541: Energizing Your Stakeholder Network | Smital Shah, CFO, ProQR Therapeutics

Listen to the Episode Below (00:35:23)

As an Indian citizen living in the United States and working for a Dutch company, CFO Smital Shah frequently spends her days on conference calls with investors from Asia, Israel, or Europe.

On every investor call, at every board meeting, and at every employee gathering, the same question gets asked: “How far is ProQR from serving patients?” Each time she hears this, the firm’s worldly finance leader provides a thoughtful and measured response.

This is a question that punctuates the tenure of finance chiefs inside every clinical stage start-up, and one that Shah says has led her to seek out any synergies that she can between the finance function’s accounting and compliance processes and ProQR’s greater goal of creating medicines for patients who suffer from rare diseases.

Shah asks: “How do we facilitate—within the confines of finance—what we need to do in order to achieve this?”

ProQR expects to have collected the necessary data from its ongoing clinical trials to seek out approval for its new medicine from the Food and Drug Administration by early 2021 or perhaps sooner.

As for the “confines of finance,” any functional borders within ProQR have clearly already been breached by Shah, who implores her finance team to regularly listen to those beyond the functional boundaries. “This is about understanding that you as an individual contributor cannot always affect the magnitude of change that you want. Change will depend on your team and all of the stakeholders around it. So I think that this is about stakeholder management and truly listening to all and realizing that you achieve impact as a group,” explains Shah, whose finance leadership mind-set is perhaps the offspring of a borderless career. –Jack Sweeney

Guest: Smital Shah

Company: ProQR  (NASDAQ: PRQR)

Headquarters: Leiden, Netherlands

Connect: www.proqr.com

Shah: Our company was started by our founding CEO because of the rare disease that his child has. So, it started around one disease. Very quickly, we also built the company to address many other diseases, which are the ones that we’re working on right now. To me, that transition that we went through from what we were focused on at the start to where we are right now is really the result of a strong collaboration between the strategic and the finance side of the business.

This culminated in a number of new considerations. One aspect was strategic, in that we found that for the disease on which we were working at the time, the competitive landscape evolved such that we were no longer going to be the first ones there. We are always going to be against stiff and very resourceful competition. The second aspect was investors. They were more or less saying, Hey, are we going to put capital into this, as opposed to putting capital into something where the competitive pressure is far lower and the impact could be much broader?

So, internally we had to rally the troops so that we could change the scope of what we were working on and change the teams from the very top. Our new head of R&D was a rare disease development expert. We added a new chief medical officer who came with 30 years in ophthalmology. All of these factors really were related to that big decision that we made to truly pivot the company into what we are today, which is a rare disease ophthalmology company. We did a complete soup-to-nuts change–in everything from changing the teams and the shareholder base, to adjusting the focus to be from a patient organization’s perspective, to revisiting the way that we spend our capital and what our goals are. This was a pretty seminal change in my career, as well as for our company, that we were able to effect, and it was very central to the success that we have today. jb