Women @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Siobhan Pomeroy, Gilead Sciences
In this episode of Women @ RopesTalk, hosted by IP transactions partner Megan Baca, M&A partner Emily Oldshue speaks with Siobhan Pomeroy, vice president of corporate development at leading biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. With a background in science and an MBA, Siobhan talks about the many business and corporate development roles she’s held across the life sciences industry, including at a medical device firm, smaller biotech companies and larger pharmaceutical companies. She plots her trajectory to her current role as a leader of transaction teams and gives her invaluable perspective on team building. Thinking about her career, she remembers a deal where her personal and professional lives collided, and shares the advice she gives to women colleagues who ask her about work-life balance.
Megan Baca: 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 who 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, about their careers and what’s led to their successes, the challenges they’ve faced, and the hard-earned wisdom they’ve acquired. I’m Megan Baca, a partner at Ropes & Gray with a practice focusing on intellectual property and technology transactions, and I’m also co-head of the firm’s digital health initiative. I’m based in Silicon Valley. On this episode, I’m joined by my colleague, Emily Oldshue, who’s based in Boston.
Hi, Emily—to kick things off, why don’t you introduce yourself and provide an overview of your own practice?
Emily Oldshue: Sure, absolutely. I do strategic M&A, primarily in the life sciences space. I sit in Boston, but work with clients across the country, and Gilead is high on that list. I know you and I both enjoy working with them a lot, so do you want to give a few words on Gilead, and our background with our relationship with Gilead and with Siobhan?
Megan Baca: Yes, absolutely. I think with everything we’ve gone through the past few years with the pandemic, it’s especially exciting to have someone from Gilead joining us on the podcast today. As many of our listeners probably know, Gilead Sciences is a leading biopharmaceutical company located here in the Bay Area. They focus on research and development of antiviral drugs used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, influenza, and, of course, now COVID—remdesivir has been super important to the pandemic response. And personally, I’m just thrilled to be able to work with a company like Gilead Sciences—you and I have had the opportunity to work with Siobhan on multiple deals recently, and she’s just a wonderful person, and we’re excited to have her on the podcast.
Siobhan Pomeroy: Great—thanks so much, Emily. I’m excited to be here today and appreciate the opportunity. I’ve been at Gilead for approximately four years now and currently lead our transaction team within corporate development. And what that really means is that I’m responsible for overseeing a team of folks that help to shepherd deals really from initiation—and ideas from those initial conversations—all the way through the contracting process and ultimately to close before we hand something off to our colleagues in Alliance Management. My background is primarily in business development. I’ve actually been working in the industry, or in the field, for 10+ years now. I began my career actually at a medical device firm, and then went back to business school while I was working at that firm. I ultimately moved to AbbVie, where I was there for about four years working for both their immunology and oncology franchises. Then, I actually moved over to biotech because I was very curious to see what life was like on the other side, so spent another three to four years working actually for two small biotechs, which was a fantastic experience. And then, I finally came back to the buy-side working for Gilead in 2019. I’m actually a scientist by training—I have a chemistry degree. I think one of the things that’s been really fun for me as I work in corporate development for a pharma/biotech organization is just having that opportunity to utilize both my business training along with my scientific backgrounds to help find business opportunities that ultimately result in therapies coming to patients, because I think that’s really the focus for all of us.
Emily Oldshue: Yes, and that’s such a neat aspect of what you do. It’s fun for all of us when we’re working on deals with you to watch you pivot from interacting with the other side on key commercial terms and talking to us about various legal points, and then we got on a diligence call with the other side and you’re neck-deep in the science. So, that’s fun for us to see you switch between all of those roles so fluidly, so it makes sense that that’s how you experience it, too. I’m curious, just having made your way from your background in science, and hard science at MIT no less, into corp dev, how you found your way there. Can you talk a little bit about early days in your career—how you navigated from the early days at a CRO and then on to med tech, and your mentors there, and how you found your way to corporate development at a big company like Gilead?
Siobhan Pomeroy: Sure. I think like most college students, I had very little understanding of the business of science, and certainly the word “licensing” would’ve been very foreign to me as a college student. But I was fortunate that one of my first jobs after school was working for a small CRO in Massachusetts, where the CEO was actually chairman of the board of a publicly traded company that had cash to spend, but not necessarily a lot of internal opportunities. Part of the work that the CRO did was actually for the benefit of this publicly traded company that he was overseeing, and he would bring me on board to help look at opportunities and ultimately diligence opportunities that this company was considering. So, that was really my first foray into corporate development, business development, diligence, and understanding, again, how does one really evaluate the signs, look at the pros and cons, the risks, and pull together a business case, and ultimately a recommendation in terms of whether this is an opportunity that fits strategically with what the company is trying to accomplish. Or, it may not be the right fit, depending on the risk profile or depending on some other barriers—that could be commercial; it could be the capital that would be required to take the asset to a certain level, etc. So, that was really my first experience, and I was very fortunate that that CEO was, I think, very open to somebody young, even with, I would say, a non-Ph.D. background, helping with the evaluations around this diligence.
