Roughly 20 years ago, Neha Krishnamohan arrived as a college freshman on Duke University’s Durham, N.C., campus, intent on pursuing a career that would someday grant her the agency to develop a product or therapy capable of solving a healthcare problem.
Having grown up among family members with different careers in the medical field, Krishnamohan had inherited a deep interest in medicine—although she felt that her tendency to want to be more “hands-on” might make engineering a more suitable field of study.
“As far as I was concerned, I was going to go to work for a Medtronic or a Pfizer, where I would come up with a great new product,” reports Krishnamohan, who after enrolling in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering chose biomedical engineering as her major.Read More
As Krishnamohan was ratcheting up her engineering studies, one of her professors made a lasting impression on her by enlivening their discussions with tales of past experiences as a Wall Street banker.
“The idea that the financial merits of a company really inform its decision-making and that you as a finance person are at the center of critical decisions that need to be made was intriguing, to say the least,” recalls Krishnamohan, who along the way began thinking of investment banking as perhaps an alternative path along which to achieve her goal of developing a medical product.
As her college years progressed and Krishnamohan applied to a number of investment bank internship programs, eventually she nabbed a spot at Goldman Sachs, which subsequently offered her a full-time position upon her graduation in 2008.
“This was a tumultuous time to be starting a career in investment banking, but I think that it helped to lay a foundation for me with regard to the importance of being prepared for the worst,” explains Krishnamohan, who would remain at Goldman Sachs for a period 13 years, 11 of which were spent inside the firm’s healthcare investment banking group. Krishnamohan ended up being named a Goldman vice president in 2015, about midway into her lengthy tenure with the firm.
In this same year, while Krishnamohan was tasked with helping a Boston-based client to prepare for an IPO, a snowstorm prevented her manager and Goldman colleagues from attending the company’s “drafting sessions,” wherein the firm’s management and lawyers would toil for many hours over a period of days to create its IPO documents.
As Krishnamohan remembers, “I knew that the room was going to be looking to me for the right guidance, so I embraced this and found myself having a point of view, asking questions, guiding them through the story—and I saw that people were listening. It was a remarkable 3 days.”
“Leadership doesn’t have to have all the answers,” she adds. “You have to listen and drive toward decisions that have conviction.” –Jack Sweeney
“Leadership doesn’t demand having all the answers; often the most successful outcomes come from embracing humility, asking questions, listening to diverse voices and challenging assumptions.” – Neha Krishnamohan, CFO, Kinnate Biopharma
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CFOTL: Tell us about Kinnate Biopharma … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Krishnamohan: Kinnate was founded in 2018, so it’s a fairly young company, around for about 5 years. It was founded by Steve Kaldor, a renowned chemist here in San Diego, who has unfortunately passed away. What we’ve been able to build from what we started with is really a testament to him. What’s exciting about Kinnate is that we’re focused on oncology, and all of our drugs have been developed in-house. After only 5 years, we currently have two drugs that are in clinical trials, so we’ve made remarkable progress.
We’re focused on developing oncology drugs for cancers that have a validated target or driver but at the same time no current therapy that will work. Or, perhaps, patients are progressing on existing therapies but still need additional ones to target what’s called “resistance.”Read More
This is our focus, and, as I’ve said, we’ve made tremendous progress in just 5 years. What’s really allowed us to do this is not only an incredible team, of course, but also the fact that we don’t have physical labs. We have an external ecosystem of partners that we leverage to really get scale.
One example of this is on the chemistry side, where we have a small, highly sophisticated and experienced, in-house team that we call “the drug hunters.” They really know how to design the chemistry of the drugs and optimize for them, but we also have the flexibility and ability to leverage anywhere from, say, 15 to 75 medicinal chemists with whom we contract—based on need—to scale this work.
This gives us valuable speed because typically it takes time to set up a lab. You then have to hire people on the bench to optimize and then develop the drugs. By using this type of scalability and system, we’re able to get there quickly. From a financial perspective, this also gives us maximum flexibility as we are trying to make decisions about whether to bring something forward to the next phase or maybe put it on the back burner because we wouldn’t be able to get there quickly enough. Speed, of course, and getting there quickly are really important for a biotech company.
Kinnate Biopharma | www.kinnate.com | San Diego, CA