Women @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Kelly Gold, CAMP4 Therapeutics

September 19, 2023
23:35 minutes

On this episode of Women @ RopesTalk, hosted by health care partner Christine Moundas, health care counsel Leslie Thornton interviews Kelly Gold, chief financial officer of CAMP4 Therapeutics, a Boston-based biotechnology company. Kelly opens up about what keeps her up at night as CFO of an early-stage, venture-backed company on the path to drug development. She describes her career journey from one quantitative field to the next, starting as a mechanical engineer, then moving to Wall Street and health care finance. As someone who has never liked formal networking, Kelly shares her secret to building strong professional relationships.


Christine Moundas: Welcome and thank you for joining us on our latest installment of Women @ RopesTalk, a podcast series brought to you by the Women’s Forum at Ropes & Gray. In this podcast, we spotlight extraordinary women who have had successful careers and interesting lives and are also making a positive impact in their workplaces and in their communities. We feature women attorneys at Ropes & Gray in conversation with prominent women clients, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and others—we talk about their careers, their successes, the challenges they’ve faced, and the wisdom they’ve acquired. I’m Christine Moundas, a health care partner at Ropes & Gray based in New York and co-head of the firm’s digital health initiative. On this episode, I’m joined by my colleague, Leslie Thornton, who’s based in Los Angeles. Leslie, to kick things off, could you please introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your practice?

Leslie Thornton: Yes, happy to, Christine, and glad to be with you. Like you said, I’m based in Los Angeles. I’m counsel in our health care group, and my practice focuses on all things research and development from research contracting issues to federal grants and contracts matters, and to research misconduct and compliance issues. I also work on many matters related to health privacy, both in the U.S. and outside the U.S., as well as digital health issues like telehealth and artificial intelligence.

Christine Moundas: Excellent. Now, who’s the special guest that you’ll be interviewing on this episode?

Leslie Thornton: I’ll be interviewing Kelly Gold, who is CFO at CAMP4 Therapeutics. CAMP4 is an early-stage company focused on ASO therapeutics aimed at increasing the expression of genes to address different types of diseases by restoring healthy protein levels.

Christine Moundas: Amazing. Now, how did you guys meet and start working together?

Leslie Thornton: Kelly and I were connected by Marc Rubenstein—who is a partner in our life sciences practice—when CAMP4 started to move into its first sponsored clinical trials, so, running these trials on their own.

Christine Moundas: What are the most noteworthy matters that you’ve worked on together?

Leslie Thornton: It’s really been rewarding to work with Kelly and the entire CAMP4 team. I would say there’s not one particular matter, but in general, helping them to get their clinical trials off the ground, as I mentioned. As an early-stage company, there are just a lot of different things that they need to grapple with in terms of regulation but just understanding how most companies operate in this space and what’s typical practice or market practice, so it’s been really rewarding to help them to start these trials and get things going.

Christine Moundas: What would you say is most notable about Kelly’s career?

Leslie Thornton: I think Kelly’s career is notable in that she’s just had such a varied experience. She started out, per her CFO role, in a more traditional financial setting, but she really found her calling and wanting to focus on health issues specifically, and so, I think she’s found a really good niche for herself at CAMP4.

Christine Moundas: Fantastic. With that, I’ll turn it over to you and Kelly.

Leslie Thornton: Kelly Gold, thank you very much for taking part in this podcast today. It’s great to have you with us. Just to start off, it’d be great if you could give our listeners a bit of background about CAMP4, what you do there, and what brought you to your current role.

Kelly Gold: Thanks for having me, Leslie. CAMP4 Therapeutics is a Boston-based, venture-backed biotech company. We are pre-clinical. We have developed a platform based on technology from our founder’s lab at MIT that has allowed us to characterize the regulatory elements that control transcription of any gene at its most functional level. We are engaging with those transcriptional elements with drugs to increase gene expression and return the cell to a healthy state. And so, it’s been a very exciting journey. We are hoping to enter the clinic in the next 12 months, which is like graduating from high school for a biotech company. I’ve been with the company for six years and have been overseeing business development and finance in that period of time. I stepped into the CFO role at CAMP4 about 18 months ago.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, and we were so excited to hear that, too. In terms of just what’s happening currently at CAMP4, what are some of the things that are keeping you busy right now, or keeping you up at night? I think it’d be helpful for the listeners to hear.

