

During this fundraising period, Kawas says entrepreneurs must expect many rejections from advisors and investors. "I talked with over 700 people until Athira got its first funding," she says. "Entrepreneurs need to understand that often when investors say 'No' it really means 'Not now', and that could change," Kawas adds. "Most of the time when venture capital investors pass, it's not because of you or your idea, it's just timing and other priorities."

Kawas recommends that entrepreneurs focus on how they can use innovative business models and corporate structures to create more efficient and cost-effective operations.

Her advice comes at an opportune time, as, in September, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a global guidance framework for the life sciences sector. "It aims to safely unlock the great promise for new and improved ways to improve global health offered by life sciences and related technologies," according to WHO. Echoing the work of Propel Bio Partners, the framework calls for greater technical and financial support for life sciences projects.

Anyone wanting to join the industry solely for personal gain will end up having minimal impact, says Kawas. "A mission-driven culture is critical for a biotech company to be successful," says Kawas. "It's a 'sprint marathon' that requires extreme focus on the immediate goals while having long-term resilience to achieve the bigger vision. The positive impact of the work is what makes it worthwhile."

Although the process can seem daunting, the roadmap that Kawas highlights can be a guide for those with the drive to see their project flourish and make a mark within the biotech industry. Through mission-driven development of not only the initial idea, but the team, capital, goals, and impact of a project, impassioned plans are able to succeed. Kawas says, "always act with the mindset that your idea will succeed, because this will drive you to create ambitious milestones to launch a viable, sustainable innovation."

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