Dr George Magrath is CEO at Lexitas Pharma Services, Inc., an Innovation Advisory Council Member at Foundation Fighting Blindness, and an ophthalmologist at Medical University of South Carolina. Here, he shares what his clinical background has taught him about corporate life, the challenges of leading a growing business, and how the pharma industry can realise its potential as a force for good.
You’re a passionate advocate for the concept of “pharma for good”. What is it, and why does it matter so much today?
When I talk about pharma for good, I’m really talking about allocating resources to projects that are going to have the greatest positive impact on people. We all live in a world of scarcity with finite resources available for drug development; only a certain number of drugs will get developed, as the markets allocate capital based on expected returns.
By thinking differently, and allocating more resources to the projects that will have the greatest impact, we have the opportunity to develop drugs that more closely align with the needs of all stakeholders. For example, we might develop therapies for diseases currently without effective treatment — transforming the lives of those affected — instead of a third or fourth treatment for something like acne, which may generate economic returns but not make a significant difference to the lives of acne sufferers who already have options.
To achieve it, we need to get our industry to align on how we create the right incentives and rewards to get capital allocated to the best products. It’s going to require engaging many different stakeholders — governments, regulatory authorities, academic institutions, and corporates — but will ultimately be worth it for the opportunity to develop new treatments and improve outcomes for patients.
How does that align with the values of your company?
At Lexitas, we think of ourselves as people-centric and purpose-driven. The “pharma for good” idea really aligns quite well with that. At the end of the day, our employees are at Lexitas because they are passionate about helping patients. For many of us, it’s not just a job, but an entire career and profession. And it manifests itself in our approach. We know that these studies can truly impact the lives of many people, and that is the purpose that drives us.
Lexitas, as a contract research organisation, is part of a huge ecosystem. What are you doing day-to-day to achieve this change, and what challenges are you having to overcome?
Challenges crop up every day. We work with people who are developing drugs, typically with small companies that are trying to develop a novel medication or device. They might have formed a company out of a university with the technology they’re working on; they’re getting ready to file it with regulatory authorities and prove it’s safe and efficacious. Every day I see the projects that do get funded, and the ones which don’t. And we can play a big role in helping those companies who are trying to translate university science into real-life applications, and help them with how they approach the clinical development programme in robust but efficient ways.
Because of our belief in “pharma for good” we’re not scared to go after novel clinical trial designs, or patient populations that haven’t been addressed before. And it takes a lot of work to do that — especially when you compare it to a tried and tested path for developing a treatment for something like dry eye disease, which has a real clinical need but already has products approved for use.
As the leader of a high-growth business, what’s been the biggest personal challenge for you?
Because we’re 100% ophthalmology-focused, we’re experts in our field. Back when we were a 35-person organisation, our leadership could touch every trial we were running, for example. The challenge we’ve faced as we’ve grown has been about making sure that expertise is infused into the organisation. It’s no longer possible for our leadership to touch every trial, so the question that we addressed is around how to maintain that same quality and expertise in a growing team.
For us, the answer has been in developing our people so that knowledge is suffused throughout the organisation. If you talk to our biostatisticians, not only are they fantastic statisticians but they also have fantastic experience elsewhere that they can bring to the table. And it’s like that throughout the organisation. That’s one initiative that we’ve been really pushing so that when we talk to people, when we’re developing a drug, we want every person that touches that to have expertise in our area.
What has your clinical background taught you about corporate life?
I love practising medicine, it’s a fantastic career. The reason that I’m here at Lexitas is all about leverage. When you’re a clinician you treat one patient at a time and it’s a fantastic privilege and incredibly rewarding. However, if you can, through a corporate role, touch 30 different projects, and even one or two of those projects end up being successful, then you’ve impacted a lot more lives across the world.
I still maintain the clinic for several reasons. One is that I really enjoy it, and I was fortunate to receive the training that allows me to do it. Secondly, it helps me stay connected with end patients — the end users of the products our clients are developing — which keeps everything in perspective.
Looking back on your career, what’s the best advice you’ve received? And how did it help you?
The best advice that I’ve received has been to pour your heart and soul into whatever you’re doing. So, if you’re going to do something then do it right, go all in. There’s a lot of different options for where any of us can work or spend our time or energy. If you’re not 100% committed it simply won’t be as rewarding in the end. The journey itself is amazing if you pour your heart into it and really go after something.