Kelly Gold: Yes, absolutely. I was just commenting to someone this morning that it is a wonder that any drug ever makes it to market, because the path to drug development is really strewn with a lot of potential pitfalls and challenges. It’s interesting—I think that drug development is probably the only industry in which we put billions of dollars against developing a product that has maybe a 5% chance of actually making it to market. And so, I think right now, we are experiencing challenges at CAMP4 similar to many pre-clinical companies, learning how to interact with the FDA and other regulators, and potentially bring our medicines to patients in a way that is safe and efficacious and feels good for the regulator and for the patient community. When you’re working across so many stakeholders, there are a lot of different parallel conversations to be had, and we’re just learning how to navigate that very tricky landscape right now.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, and definitely, as you said, not unique to CAMP4—that’s for sure. And so, looking to the broader economy and just the ups and downs that we’ve seen, how has the economy affected either what you’re doing on the finance side, or your team or the company more generally? What impacts have you seen?

Kelly Gold: Maybe I’ll take a step back and just describe what a CFO does. I think that there’s this picture that people who don’t work in the corporate world have of a CFO that is sort of like a glorified accountant—and really, especially in an early-stage company, it’s really much more than that. There is a really significant role in fundraising that the CFO plays. Fundraising is really about storytelling to potential investors and articulating why an investment in CAMP4 today could be potentially very rewarding for them in the long run. When we think about fundraising, because, of course, when you don’t earn any revenue—when you only spend money on research and development—you’re constantly having to bring in more funds, whether that’s from investors or through collaborations where we get payments from larger pharma partners. So, that’s something that I’m focusing on right now. The challenge in the economy over the last, I guess, 24 months now is that we’ve seen really depressed markets, and publicly traded companies are very inexpensive right now. Many of the investors that we would target are focusing a lot of their dollars on these currently inexpensive public opportunities—that we all know will rise over time as the markets improve—and so, we’re competing with other private companies for an increasingly more scarce pool of funds, and that’s definitely been a challenge. CAMP4 has been able to raise in this environment, which is really a coup for us, and certainly kudos to our CEO for pushing that through in a really challenging backdrop. But it’s definitely something that continues to be a challenge for us, and we are very thoughtful about every dollar we spend.

Leslie Thornton: Also, just looking at current events and happenings, what do you see as the most important changes for your company recently, whether that’s related to technology, culture, or anything related?

Kelly Gold: I think that probably the most important thing for our company right now has been really just to be very nimble. We are really learning a lot of things through our interactions with regulators and with the patient community, and I think in order to be successful in biotechnology and drug development, you really do need to keep your ears open when you’re interacting with those two stakeholder groups. You really do need to go in with a perspective, but also be open to the idea that they will bring something to the table that’s something that we hadn’t considered. There are a couple of instances I can think of right now where we’ve had to be very nimble about either thinking about different geographies or clinical trials or thinking creatively about biomarkers that could give us an early signal in phase one trials. I think that we have a really wonderful team of scientists that we’re working alongside, that are helping us think creatively about how we de-risk things earlier on in the development process. I think our industry is all about risk allocation and de-risking events. Often, those happen very late in the drug development phase (phase two, phase three), and so, we’re looking for ways to de-risk earlier on. And that, in turn, helps our CEO and myself sell our story to investors—we’re a relatively de-risked, albeit early-stage investment opportunity. I spend a lot of time with MD/PhDs who are much more credentialed than me, but I think I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by a group of leaders that is open to having these types of discussions with their finance counterparts. It’s been a really wonderful experience.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, and I think being open and nimble like that, as you say, it’s only going to benefit the company in the long term. We see on the Ropes side so many companies that just push forward without having that kind of insight and that openness to feedback, it can really bite them later, so that’s really good to hear.