After working as a CRO for a couple of years, I ultimately realized that my passion was more around business development. I did move to a medical device firm, Smith+Nephew, where ironically, I actually moved to continue doing some clinical trial work, but I knew long term that I wanted to move to a bigger organization where I would have some mobility, hopefully, to move into their business development group, and that’s exactly what happened for me after spending about a year there. And so, I was fortunate—actually, the person running business development at Smith+Nephew was a Ph.D. scientist by training. He had a bunch of MBAs on his team, and he was actually really excited, given my background, to add me as somebody who would have expertise in terms of understanding the regulatory and the clinical trial process and really complementing his team in terms of the business training that they had.
When I think back to mentors, I think of finding individuals who appreciate outside-the-box backgrounds or may not be thinking so traditionally in terms of, “I need to have somebody with exactly an MBA, etc.” Ultimately, when I was at Smith+Nephew, I decided to go back to business school because I felt it would be beneficial in the long term to have the business training along with the scientific background. And towards the end of business school, I actually moved to AbbVie where I spent four years. While there, I was very fortunate to have two great mentors: Suzy Lebold was the head of the immunology group there and had been at the organization for over 20 years doing business development, and John Poulos was actually the head of the group and had spent over 30 years doing business development. Both of them were extremely supportive as I began my career, ultimately, I would say, on the pharma side of corporate development, and they taught me a lot just in terms of working with stakeholders, executing deals, really understanding actionability, and making sure that I was in a position to be successful with deals.
After spending four years at big pharma, I think a lot of folks do get the bug to go to biotech, and that was certainly the case for me. So, I spent some time at a couple of smaller biotechs, really understanding how the other side views these deals. And it’s been a tremendous advantage to understand the thinking in a smaller organization—you certainly get a sense of their capital constraints, their resource constraints, and how you focus that organization to really think strategically about corporate development. So, I spent some time there at two small organizations before ultimately moving back to Gilead.
I would say, once again, I’ve stayed at Gilead now for almost four years, and I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors here, whether I think of my boss, Devang Bhuva, or the CFO, Andy Dickinson—they’ve been incredibly supportive both of me and the team. And I think at Gilead, corporate development really is a core competency. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have leaders who are committed to external innovation, because ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what’s required in order for the team to be successful.
Emily Oldshue: Yes, totally—and I just think it’s so cool. Like you, I didn’t know coming out of college what the corporate development role looked like in these big companies, and it’s been really fun for me over the years to work with you all on such cool deals. I think something fun for those of our listeners who don’t do work in this area—and if they work with people in corp dev elsewhere, maybe they don’t know life sciences so well—the sorts of stuff you do and the platform you have is just so cool, and so, you’ve got plenty of fodder to choose from. But I’m wondering if there’s a deal that sticks out where it just was so clear to you that being in that corp dev role, you got to work on something really neat, and maybe over time and over years, you got to watch it grow, whether at Gilead or at the company you sold it to, or something along those lines? I was just curious—it’s just such neat stories that come out along the way, I think.
Siobhan Pomeroy: First of all, I totally agree, and I really feel grateful to have the opportunity to do what I do. I think, again, we come to work every day with an opportunity to ultimately bring drugs into an organization where the organization can bring them forward and hopefully help them to get to patients. And so, for me personally, one of my favorite deals that I’ve ever worked on is when I was at AbbVie, I actually initiated conversations with Boehringer Ingelheim around purchasing risankizumab, which is now, among other things, approved for psoriasis. But my personal story with respect to risankizumab is I have a very close family member who actually takes that drug. So, for me, as a research scientist, the holy grail is really working on a drug from developing that chemical matter, going through in vitro and in vivo testing, and bringing it all the way to market. I think the equivalent for somebody doing business development is getting the opportunity to work on something that’s relatively early stage. I think risankizumab would’ve been in Phase 2 trials when AbbVie ultimately purchased the drug. Seeing it come to market and then having that direct relationship with somebody in the family actually utilizing that drug and having fantastic results—that’s really one of my favorite stories. But I would say, for those of us that enjoy doing deals, really, they are just so much fun to work on in general. I think I see every deal as a puzzle. And, for me, I was one of those folks—I never really wanted to specialize and do any one thing, so I love the idea that you could be a jack-of-all-trades, depending on the type of deal, whether it’s an early clinical collaboration or by an acquisition of a whole co. You’re going to deal with myriad different issues, so I think there’s just a lot of excitement in general, and it’s fun to work on them.
