Emerging Career Opportunities
at the Intersection of IT and Life Sci
President & CEO
In our eighth episode, Peter Brenders, Founder & President of Kontollo Health, talks with Nancy White, President and CEO of Inagene Diagnostics, about switching from pharma to a Health IT startup.
LIONA HUMANOID (LH):
Thank you for downloading episode number eight of the NPC podcast from the National Pharmaceutical Congress. This is a program that's all about discussing and considering the purpose, process, and people of the pharma industry during 2020, the year of Covid. Today we're continuing the health care conversation by answering questions sent to us by listeners like you.
This program is presented in cooperation with Impres, Impres best in class commercial solutions drive top line and bottom line growth, with maximum sales force, flexibility, speed, and efficiency. You can learn more about their next generation commercial model at www.impres.com.
On today's podcast for August 26, 2020, our guest is Nancy White, CEO of Inagene Diagnostics. Your host for today's podcast is Peter Brenda's of Kontollo Health who is still confined to Fredericton, New Brunswick.
But first, Mitch Shannon of Chronicle companies. Your turn, Mitch.
MITCH SHANNON (MS):
I can't believe this is the last episode of the summer for our podcast. Are you going to get any time off before Labour Day this year?
Yes. I'm planning a trip back home for a week or so and I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to spend some quality time with my sisters, Alexa and Siri.
Well, that sounds like fun. Meanwhile, let's deal with the questions we've received about our business, the life sciences, and how Covid is forcing us to rethink things.
If you have a question, just call our comment line anytime at 647-875-9011.
On the subject of rethinking things, several listeners have asked about where the career opportunities will be in the post-Covid era. It seems logical that the legacy companies will retrench and niche players and startups will seize the moment, especially in the hot areas of genomics and diagnostics.
This week's guest, Nancy White, left an established pharma career to join a health IT startup before Covid hit. What can we learn from her experience?
Here she is in conversation with Peter.
PETER BRENDERS (PB):
Welcome to the NPC podcast. I'm Peter Brenders your host.
On the NPC podcast series, we've spent our time exploring pharma in these Covid times. Its purpose, process, and people. Today we're going to take a closer look at people and the story of one and her perspective in particular.
Joining me today is Nancy White, President and CEO of Inagene Diagnostics, Canadian Life Sciences Startup company working on personal genetics. And now Nancy is no stranger to pharma, having spent almost two decades launching products and bringing treatments to patients. Two years ago, that changed for her as she jumped into the uncertain waters of a Startup company.
NANCY WHITE (NW):
Thank you for having me, Peter. It's a pleasure to be here.
So, before we dive in into your startup life in these Covid times, perhaps we can go back a couple of years to the time before your switch. And you can take a minute to answer the question on all of our minds. What were you thinking?
I don't know if I have the answer. I still question myself some days on that one.
However, I've been very fortunate and had a really robust career in Big Pharma that was actually more than two decades. Where does the time go? And been lucky to work in different regions of the world and across a lot of different therapeutic areas. And you get to that point, sometimes where you're like “I'm really comfortable and really happy with what I'm doing”, but there's a lot more out there and I do consider myself to be an innovator.
And if I didn't take the plunge two years ago, I probably never would, I would have probably still been happily chugging along in Big Pharma. But joining the world of startups has been an exciting adventure. Not always a smooth one, but exciting nonetheless.
Tell us about that. So, describe for us the differences between the Big Pharma life and the Startup game.
I often say this to a number of, I have an extensive network obviously in Big Pharma and one of the things I've noticed a lot is that you take for granted what's in front of you, when you are not looking at your external environment and the number of times I felt I was underfunded on some of the brands I worked on, or underfunded in the franchises I was leading.
You are very well supported in the pharma world. And only when you step outside that environment, do you realize how challenging it can be when you are solely responsible for all the finances of the Startup and really, truly having to make trade-offs on what initiatives might we start versus what can we start? So, it's been eye opening.
What has been your biggest frustration then?
Well, I think you're going to laugh at this one and so will many of your listeners. The biggest frustration is that I've moved over into the world of diagnostics and diagnostics are certainly not as highly regulated and governed as much as pharmaceutical products are. And our organization competes against another of other diagnostic companies. And it's not always a level playing field because there are not groups like PAAB or IMC that level the playing field to a degree where, at least if you aren't making headway, some days you feel like okay, it's a level playing fields because my competitors have to play by the same rule.
We're in a little bit more of a wild west environment, which can be really exciting and has certainly its benefits. But it's frustrating when you have to compete against others who are definitely not playing it seems at times by any rules.
