Every month, MassBio spotlights a member company and the great work they’re doing to advance the life sciences industry and support the patients we serve. In January, we spoke with Frank Lee, CEO, Forma Therapeutics. Frank joined Forma Therapeutics as chief executive officer in 2019 with more than 25 years’ global experience in product development and commercial leadership across a range of therapeutic areas within the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Prior to Forma, Frank was senior vice president, global product strategy, and therapeutic area head for the immunology, ophthalmology, and infectious diseases at Genentech.
Tell us about your organization, its mission, and current initiatives.
Forma is a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company focused on the research, development, and commercialization of novel therapeutics for patients with rare hematologic diseases and cancers. We consider ourselves to be in the business of building futures — for patients, for their families and for our employees.
For Forma, 2020 was a transformative year, albeit a year like no other in which everyone was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We hired amazing and diverse talent; advanced our programs in sickle cell disease, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, and AML; and secured additional capital through an upsized IPO and follow-on financing.
How does your organization’s activities help patients now and into the future?
Even on the best days, patients’ experiences with their disease can be challenging, and we strive to understand the nuances of their care needs. We know that people with sickle cell disease experience more days in debilitating pain than pain-free days. Too often, men with prostate cancer fight aggressive cases.
To build a better future, Forma keeps a dual focus on patients’ journeys and ways to bring those journeys to our colleagues. For patients, for example, we take steps such as making clinical trial participation during the COVID-19 pandemic safer by offering extended travel support and covering PPE costs or adding rapid testing to pre-screens at sites.
To keep patients’ journeys close to our colleagues, we seek input through focus groups and advisory boards, as well as through an internal story-telling series focused on patient and caregiver experiences.
Patients are always on our minds, and they renew our purpose each day.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the life sciences industry today?
I’m kept up at night by the question of how to improve safe, empathetic access to care and medicines for all members of society. By and large, folks who have the means don’t have any issues. They have good access to clinics, doctors, and medicines. But there’s a huge disparity, and I am increasingly concerned about the impact it has nationally and globally. In middle America – in Tennessee, where I’m from, and Indiana, where my wife is from – urgent care has become people’s primary care, which isn’t sufficient.
The challenge is a systemic one. In developed markets, we need an industry-wide movement to make it easier for patients, healthcare providers, and office staff to navigate a complicated healthcare system.
What’s next for your organization / what are you focused on in the coming year?
We’re excited to advance our clinical pipeline – enrolling individuals and hopefully seeing data that will get our molecules closer to those patients.
Second, we’re establishing ourselves as a trusted partner locally in Greater Boston and in therapeutic areas like sickle cell. I recognize that true long-term commitment isn’t done overnight, or even in a year. One woman living with sickle cell disease told me that patients want to forge the type of community that hemophilia has, and we intend to be a major player in making that happen.
Finally, we’re becoming a multi-dimensional company, growing in a way that’s consistent with our culture and values. Culture is what grounds and carries the team when the science and the industry are unpredictable. 2020 brought about some of the most unpredictable times any of us have witnessed, and Forma stays humble but determined as 2021 begins.
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