Kelly, going from CAMP4, and looking more personally to you and your career trajectory, what first attracted you to finance, broadly, and then, in particular, finance within the biotech space?

Kelly Gold: It’s funny—I kind of fell into finance. I actually started my career as a mechanical engineer. I worked as an engineer for five years, designing biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories. Most people don’t know what they are, but you’ve seen them in the movies, in movies like Contagion and Outbreak, where the scientists are researching in these big rubber suits…

Leslie Thornton: Working with Ebola and that kind of thing…

Kelly Gold: Exactly. I did that for five years, and it was actually, as you can imagine, quite a fascinating space to be in. I eventually decided, “I’ve loved this, but I don’t think I want to be an engineer forever.” So, I went to business school. I think that going from one quantitative field to another was a really natural thing for me. I went into investment banking after I graduated from business school. I went to MIT Sloan. It’s funny—when I first hit Wall Street, I had some people in my life say, “That’s very unusual that you would change to banking.” And I always say, “You’d be surprised how many former engineers are walking the halls of investment banks. It’s actually a more common path than you realize.” And so, I worked in investment banking for four years, and worked on health care transactions exclusively, like M&A and equity, and really just fell in love with the space. I was always attracted to health care in some way, coming from this unusual lab design background, and really enjoyed being part of something that felt like you were bringing two companies together that were going to work together on something really amazing that could help people.

Once I had my first child, I decided to move into the corporate world, and moved over to do a corporate finance role at Biogen. I had a great experience there. I hit Biogen when they had had three drug approvals in two years and were earning revenue faster than we could count it. I actually thought that was biotech, naively in retrospect. I thought, “This is great. This is drug discovery. We just put multiple drugs on the market every year.” I now realize that was a unique moment in time, but it was really a wonderful training ground for me. Despite having worked as an engineer, and as an investment banker, I always say I didn’t actually understand how a company worked until I sat within the walls of one. And so, Biogen was a really wonderful, I will say, training ground, and really rounded out my tool kit. It was there that I met the CEO with whom I work now. When he moved over to CAMP4 six years ago, he came to me and said, “I don’t really know what I’m going to call your role, but I need somebody to work with me doing all the things that don’t happen in the lab. What do you think?” And I said “yes,” sometimes still to my amazement. It’s been definitely six years of probably the most rewarding experience I’ve had professionally and personally.

Leslie Thornton: That’s the ideal situation, I think, when a role is created for you, and you are not just going to a role that already exists.

Kelly Gold: True. And we did eventually come up with a title, so that was good.

Leslie Thornton: That’s good. So, along the way, it was such a unique path that you took. Were there certain obstacles that you faced in your professional life, that you feel would be beneficial for the audience here to hear about?

Kelly Gold: You’re right, it was a non-linear path, but I think there were some very broadly spaced guardrails around it—there’s a common thread of health care and quantitative. I don’t know if I had any challenges per se, but I will say that I was never a person who had a really definitive plan for what was next, and I actually think that served me well. I think that I was able to be open to these new opportunities that I really wouldn’t potentially have pursued on my own, because I didn’t have a really clear idea of what I wanted next. I had an idea of what I was looking for in terms of an environment, growth opportunities, breadth of role, and things more broadly speaking. I had a North Star in that regard, but I wasn’t so linear in my thinking about what I should be doing next that I closed my eyes to new opportunities that maybe were adjacent but not directly on the path.

Leslie Thornton: Who do you think has been the greatest influence in your career, whether that’s someone within your professional sphere or just personally?