So that wild west environment raises a question. So, if you think back to your colleagues from the pharma space, would you say now that the startup life is for everyone?
No, I definitely don't believe it is. I think that we all fancy ourselves, I'm sure at some point, whether it's on a project or an assignment that we are real innovators and mavericks, forging a path, but one of the frustrations working in Big Pharma is that we are sometimes limited and for good reason, by the confines of the structured environment, and regulated environment that we work within, and for those who've never ventured outside of a big pharma company.
Going to a start up, you sometimes find yourself going, “Oh, whose responsibility is that in the organization?” and you have a very big realization “Well, I guess that's me, because there's really no one else to do whatever the task might be”. So, one day you could be working on HR issues, the next day are working on scientific innovation, and then you're working on the website or the digital marketing strategy.
And one of the most interesting experiences for me, was actually having to work with the board of directors, which is very different than working with a senior leadership team. And I've sat on a number of those in Big Pharma. And can I recall even having some very lively discussions with the chairman of my board about building an employee stock option plan. I truthfully had never done that before. So, talk about baptism by fire.
You're listening to the NPC podcast with Nancy White, President and CEO of Inagene Diagnostics.
So, some people out there could see this as a lot fun having that flexibility, that breadth of opportunity to explore a space different than what they've done before.
It's definitely exciting, but it's not for the faint of heart. And I think about last year when I had to go out and start the first financial raise for our venture and sitting around tables talking to potential investors and venture capital firms, there's a lot of "no".
So, I did start my career in Big Pharma more than 20 plus years ago as a rep and, you know, when you think about the tenacity, it sometimes takes when you're getting a lot of those smiles and head nods, but you know, the answer's no, I certainly flashed back to that my life sitting around the table, basically begging for money from investors to help keep our company going.
That strikes me as a question of, perhaps a biggest learning and this is your first CEO role, I understand. And so, do you see that, do you chalk that up to some of the biggest learnings you're seeing working with the board, investment money?
The learnings are honestly endless. And I never thought at this stage of my career, I would be having so many firsts, if you will. And what's really exciting again is, you know, I have a tenacious spirit. So, don't tell me I can't do something because I'm the type of person to go out and say, “Well, okay, I'm going to learn it, and I'm going to do it and do it well”, but it is just constant and endless learning and new learning for me.
So, I definitely am trying things I've never tried before, but you know, finding the path forward and I think that truly embodies the life of a startup and working in that environment. You have to be a maverick, you have to be curious and you have to truly have that desire to solve the problems. Answer the questions and find those openings to really propel and push the business forward.
There's definitely a lot of ups and downs. And when they talk about the saying where, you know, the highs are really high and the lows are really low. There are definitely a lot of days where you have this peaks and valleys.
So, I've often heard it said that the life of a CEO can be a very lonely job. Who's your peer group? How do you sort of manage through those highs and lows?
That's a really great question. And a leader is only as strong as their team. I definitely espouse the theory, you know, hire people that are absolutely smarter than you with a different skill set than you so you can round out the capabilities. But I do rely on my network.
Just yesterday, I was talking to a former colleague, who lives in Brazil, and we hadn't touched base in a while but it's, you know, just great to get a grounding, outside perspective. Reminisce about maybe some past challenging times that you kind of laugh at now because you made it through and then you just realize every day is a new day and whatever challenge is there, you find the way through it, over it, under it or around it and rely on those people who you can trust and they support you.
Well, let's talk about those challenges. And so, the big challenge that we've been talking about on our podcast series has been Covid. That elephant in the room, the impact of Covid. Tell me about it from your business. What has changed with Covid for you guys?
I say everything and nothing.
I mean, nothing is we're working harder than ever before. But the everything, we certainly were hit with multiple challenges when Covid arrived on the scene, but we had to more than pivot our business model and some of the tactics we were wanting to employ, but also key targets for business to business partnerships, because with everyone grappling in the face of Covid, how do you not only build your business but sustain your business?
We've definitely had to pivot but through the course of it we've uncovered new opportunities and having that resilience, but also that flexibility and agility to change the strategy very rapidly. And then regroup around how will we tweak this to optimize the opportunities in front of us? So, it's been busy.
So, some people who tell me they've been experiencing a little bit more of a lull through Covid. I don't quite think I've worked ever as hard as I have these last several months, so I can't wait to take a vacation someday.
Vacation? What's that?
Yeah, I know. I haven't had one in a long time.
You're listening to the NPC podcast. I'm your host Peter Brenders.
Being a diagnostics company has the attention generated by Covid, because everyone's talking about diagnosis on that one. Has that been a help to your business?
