Learning from Shareholders

This week we held our annual meeting for shareholders of Quintessence (private company funded by individual investors). I’ve been thinking of doing a shareholder communication series as it relates to the JOBS act, but I wanted to capture the dynamic of our annual meeting.

While we communicate with our shareholders on a regular basis, most of the contact is by (e)mail. Since the annual meeting is in person, we have more opportunity for questions and discussions. Our goal at the meeting is to review operations and financial progress over the previous year and provide our plans for the coming year. Because we get immediate feedback, I have the opportunity to learn more from these meetings than when we provide written reports. Here are a couple of things that stuck with me after our meeting.

  • Communicate beyond the headlines. Personalized medicine and targeted therapy get quite a bit of attention in the popular press, but our drug is a broadly effective agent (not dependent on a specific genetic mutation). We wanted to provide market data supporting the need for drugs like ours. While we shared our internal market data as well, we discussed examples from the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2011 Report on Progress Against Cancer where such drugs are making a difference for patients. In the section on hard to treat cancers, two of the four advances highlighted are based on broadly acting drugs. In ovarian cancer, Avastin is being used in combination with chemotherapy to delay progression of ovarian cancer in women. For children with neuroblastomas, a new chemotherapy combination has shown improved survival. While we believe our product fills a gap, the various market research we provided supports a true need. 
  • Sometimes the pot needs stirring. Historically, we’ve had good representation on our board of people with experience in building businesses and private equity investments. Based on our goals over the next year, we’ve been interested in adding a viewpoint with experience working with institutional investors. After a search, our shareholders elected a new board member who has already added valuable new perspective just as we head into the company’s next stage.
  • Don’t forget the takeaway. We spent a lot of time discussing data from our Phase I trial and how that fits into the greater picture of cancer therapy. At the end of the meeting, one of our shareholders asked a great question about what our message was. With my focus on providing information, I had failed to provide a straightforward takeaway for shareholders: We’ve reached key milestones in our Phase I trial, generating excitement internally and externally about the next steps for our new broadly active drug.

3 comments on “Learning from Shareholders

  1. Kevin
    April 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    Interesting thoughts and nice to see you are making progress in the clinic. Regarding your third point – we are somewhat bigger but still get stuck in the weeds of details time to time. We have a PR firm (Russo Partners) that helps with messaging and “must-air” points. I don’t think many very small companies would hire PR firms due to the cost, but they do a great job keeping us looking ahead and not always down at our feet. 🙂

    • Laura S
      April 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Good point on getting external help with messaging. I’ve seen data on percent revenue spent on marketing/PR in life science companies (pharma, tools, reagents) but don’t recall seeing percent capital invested spent on marketing/PR for therapeutic biotechs.

      • Kevin
        April 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

        We debated this considerably before hiring our PR consultant a few years ago. However, in hindsight we have no regrets hiring a professional PR firm, assuming the fees are affordable. We really appreciated having the pros to manage our PR when we announced our large deal with BMS in late 2009. For us this was our breakthrough moment with the media and we wanted the greatest impact (e.g. BioWorld, BioCentury, Fierce, other more mainstream outlets). The main aspect we have learned is that is is important to control your messaging with the media (or at least as best you can). If you do not, eventually others will do it for you and you may not like what you read. For our company the % invested capital we spend on professional PR help is relatively small, but we have raised quite a lot of money through VC and partnering the past few years. For a smaller company the fees might be a bigger hurdle. When it comes to the BoD, it also has an impact because the BoD has a interest in how the company is portrayed in the media and in the eyes of potential corporate partners. This is where messaging properly becomes so important both externally and internally.

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