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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Life On The Pharma

In this second story about the life science industry in Singapore, I focus on Mr. Chris Molloy, the Chief Operations Officer of MerLion Pharmaceuticals. This article is based on a lecture he gave on 25 Sep 2006.

I realize that my first essay about Dr. Rosemary Tan was really long, so here I will only mention the most interesting bits about Mr. Molloy's talk, to keep everything readable.

Mr. Molloy graduated from the University of Bradford with a honors degree in biomedical sciences. He then spent 14 years at the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, working in drug discovery. He came to Singapore in 2004 and has served as the COO of MerLion for about two years now.

He is neither a dropout nor a PhD holder.

To me, he is an elegant demonstration of the fact that work abilities will eventually supercede educational qualifications as the key ingredient towards sustained success.

During his talk, Mr. Molloy mentioned a number of important lessons that he learnt during his extensive experience in industry.

1. In large Pharma companies, change is endemic.

To be successful here, you need generalized skills in science and should be efficient, fast and agile. The industry is very process-driven. Whether you were initially science-trained or not, a great manager must be responsive and drop the science when it is not related to the business.

2. People make a company great.

Mr. Molloy emphasized the double-meaning of the word "company". People are especially vital in a small company. Finding the right people, and organizing them well such that they feel happy in their work and deliver results, is of utmost importance.

3. Focus is everything.

For a small start-up, defining a goal that is clear, realistic, simple to understand and not too restrictive is a good way to start. One should always focus on the goal to see if certain activities are central, or just distractions. This will be helpful in the decision-making process.

However, the goal is not something cast in stone - occasionally people must get together and determine if the goal is still relevant to the market.

4. Communications is key.

In his talk, Mr. Molloy discussed the importance of communication several times. Constant communication is a must within the company, because if it fails you will only have a one-eyed view of the world, which may be wrong. Effective communication outside of the company is also crucial. He pointed out that:

"In communication, one size does not fit all. Tailor your communication, otherwise you're talking to yourself."

It is also important to have scientific advisors who critique the company's activities from time to time, to allow them to check if your direction is still correct. Mr. Molloy noted that:

"If you want to believe that you're fantastic, get somebody else to tell you."

5. Big companies are not always right.

This is a curious lesson. Mr. Molloy observed that big Pharma companies are not always right, because they are frightened of each other. As a result, they are "trendy" and sometimes follow dubious fashion trends set by their competitors, which may not make sound business sense. Thus, as a small company there is no need to be too intimidated by big Pharma, because if they see value in doing business with your company, you should negotiate with them on equal terms.

In closing, Mr. Molloy reminded us that investors will always assume that your business plans are not good enough and are over-optimistic. To address their concern, you must be realistic and careful when drafting your proposal.

Heh, that almost sounds like thesis writing.


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