So, it's been fascinating. I mean, it's sad. Everyone's talking now about the echo pandemic of the mental health crisis that is coming in the wave of Covid. Mental health issues are certainly more top of mind for points of discussion, but also getting a fair share of attention across a variety of media platforms.
As we look at that crisis and how we can help, our tests that we offer specifically speaks to the medications that are prescribed in the area of pain and mental health. So, a number of opportunities and including partnerships that we forged over this period of Covid are really anchored around supporting those individuals with specific need with mental health challenges.
So, we had this strategy before Covid, but through the course of Covid, the emergence of the themes really have supported our core value proposition and have positioned us perhaps even stronger than we might have been before the pandemic.
So, I'm sure many of our listeners are asking themselves, they hear the highest and hear the lows and they hear the enthusiasm in your voice. They're asking themselves can or should I make the jump? What would you say to them?
Yes, if you have that desire, and that willingness and curiosity, absolutely go for it, but clearly research what you're moving into and temper your expectations.
And you know, I think of two specific kind of scenarios where, and one of them was around fundraising. One of the mentors that I have, he actually is a member of my board of directors. Every time you would get excitement and think, “Oh, this investor sounds very serious, and they're going to invest”, his comment to me was, “it's always the ones that you think that are going to invest that never end up doing it”. And there's always these ones who you perhaps weren't quite as enthused by that are the ones and it's been similar for us in terms of some of our business development opportunities.
We've had some really engaging and exciting conversations. But as we look at what things are actually materializing and becoming true partnerships, we would not have guessed that at the beginning.
So, having that open mindset and just knowing that you're going to sometimes have to go with the flow and managing those highs and those lows, it's a lot more pronounced in the startup world. And there's less certainty than perhaps what one might face in the world of Big Pharma where there are great processes and timelines and cycles of the business that you can always rely on and expect. They're not there in the startup world.
Those big cycles of certainty in pharma seem to be changing as we've heard from our speakers during the podcast series over the summer and the world is evolving. What's exciting to hear from you, Nancy, is that there is a life after pharma.
You've been listening to the NPC podcast series. Our special guest today was Nancy White, president and CEO of Inagene Diagnostics.
Thank you for listening.
Thanks to Nancy and Peter.
And remember that one word for the future: diagnostics. If you're curious about where the pharma business may be headed, my diagnosis would be that you care about your work and you want to learn more.
I recommend that you download past episodes of the NPC podcast from Google Podcasts, Apple iTunes, Stitcher and other sites or subscribe at pharmacongress.info and get set for our fall season. Have you registered yet?
*DOOR BELL RINGS*
Who could that be? We don't get a lot of visitors here in the studio.
Why, it's Joe Knott of Pangaea Consultants! What a coincidence.
Joe, how's the fall NPC coming together?
JOE KNOTT (JK):
Coming together nicely. I'm really excited that this year is going to be virtual, three separate days late October, early November. The sessions are 90 minute sessions themselves.
We've got basically eight CEOs as part of the faculty and other industry executives. The topics we're tackling this year, Mitch, are basically the post-Covid new norm. Well, what is that going to look like? And it's going to be covering different topics such as the role of the industry. What new partnerships are there, the external deployment? What does that look like? Patient centricity. What is that? And what's the definition for folks? How do we launch products? We're going to continue our dialogue on inclusion and diversity, which has been important to all of us. And we're also going to throw one this year about career advice on how to get ahead in the new norm.
So, very excited about the faculty, very excited about the topics and looking forward to the sessions in October.
Yeah, as am I and there's an early bird offer. For our listeners who sign on early. It's 20% off if you use registration code POD20.
And the virtual Congress registration fee is $399 plus HST for the three day session, so Joe, I look forward to getting the rest of the elements in place over the next few weeks, and I think it's going to be a spectacular meeting starting October 21.
Mitch. To remind everybody that the proceeds of this go to a charity and maybe you want to comment on the charity.
Well, it's Camp Liberte, which is a charity for kids with severe skin disorders, and it's run by the Canadian Dermatology Foundation.
I'd encourage anybody who's curious about the cause to go to the website which is campliberte.ca.
And, yeah, happy to support that very worthwhile cause. So Joe, thanks very much for joining us in the broadcast gondola.
Once again, the NPC podcast was presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada's next generation commercial partner learn more at
In Toronto, this is Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies. Your producer for this episode was Jeremy Visser. The announcer is Liona Humanoid.
Have a great couple of weeks and stay safe. We'll see you again after Labor Day.