When Mike Catelani seeks to identify the objectives and career milestones that have helped to advance him into the ranks of Bay Area biotech CFOs, he mentions that although he had a deep interest in biology during his high school years, upon entering college he decided to swap out a biology curriculum for an accounting one.
More than a decade later, Catelani decided to make an industry “lane change” to accept a CFO role for a manufacturer of instruments and tools used in drug discovery.Read More
While the company, whose stock was traded on the ASX (Australian Securities Exchange), was not directly involved in drug discovery, Catelani believed that the CFO stint would put him one step closer to opportunities inside the biotech realm.
Still, he can’t help but marvel at the randomness of the circumstances that ultimately opened the biotech door.
“It was complete dumb luck: A recruiter was looking for a CFO who had Australian Securities Exchange experience for a biotech firm in the Bay Area, and—not surprisingly—mine was like the only name that popped up,” explains Catelani, who was named CFO of Benitec, an Australian public company that at the time specialized in drug development for hepatitis C and HIV.
Seventeen years and multiple biotech chapters later, Catelani looks back on his original door of entry as “a bit of a turnaround.”
“It had roughly 6 weeks of cash when I came on board and at the time was involved in a number of patent infringement lawsuits,” reports Catelani, who lists cash management as every biotech CFO’s mission-critical skillset. –Jack Sweeney
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CFOTL: Tell us about Anixa Biosciences … what are its areas of focus?
Catelani: Anixa is a biotech company that develops therapies and vaccines focused on unmet needs in oncology and infectious diseases. We’re listed on the NASDAQ ticker as ANIX.
We’ve got a unique business model in this industry, in that we’re advancing each of our programs through partnerships with top-notch research institutes. What we have—which kind of fits in with my experiences and beliefs about cash and how you manage cash—is a model that basically burns very little cash. Biotech is notorious for burning tons of cash, but what we’ve done is to take the approach of leveraging the infrastructure of our partners. Instead of building out a massive lab, hiring a bunch of scientists and physicians, buying all of the necessary equipment, and creating the massive cash burn that would go along with all of this, we work with different research institutes to actually have the work done at their facilities.Read More
For example, we have a couple of programs that we’re working on with the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top hospitals in the world. They’re doing all of the work for the programs that we own. And the people who work at Cleveland Clinic are really the kinds of people who would never even work outside of academia—we’re getting that high a caliber of scientists working on our programs.
We have another program that’s being worked on at the Moffitt Cancer Center down in Tampa, one of the top 10 cancer centers in the country. Again, here we have topnotch people whom we could never hire in industry.
This model has allowed us to advance our programs with very little capital. Further, we’ve been able to get non-dilutive grants and other types of programs. We have a grant from the DOD and a program with the National Cancer Institute, and both of these entities are essentially paying for much of the development work for a couple of our programs. We like our model because it’s a very-low-burn and capital-efficient way to advance these very important programs to meaningful development milestones.
Our programs are really important to us. As we’ve been growing this company, we’ve always wanted to work in therapeutic areas that are significant. Our model isn’t very conducive to helping orphan diseases, for example. This sounds bad, but the payoff for orphan diseases isn’t typically huge, right? You can invest a lot of money, but the patient population isn’t very big. For a company with our type of model, this would be difficult to pull off because for orphan diseases a lot of times companies are going to want to have their own facilities and take the drug all the way through to market—which means developing a sales force, manufacturing, marketing, and so on. We don’t want to get into all of those aspects of growing a company—we want to work with pharmaceutical partners for that.
“Keep learning new things, especially outside the finance arena. The broader your experiences, the better you’ll be positioned to confront strategic challenges. And don’t forget the importance of people—working with people you like and respect will make the successes that much better and the failures feel surmountable.” –Mike Catelani, CFO Anixa Biosciences
Anixa Biosciences | www.anixa.com | San Jose, CA