Taking on the Fight Against COVID-Induced ARDS | Ivor Macleod, CFO, Athersys

Finance leader Ivor Macleod has over three decades of finance experience across all aspects of the life sciences. Along the way, he has held senior finance leadership positions at Merck & Co., F. Hoffmann–La Roche, and Boehringer Mannheim Therapeutics. Prior to joining Athersys last January, he was chief financial officer and chief compliance officer at Eisai Inc.

We recently asked Ivor about his arrival at Athersys, a clinical-stage biotech company that has developed a cell therapy to treat stroke, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and, most recently, COVID-induced ARDS.

Here’s what he told us.

CFO Ivor Macleod of Athersys

Macleod: This has been a very interesting experience for me because, as you can probably imagine, companies like Roche and Merck don’t have to worry about cash flow. I mean, yes, they do projections, and yes, they make investments, and yes, they do the lease versus buy and all of those types of financial calculations. But here at Athersys, we rely on the capital markets. We have to raise money. We had a very successful raise in April, and it was 100% virtual, which was a completely new experience for me.

I joined at the end of January, so I had about 2 or 3 weeks before COVID-19 was getting a lot of publicity. So, fortunately, I was able to go around and meet everybody and start to get to know everybody, which I’m very grateful for. When COVID-19 hit, we very sensibly took several steps. The first was to say that if you could work from home, you were encouraged to. We’ve made sure that everybody has the appropriate technology. We have laboratories here with ongoing experiments, so we started to stagger shifts because experiments had to continue but we didn’t want people bumping into each other.

Did it slow us down? Here at the home office, I’d have to say no, that actually it didn’t. The biggest impact for us and for other pharmaceutical companies is out at the sites where you’re conducting the clinical studies. Some sites continued regardless. I shouldn’t say “regardless.” With the appropriate precautions, some shut down completely. They were not accepting new patients. They were 100% dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients, so this part of the hospital institution was put on hold. And this, I think, has impacted clinical studies broadly across the world because this is a worldwide phenomenon, not just a U.S. one.

Has it impacted our clinical trials? Well, it’s really too early to tell. So far, so good. We did actually initiate a COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) study here in Cleveland. In record time, we got a protocol approved by the FDA, and we enrolled the first sites and actually enrolled the first patients all within about a 6-week span, which is unheard of. So, there are—if it’s the correct term—some “positives” coming out of this.

But I have to say that here in the home office, we’ve been very sensible. I’ve been working remotely and also in the office. And as I said, I’ve just been amazed at what can be accomplished virtually. It really is phenomenal. Like I said, we did our capital raise completely virtually. Now, this is typically something that you do with a bunch of road shows. You fly to Boston, San Francisco, New York. You make presentations. You go out for dinners. You mix with bankers, these types of things. I mean, it’s just amazing that we did all of this over the phone. jb

“Our last capital raise was completely virtual…”