The other types of deals that I’ve personally really enjoyed working on over the years—again, thinking of that patient lens—are clinical collaborations. It’s really ironic because a lot of folks will tell you, “These are the small easy deals—they’re lower importance.” But the reality is that these are the deals that immediately allow you to get a combination of drugs to patients. And so, for me, I’ve always been really excited about working on these collaborations because the reality is six months after you’ve penciled these contracts, you ultimately have patients that are receiving these drugs and hopefully starting to benefit from them. So, as I think about deals that are fun for me, it’s those deals where they may seem small in terms of paper and how you contract them, but at the end of the day, it’s that big impact that they’re immediately having on patients.
Emily Oldshue: Yes, it’s so cool to watch. And I feel the same way about what I do—I do it from a different side of the fence sometimes than you do, or with a different lens, but feel the same way. I just think it’s so neat to be involved in those sorts of deals.
So, Siobhan, I’ll embarrass you for a minute here and say that one of the things that Megan, Sarah, Amanda and I all like so much about working with you is watching you in action, leading your teams and doing so just so beautifully. You manage to pull out valuable perspectives from all sorts of different people throughout the organization at Gilead and just so seamlessly synthesized issues and what others might be thinking on the other side, and I think it’s just so valuable. To the extent it’s not just second nature to you and you’ve thought about that or do some of that intentionally when you build your teams, I’m curious to hear: What do you think it is on your teams that makes them run well? And what are you looking to do when you build your teams and set the tone for those transactions? It’s fun for us to watch, and I’m curious for others to hear how you think about it.
Siobhan Pomeroy: First of all, thank you—I am embarrassed, and I genuinely appreciate the kind words. But there’s an old cliché, and I think for me, one thing that is always apparent at the end of every deal is it really does take a village. As I reflect back on deals, the first thing I find myself thinking at the end of the deal is, “There are so many people to thank, and I don’t even know if I can provide them with the heartfelt thanks that they deserve here.” Because I have so much to say in terms of what their contributions have been along the way. I think as we think about pulling together deal teams, building teams and motivating folks, for me, what’s really important is, as the leader of the team, it’s important to have the wherewithal to step back and really try to have your voice be one of the quietest. So, I see myself in some respects as a conductor of an orchestra. I have people that are experts across many, many areas, and for me, one of the most important jobs is how do I make sure that I’m calling on each of those experts and bringing together that expertise, really synthesizing it so that we’re playing beautiful music together, and ultimately, bringing together the entire team to get to a deal.
I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I would have for younger people as they are thinking about corporate development is, early on in your career, I think there’s this sense that you have to be the expert in many areas—you have to be the voice in the room, or you have to be the quarterback in such a way that you’re speaking for the team. I think as I’ve grown in my role, one of the most important things I’ve appreciated—and I give a lot of credit to my mentors, especially at Gilead in this regard—is that my voice is really less important. It’s, “How do I step back and let the team shine so that at the end of the day, we’re bringing all of that expertise together?” So, for me, motivating folks is making sure that we are encouraging them; making sure that sometimes it’s as simple as a “thank you,” and recognizing that folks are working really late and spending a lot of extra hours as we try to get something across the line; making sure their voices are heard when we’re presenting to leadership; and having the humility to defer to somebody and say, “Look, actually, let me turn to so-and-so because he or she has been thinking about this and will do the topic better justice than I will.”
Emily Oldshue: Yes, it’s just so apparent—and you do it for your lawyers, too, which we, of course, greatly appreciate. It’s just so nice working with you, and it’s always just such a pleasure, so that comes as no surprise. I like the vision of conducting the symphony and leading from behind at times when that makes sense to drive the process forward, so it’s no surprise to hear you say it, but I love the mental image. And I often catch up with you when we’re chit-chatting ahead of a Zoom getting going with others joining the line and so forth—we talk about all sorts of stuff. I like how well you integrate talking to people about their lives and what’s important to them, and I see you using that as a way to bring people together, drive deal teams, and build a lot of loyalty and cohesion on teams. And so, I’m curious if you’re willing (I know you are, because we talked about it ahead of time), but you and I are managing to get to this life stage together about having kids, and you just shared such beautiful perspectives with me when we were talking about it once, and I was wondering if you might be willing to share it with our audience in terms of how you came to that decision in where you’re at in your career and how you think about that sort of thing. Because it’s something that’s important to a lot of people, and there’s just such a range of things people do and how they make it work, and I just thought you had such a nice perspective on it, I wondered if you’d share it with people.
