Fairway Consulting Group Recruits CEO for Cue Biopharma

February 21, 2017 – Executive search firm Fairway Consulting Group has placed Daniel Passeri as president and CEO at Cue Biopharma, a start-up company whose mission is to develop drugs that can command and control a select T cell response. Dan Gold, president and global head of the R&D recruiting practice at Fairway, led the assignment.

“First and foremost, Cue Biopharma was looking for a leader passionate about cancer research. The company’s science came out of a top tier academic lab and those scientists continue to play an active role in advancing the company,” said Mr. Gold. “It was critical that they hired someone who had deep scientific interests, credibility, and enthusiasm. They wanted someone with deal-making experience who could be their key interface with potential partners and bring the right balance of business acumen and people skills to establish a significant big pharma partnership.” Investors in the company, he added, “had a strong preference for someone with small / start-up company experience.”

Mr. Passeri previously served as chief officer, technology management and business development at The Jackson Laboratory. He also served as CEO of publicly-traded biotechnology company Curis.

Battle Tested Veteran

“Dan had everything. He had decades of experience in the oncology domain and specific immuno-oncology experience, which was a huge plus,” Mr. Gold said. “He had previously run a small oncology biotech company in Boston so he was a battle-tested veteran who could leverage his experience.” Over the course of his career, Mr. Passeri also established several partnerships with big pharma companies and knew how to navigate deals from inception to completion.

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“Dan is a lawyer, and the primary backer of Cue Biopharma is an investment firm run by lawyers,” Mr. Gold said. “Their common legal training allowed them to quickly recognize the potential of the intellectual property Cue owned. Above all else, Dan demonstrated a sense of humility and steadiness that is critical in today’s business world.”

Cue Biopharma is an immunotherapy company developing biologics engineered to selectively communicate with disease-relevant T cell subsets to treat cancer and autoimmune disease. Cue biologics have the potential to be highly effective as monotherapies as well as synergistic with existing checkpoint inhibitors, while reducing collateral toxicities often seen with less selective immunotherapies.

As leader of the research and development practice for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector at Fairway Consulting, Mr. Gold conducts executive searches in both North America and Europe. Since 2002, he has placed over 150 pharma and biotech professionals in positions covering clinical research & medical affairs, regulatory affairs and quality assurance, drug safety & epidemiology, and pathology & toxicology, among others.

Dan Gold sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media last week to discuss the nuances of conducting executive searches for start-up companies. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.


Dan, share with us some searches that you have done for other start-up companies? 

Over the last 18 months our firm has conducted more than 40 searches for start-up life science companies. We treat any company with less than 100 people as a start-up (public or privately held). Most of those searches focused on discovery, translational sciences, clinical development / medical affairs, manufacturing, regulatory / quality, business development, and commercial leadership roles. Some recent searches include VP translational sciences at an oligonucleotide company; SVP program management at a microbiome company; chief medical officer of an immuno-oncology company; and VP manufacturing at a cancer vaccine company. We’re just initiating searches for a SVP regulatory & quality for a start-up ophthalmology company and a chief business officer for another immuno-oncology company.

What are some challenges when recruiting senior leaders for start-ups?

Right now the supply / demand ratio is not in the employers’ favor. That ratio becomes even more challenging in high growth areas, such as cancer. Most of our start-up clients have a healthy apprehension about recruiting out of big pharma. Coincidentally, we are in the midst of a period where big pharma talent is more receptive to small companies than at any point over the last decade. The challenge we share with our clients is using the right tools to assess a candidate’s ability to assimilate within small companies. Does the candidate have the ‘fire in the belly’, the resiliency, the tenacity, and the humility to parachute from an 80,000 to a 20-person company and still be highly successful? At the same time, big pharma is getting increasingly smarter about culture shaping, decision-making nimbleness, and compensation retention tools to keep their best players.

So why can this be an appealing career path for executives? What’s your pitch to them?

The impact is monumental. We are in the middle of a scientific revolution. The financial community continues to have an interest in funding novel approaches to treating and curing life threatening diseases. The academic community is leveraging industry better than ever before, and the talent in industry might be the best it has ever been in my 15 years of recruiting. This is an exciting time for our sector. Start-up biotech is appealing to leaders that thrive when exploring the unknown and are great utility players. Start-up biotechs provide the opportunity to gain tremendous breadth to one’s skill set and experience. We used to say that biotech companies would ask their senior leaders to send their own faxes in the morning and write their company’s business plan in the afternoon. Fortunately, we don’t fax anymore!

Is there a large pool of candidates that are ready, willing and able to leap from job to job for these type of roles?

Yes, and no. We find that there is more tolerance for job change frequency in small biotech, in particular in biotech hubs like Northern California and Boston.  Perhaps there is a cultural element to it. Seventy percent of drugs that file an IND never make it to market. This is a risky business and the failure rate is incredibly high, therefore some job changes are certainly understandable. At the same time, drug development takes a long time and if a candidate is moving every 18 months then it is hard to value the impact of each stint of employment.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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