525: Rule Number One: Follow the Science | Kimi Iguchi, CFO, Sage Therapeutics

Listen to the Episode Below (00:35:01)

Asked to recall a moment of insight that she experienced during the course of her career, CFO Kimi Iguchi recalls a former boss (whom she describes as “a great mentor as well as critic”) asking her to rework a PowerPoint deck—once, twice, three times—in anticipation of a board presentation that he was expecting to give the following day. As the clock approached 4:00 a.m., Iguchi remembers, she received a bit of news that made her freeze. “He turned to me and said, ‘You’ve done such great work. I think that this would be a great opportunity for you to tell the story. Why don’t you present to the board?,”’ explains Iguchi, who says that she experienced not a wink of sleep that night. “It was one of the scariest moments for me. It would be my first time presenting to a board, and it was a pretty beefy board meeting,” she recalls, noting that during the early part of her career, it was not unusual for her to spend many hours in helping others to think through how to best communicate complex financial strategies while lending a hand to prepare their materials. It’s a memory that for Iguchi signals the start of a journey—one that would take her from helping to prepare others to finding her own voice as a leader. –Jack Sweeney jb

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Guest: Kimi Iguchi

Company: Sage Therapeutics

Headquarters: Cambridge, MA

Connect: www.sagerx.com

CFOTL: Help us to understand what sets Sage and its offerings apart …

Iguchi: In eight years, we’ve developed a company that’s at about nine and a half billion dollars in market cap. We are really well positioned from a cash perspective, and we’ve grown to be over 650 people strong. Let me tell you a little bit about the history here. We are focused on developing innovative medicines for brain disorders. When we started the company eight years ago, there was a total innovation void. Companies had had many, many failures, and they were shedding their CNS pipelines. Everyone was saying that brain disorders were too tough to tackle, and we said that they were way too important not to. So we were going to take some risks, and we knew that we were going to have to shift the paradigm. That was what we focused on.

How do we learn from those mistakes? From the science side, I think that a couple of things that we did really differently was that we always followed the science. We didn’t go after an indication because it looked good or it felt good or it was a big market. We followed what the science and the molecules told us. That was one key feature. I think that the second key feature was that as we moved into development, we used a differentiated approach, a development strategy where we started with what I would call “methodology studies.” These were smaller studies that had very quick end points, and they were very clear, very unambiguous. What was great about this was that it not only gave us a look at activity very quickly so that we could determine whether to move forward but also enabled us to design the next trial. We could do that more efficiently, right? We know something from that earlier, smaller trial, so now let’s make whatever changes we need to design the next trial. So, we have used this approach over and over again at Sage, and I think that this has really been a core component of why we have such a vast pipeline.

I think that the key here is that what Sage is all about is seeing the brain differently so that we can make all the difference. I think that’s been the core of how we’ve been able to set ourselves up as leaders and differentiated in the field. jb