Siobhan Pomeroy: Sure. For the audience, Emily, I’m certainly a little older in my career, and my husband and I are fortunate that we’re going to welcome a little boy over the next two months to join our family—this is our first child because we have started a family a little bit later. For me, as I think about the reasons for that and how that personal piece really integrates with work, I guess the message I would have for folks is it’s not one-size-fits-all with respect to what is right for you in terms of balancing career and family. I think as my husband and I have been on our journey, one of the things that we’ve really been fortunate to do throughout our lives is we’ve traveled extensively. We’re both big skiers. I would say since we’ve moved to California, we’ve had a wonderful eight years of visiting Lake Tahoe on the weekends and spending a lot of time skiing. And then, the two of us are also ironically workaholics, so we’ve always had that “work hard and play hard” mentality, but ultimately, as we were getting older, we felt that we also had that bug to start a family. And so, we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to start our family at this point.
I have a lot of women that will approach me and chat with me about concerns they’re worried about: “How do I balance life and work?” And I would say what’s really important, because I think about the women on my teams, too, who are moms and rock stars on the corporate development side—I think for me what I would tell folks is it’s really important to find the right set of people to surround yourself with in the workplace. So, there is an old adage, “The people make the place.” I think that’s incredibly true when it comes to young women who are trying to balance starting a family and also being high performers at work. And so, for me, I’ve been very fortunate. I remember, actually, I was somewhat afraid to tell both my boss and his boss that I was pregnant—and actually, the irony was they were both two of the happiest people for me, just genuine happiness. And again, it reinforced for me the importance of surrounding myself with these great mentors. I would say to folks, don’t feel like you need to delay starting your family just because you see others have families on the later side, and don’t feel that you have to have your kids young if that doesn’t make sense for you. I’d encourage folks to be on their journey and find what’s right for them in terms of that balance.
Emily Oldshue: Yes, I’ve found the same thing. It’s just been so heartening to see people’s reactions and share the excitement, so it’s very, very exciting stuff. And your thirst for adventure is the subject of our lightening round, if you’ll indulge me—so, I’m curious, because you’ve been so many places and on so many trips: A favorite weekend trip?
Siobhan Pomeroy: I have to go with Lake Tahoe just because it is my little heaven on earth. And I’m very spoiled in the sense that I get to do it so often, but it’s just a different mentality when you drive into the mountains and see the snow. It’s really my escape.
Emily Oldshue: I love it. And understanding Lake Tahoe and skiing there will certainly be on the list, what place are you most excited to visit with your son?
Siobhan Pomeroy: Definitely the mountains. I think my husband and I are already watching the videos of this person who’s got an eight-month-old who’s snowboarding, or this person’s two-year-old is doing black diamonds, etc. So, we’re really just excited to share our passion for skiing with our son and have him there and be a part of the friend group.
Emily Oldshue: How fun. I know you recently decamped to move down closer to the office—but before you did, you lived in San Francisco, and I was curious, with a lot of listeners either living there, being through there somewhat regularly, what’s a not-to-be-missed, low-key restaurant in San Francisco (something you love on a Thursday night)?
Siobhan Pomeroy: My favorite is—and you have to try to get there early and get a bar seat—a restaurant by the name of Frances, which is in the Castro area. It is literally a hole in the wall, but it is one of those quiet, romantic, warm places that is just a hidden gem in the city.
Emily Oldshue: I love it. And we haven’t managed to connect when you’ve been out here yet, but it was so fun for me to learn that you come out to Boston regularly because you grew up here. What are your favorite things to do here when you’re with your family? What do you guys get up to when you’re here?
Siobhan Pomeroy: Honestly, my favorite thing is just family dinners. I have a brother and a sister, and both of them have kids. And actually, I’m from Ireland originally, so it really is just my parents, my brother and sister—and, of course, my husband’s family when we visit Boston. But for me, there’s just something about when we all sit down to dinner—I love having oysters when I’m in Boston, so ideally, we’ve got some oysters at dinner, and just having that opportunity to catch up and, quite frankly, be a family again, because you don’t always get that when you live so far away. So, that’s really my favorite thing. And then, of course, there’s always walking around Boston, which is one of my favorite cities, very near and dear to my heart—so, another thing we try to do when we’re home with family.
Emily Oldshue: We’ll have to get together one of the times you’re out here soon, and maybe I’ll even get to meet the little one at some point.
Siobhan Pomeroy: Yes, definitely.
Emily Oldshue: I love it. So, thank you so much, Siobhan, for taking the time to do this. I thought it was so neat to hear a little more about your background, so I appreciate so much you taking the time to talk with us here today.
Siobhan Pomeroy: Thank you so much. Thanks for the opportunity, Emily. I really appreciate it, and I’ll look forward to hearing the results.
Megan Baca: Emily and Siobhan—thank you so much, that was terrific. And as always, thank you to our listeners. For more information about Ropes & Gray’s Women’s Forum and our women attorneys, please visit ropesgray.com/women. You can also subscribe to this series wherever you typically listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google and Spotify. Thanks again for listening.
For more information or to contact Siobhan Pomeroy, please visit her LinkedIn profile.