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Stephen Bell

Stephen Bell

Biologicals, Vaccines & Pharmaceuticals & Trade Commission Trustee, Federal Trade Commission

Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals were both recently named by the Wall Street Journal as 2 of the 8 fields of technology and science that will shape the future of the world as we know it.

Sable's Dave Kitley met with Dr. Stephen Bell, a globalized South African with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom within these industries, from consulting and advisory services, to invention and listing of his own conception. This interview highlights Dr. Bell's opinion on the importance of a solid academic foundation, how RSA can play a role in leading the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals growth, and what support should be provided to enable this. Read on to find out more.

Dave (D): You have had an illustrious career, from academics and consulting to entrepreneurship and a successful IPO, and now you are working for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Can you describe the memorable highlights?

Stephen (S): I'm a true believer that quality education establishes a well-rounded theoretical knowledge base, a solid foundation from which to launch a solid "real world" career path. Having opted initially to establish my knowledge base in medicine, science, and business to address global biotechnology and pharmaceuticals challenges, my exciting and very fulfilling "value-adding" journey began. The common highlight of my academic pursuits was that they set the stage for me to explore and to be innovative, which was wonderful because everything was moving at academic pace. By contrast, the race is always on in the corporate pharmaceuticals and biotechnology world. This taught me to be nimble and very focused, and gave me the opportunity to make good use of my academic knowledge base. Being goal- and detail-oriented, planning carefully, then executing effectively, the outcomes were characteristically exactly as I'd hoped and expected. Therefore, I hold fond memories of the entire adventurous journey and am now far better prepared to proceed with more similarly rewarding endeavors.

D: Following 10 years of work on and at BioSante, what were the factors contributing to you exiting/leaving the company you started, and why the move from Biosante to the FTC?

S: Having successfully taken an idea all the way from inception to the clinic, followed by licensing the technology to groups that had the best potential to maximize the value, I felt my job was done. In preparation for my next big adventure, the FTC work was most appealing in the sense that it had the potential to satisfy a number of my immediate objectives concurrently. Primarily, I was in a position to do a "deep dive" into the detailed "state of the art" workings of the world's largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer – Wyeth, and the main companies that had been selected to acquire their regulated divestiture products. The scope of this high intensity work covers intellectual property, partnerships, licenses, pipeline technology, R&D, technology transfer, regulatory affairs, product and process development, manufacturing and operations, supply chain, six sigma, sales and marketing…an intensive "re-training" course. Besides this phenomenal networking opportunity, this presents a wonderful opportunity to "evergreen" my related skill sets and to update my knowledge base, creating a good understanding of the new dynamic and challenges facing leading industry leaders today.

D: Having been a successful entrepreneur, what do you feel are key characteristics and factors that have contributed towards this success?

S: Staying current with the state of the art, having sound competitive intelligence, and being ready to seize opportunities quickly, focus on competitive advantages, and then rationally translating them with the best use of available resources, to give rise to commercially successful outcomes in the shortest possible timeframe. Thus, maximizing ROI for investors.

D: In your opinion, what is the global impression of South Africa in terms of products being developed in the biotech and pharmaceuticals space?

S: South Africans are generally world renown for their strong entrepreneurial spirit, their pragmatism, resourcefulness, and their "roll up their sleeves and get the job done" attitude. In general, I've been pleasantly surprised with the global competitiveness of the emerging technologies and products, thus anticipating that there is good reason for the entrepreneurial South Africans to continue competing strongly on the world stage.

D: Where do you see the two sectors, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, growing in the coming future?

S: In pharmaceuticals, the trend is towards designer or personalized medicine, with emphasis on specialty or niche products aimed at select patient groups. Biological therapeutics [treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune (defense) system to fight infection and disease – author's emphasis] are destined to represent a hot growth area in the next decade or two. In the biotechnology field, alternate energy and environment will be big.

D: Can South Africa be innovative in terms of innovation for own use and innovation for the African continent?

S: South African entrepreneurs are well positioned and have the potential to take the lead role in setting the standard and heading the charge to revolutionize the health and welfare of the African continent. That is, from disease prevention and in finding treatments and therapies, and ideally, to eradicate Africa-centric diseases HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other parasites, as well as preempting the imminent threats of other Africa-derived emerging diseases, such as hantavirus and ebola. Private-public partnerships with global organizations such as WHO, UNICEF, United Nations, and The Gates Foundation, to mention a few, should be the preferred way to go.

D: What additional support needs to be given to researchers and academics in the space to help drive both innovation and subsequent entrepreneurship?

S: Infrastructure, in the form of shared incubator facilities that are fully equipped with state of the art equipment that can be shared across multiple disciplines, and staffed with full-time personnel that have broad-based scale-up skills and experience, to be established in the main centers, will be key. Then, offer lucrative stipends to attract eminent scholars and entrepreneurs, and incentivize them and to ensure they have the desire for, and means, to foster their long term commitment.

About Stephen Bell

Dr. Bell is an accomplished entrepreneur, having formed a start-up company and built it up for 10 years, taking it from invention and patenting of the lead technology, all the way through R&D, Business Development, Clinical Development, Out-Licensing, IPO and finally Partnering. Additionally, while serving in various consulting roles over the preceding 25 years, he has collaborated with, and added significant value to, a number of other small and mid-sized companies as well.

In the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields, Dr. Bell has wide-ranging business experience including M&A, post-merger integration, licensing, intellectual property, business strategy and development, financing, research, product development, clinical development, regulatory affairs & compliance, manufacturing & commercial operations, across a wide range of specialty areas. These include vaccines, biologicals, molecular biology, stem cells, cell therapy, infectious diseases, diagnostics, cancer, allergy, autoimmune disease, endocrinology, neurology, cardiology, aesthetic medicine, medical devices, and medical instrumentation.

Dr. Bell completed a B.Sc degree from Rhodes University before being awarded a graduate degree in Clinical Science and Immunology from the University of Cape Town Medical School. Dr, Bell then received a Swiss National Research Foundation award to undertake Allergy studies at the University of Bern, Subsequently, he was awarded a PhD in Medicine from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Additionally, he holds a MBA (Beta Gamma Sigma honor inductee) from the University of Georgia system Coles College of Business.

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