As a pharmaceutical company focused on finding drugs for rare diseases that can be commercially successful, BioCryst Corporation is a risky business, with a failure rate for commercialization of its drug discoveries of over 90%. On October 20, 2015, BioCryst CEO Jon Stonehouse told students in the combined MBA and undergraduate capstone class “Strategic leadership through the eyes of the C-Suite” that his company was living this brutal statistic three years ago when it concluded that further work on a drug it had spent years and millions of dollars on was likely futile.
Stonehouse said that he and his board of directors made the difficult decision in late 2012 to downsize the company by over half and then embark on an “experiment” to see if the remaining 30 employees could re-focus and be successful with one company asset, a rare disease drug to combat a debilitating disease that causes extreme swelling, called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE). CEO Stonehouse noted the experiment has thus far been successful, in no small part due to the fact that employees are motivated by the desire to help the 70,000-350,000 people worldwide who suffer from HAE.
BioCryst was “incubated” over 25 years ago at UAB, with its first technology developed in the university’s labs. Its first leaders were UAB researchers, including former UAB president Claude Bennett, PhD, who became president of BioCryst when he retired from UAB in 1997 as Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, and Dr. Charles E. Bugg, who was chairman and CEO of BioCryst until his retirement in 2007 and remains Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at UAB. The company went public in 1994 and is headquartered today in Raleigh, North Carolina, with laboratory facilities in Birmingham.
A group of students who had studied the strategy of BioCryst made a presentation to Mr. Stonehouse. The students discussed with Mr. Stonehouse whether the company planned to diversify its drug assets in order to achieve its strategic mission of finding commercially successful drugs. Stonehouse told students that the company has recently invested over $6,000,000 in its drug-discovery laboratory facilities in Birmingham.
“Strategic leadership through the eyes of the C-Suite” is taught by School of Business professor Stephen Yoder, and features visits from CEOs of public or other large complex organizations who discuss their organizations’ strategies and how they are developed and implemented.
Because of the demands of his business, Mr. Stonehouse had to participate in the October 20 class session via a live video connection between Raleigh and the Collat School of Business classroom. The presenting students were (pictured at left on screen) left to right: Viny Memula, Rhonda McDavid, Sunil Pati, Jonathan Pilgrim, Chang Park.