Kelly Gold: I would say two probably. One is the CEO that I work with right now. I think I was the beneficiary of his philosophy, and I have seen him do this a number of times at CAMP4. He really does look for people whom he sees raw talent and potential in. He’s less concerned about whether their resume says that they’ve done the role that he is thinking of them for, if that makes sense. He really does give people enough room to spread their wings. It’s not always going to be a successful approach, but he’s been pretty unwavering in it, and I think more often than not, it’s worked out. And as I say, I don’t think I would have had all of the opportunities that I’ve had were I at another company, and so, I credit him with really allowing me to move into a number of different directions, and even in pushing me into things that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do or wanted to do, and those things have worked out well as well.

On the other hand, my sister is a physician and also has children. I have three kids myself, and being a working professional comes with a lot of challenges. And I know a lot of wonderful working professional parents, but I think she’s somebody that I’ve really looked up to in terms of the balance that she brings to excelling in her career, and also being a good parent, and just there for her family.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, and something I know that everybody struggles with, that’s for sure—with kids or without, just life in general.

If you hadn’t become a CFO here at CAMP4, what do you think you’d be doing right now, or what career might you have pursued?

Kelly Gold: What I would actually have pursued is probably something in the dance world. I grew up dancing and doing ballet.

Leslie Thornton: I didn’t know that.

Kelly Gold: Yes, it was a really important part of my life. I went on to teach and choreograph, and it was just something that I really loved. I always hoped for anyone, for my kids in particular, that they’ll find their thing. I think it’s so important for everybody to have something that’s just for them, that really is fulfilling to them, and so, dance was always that for me when I was growing up. I always imagine that in some way I would be involved in the dance community. It’s funny, though—I think even coming from the dance world, you actually do have skills that translate. I think you learn how to perform, sometimes through pain, in the case of point shoes.

Leslie Thornton: The discipline. Right.

Kelly Gold: Exactly, the discipline. I think that served me well in school, and I think it serves me well now when I’m presenting to various stakeholders or communities. Sometimes, it can be a little bit difficult, things happen that you don’t expect, but I think that sort of training ground, where you learn to react, and act like that was planned and nothing’s wrong is a pretty good background in a lot of ways.

Leslie Thornton: Right. You learn if you drop something onstage while you’re dancing, you don’t go and get it, right? You just keep going.

Kelly Gold: Right. You just pretend you were supposed to drop it, right?

Leslie Thornton: Exactly. I grew up dancing as well. We’ll have to talk about that, Kelly.

Kelly Gold: Yes, absolutely.

Leslie Thornton: It’s a new fun fact for me, too. Music and all of that, I think, definitely can benefit your career, even if it’s not the focus. So, very interesting.

If we shift now to looking at relationships and mentoring, I think we both know all too well that many careers are built on successful relationships. Can you talk a little bit about just the value of relationship building and maintenance in your own career, and just how you go about building and maintaining your most important relationships?

Kelly Gold: I’m probably not a good case study for this in the sense that I have never really liked the kind of formal, forced networking, but where I would say I’ve compensated for that is forming maybe fewer but deeper relationships. I’m definitely somebody who sees a lot of value in having authentic relationships. I think that over time, when you really do build those somewhat deeper relationships based on more authenticity, shared experiences, I really do think those are the relationships that you can come back to over time, whether it’s professionally or personally. It’s wonderful having a big network of people that you’ll recognize at a cocktail party, and certainly, I know a lot of people who have been very successful in that regard. But to me, there are some people that I haven’t talked to for five years, and then something comes up and they reach out about a certain question, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that people think of me as somebody who’s trustworthy, who’s authentic, and who they can come to with an issue at any time, and not have to feel they need to be apologetic about the fact that we haven’t connected. And I think that’s how I’ve approached relationships. I’m not thinking about who do I need to know—I’m thinking about: What do I enjoy about knowing this person professionally? Maybe it’s just a great relationship, and maybe it’s something that I can leverage one day, but that’s not the primary goal for me.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, so really quality over quantity.

Kelly Gold: Absolutely.

Leslie Thornton: I think a lot of people will feel good to hear your perspective on that, because a lot of us do feel the pressure to go out and meet tons of people. But I agree with you—I think having the fewer but better relationships really serves you well.

Kelly, how do you see the importance of mentoring in your career? And if you could tell us how you’ve been involved in mentoring others, whether that’s supporting women or junior colleagues in your profession.

Kelly Gold: I wouldn’t say I’ve had a formal mentoring relationship with anybody, whether as a mentee or as a mentor, but I do tend to offer unsolicited advice, if you want to pass that under the umbrella of mentorship, maybe we can. I think that sometimes, you see people earlier in their careers, and you see them maybe making decisions or doing things that probably I would’ve done as well, earlier in my career, and did do, thinking they would serve me well. I think now with the benefit of time and experience, I think that when there’s somebody that I see that has a lot of promise and potential, I will sometimes just offer to be a listening ear or just offer my own experience. Certainly, you can’t tell people what to do, but I think especially, I will say, with women that are having children, and I have gone through that struggle of having to split time and not be solely focused on career, and that was definitely an evolution and a challenge for me. And so, when I see other people experiencing that same struggle, I do try to just be there as support if it’s welcome.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, and I think you’re alluding to just being aware of what’s happening around you, what others are going through, and being there as a colleague, versus having that forced kind of mentorship relationship. I agree that that can be really fruitful as well. And so, what advice would you offer, then, women who are just getting started in their careers, particularly those who are in higher-level management positions, or wanting to have a higher-level management position?

Kelly Gold: I would probably tell a woman earlier in her career to have an idea of where she’d like to go but be open to other things. I think professionally and personally, it is really rare that what we try to design for ourselves actually comes to fruition in the way that we expect it to. I think that giving ourselves grace, and being open to new opportunities can open doors in surprising ways. I alluded earlier to having that North Star, and I think giving yourself some forgiveness if the coordinates of that North Star change a little bit—that’s okay too. Things that we want for ourselves and our careers can evolve over time. I know that it’s not definitive advice. When I was younger, too, I would’ve liked somebody to say, “Here are the six things that you do.” Sheryl Sandberg hadn’t published a book yet when I was starting, so I didn’t have her road map. There’s that, and I think just believe in yourself. I think unfortunately, we, as women, just are not as good at doing that sometimes. I’m certainly no exception to that, but surrounding myself with other strong women has been really a great source, I think, of confidence for me. I have a great network of women personally, who no longer work—I think having that kind of group in your corner can really go a long way.

Leslie Thornton: Yes, that support system, for sure. What would you say is the most important piece of advice that someone has given you in your career?

Kelly Gold: The most important piece of advice I’ve received in my career was actually when a very senior executive I worked for on Wall Street said to me once, “Not everyone is like you, and you have to stop assuming that they are.” It sounds like a really simplistic statement, but it’s something that I have thought of many times, professionally, and in my personal life. We all operate assuming that everybody is experiencing something in the same way we are, and that people react to things the same way we would react to that in that instance. I think just being open to the fact that people experience things differently, and it sounds like a very obvious statement, but it’s really helped me work through personal relationships and professional relationships in a much smoother manner, and so, it’s something that I come back to often.

Leslie Thornton: So, having that empathy for others, and trying to walk in their shoes. I completely agree.

Kelly Gold: Exactly, yes.

Leslie Thornton: Kelly, thank you so much for joining me today in this discussion. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you. And I learned new things about you that I didn’t know. So, thank you, again.

Kelly Gold: Thank you, Leslie. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

Christine Moundas: Leslie and Kelly, thank you both so much for that insightful discussion. And as always, thanks to our listeners. For more information about Ropes & Gray’s Women’s Forum and our women attorneys, please visit www.ropesgray.com/women. You can also subscribe to this series wherever you typically listen to podcasts, including Apple, Google and Spotify. Thanks again for listening.

For more information or to contact Kelly Gold, please visit her bio or LinkedIn profile.

Kelly Gold
Chief Financial Officer, CAMP4 Therapeutics
See Bio