Doug has more than 30 years of experience in the health care sector and was appointed CEO of Cybin on September 1st, 2020. As a skillful corporate director, in early 2014, Doug led the recapitalization of a NASDAQ-listed pharmaceutical company, raising $65 million. Within the first year of taking the helm as Chairman and CEO, Doug rebuilt the management team and board of directors, and built a 220-person sales team, complete with supporting functions (marketing, sales training, sales operations, and analytics). His efforts grew the company’s enterprise value exponentially from $80 million to around $800 million. Under Doug’s leadership, the pharmaceutical company raised $465 million of capital.
Earlier in his career, Doug served as Head of M&A at Actavis Group, leading 15 corporate acquisitions across three continents, between 2004 and 2008, including a high-profile public hostile takeover attempt in Central Eastern Europe. Over this period, Doug raised approximately $3 billion of capital and managed lending syndicates, including over 25 banks, to fund its growth. Actavis was sold to Watson Pharmaceuticals in 2012 for €4.25 billion.
You have been involved in the biotechnology and Pharmaceutical space for a long time. What drew you to pursuing these opportunities as an entrepreneur?
At the time, I saw each new opportunity on a standalone basis, but when I look back it is clear to me that subconsciously I have been following a pattern. I seem to be drawn to opportunities that are poised for growth, whether that is from being undermanaged, distressed or a startup situation. I am a builder and really get a kick out of building teams and organizations. That’s part of what attracted me to Cybin, also.
You have been a part of multiple turnarounds and ground up ventures that turned out very successfully. How do you identify a potential opportunity that is being overlooked?
I guess there have been three essential types of situations that I have been involved in: undermanaged businesses, distressed businesses and startups. While some people might see those as risky or of little interest, these are exactly the kind of situations where I see opportunity. In undermanaged businesses the solution often lies in simply having a different mindset. Existing managers can get bogged down in survival mode, when what is needed is a growth attitude. In turnaround situations, there’s often an opportunity to start afresh, to throw out the past and start again. In these situations, at rock bottom, the only way is up. Startups are a little more challenging as so much is unknown, but I have learned that you can achieve almost anything with a great team and access to capital, like we have at Cybin.
Recently you helped grow a family owned pharmaceutical business in an exponential way, having it be recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. What helped you do this and what did you learn?
I enjoy working with founders that share common values and mindset. In that situation, as at Cybin, I was completely aligned with the founding family’s turnaround objectives. They had great capabilities but mostly lacked branding, marketing and business development. Once we added those skills sets the business started to grow. In terms of lessons learned, I can say that the main difference between a turnaround situation and a startup, is culture. When turning around an organization there is a pre-existing culture that needs to be guided in order to effectively steer the ship. With startups you get to create the growth culture right from the outset, which is often less of a challenge – and a lot more fun.
What made you personally excited about psychedelics?
I have a molecular biology background and have always been fascinated by the potential effects of psychedelics. Mental illness is also a personal issue for me, having seen several friends and family suffer from depression and addiction, with little help from existing medicines. So, with the recent scientific renaissance of psychedelics for the treatment of mental illness, I was excited to be a part of a team that has the opportunity to develop approved medications for patients in need.
How did you decide that Cybin was the right opportunity for you to get involved in?
My initial interest was generated by the immediate chemistry I had with Cybin’s founders. They are an impressive group that have grown several successful businesses. They also share in my personal identification with mental illness. As I dug in, it was the science that really hooked me. Cybin’s lead development program for Major Depressive Disorder has the potential to completely transform how we treat depression and could potentially be the first commercially available psilocybin treatment available globally.
Could you share what you think Cybin’s advantages are and what you guys are building around psychedelic derived pharmaceuticals?
One major advantage we have is our mindset of improving the patient treatment experience. Our lead development program centers around a sublingual formulation of psilocybin. This sublingual film dissolves rapidly and is absorbed in the buccal cavity, avoiding the impact of first pass metabolism in the liver, which reduces bioavailability of the active molecule by around 50%-60%. By administering our formulation buccally, we expect to see a faster onset of action. In addition we anticipate being able to dose 8x-10x less active drug, which is obviously better from a safety and side effects perspective.
Where do you see the psychedelic medicine opportunity going and how impactful could it be on our culture?
I think that we are really just in the early stages of the development of psychedelic medicines for mental illness. The first few drugs in development center around well-known and characterized psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD. As we look ahead at how we can improve the patients’ treatment experience, Cybin is developing programs geared toward creating novel molecules with improved side effect profiles. The opportunity to treat depression or addiction with just one or two treatments is clearly transformational and could have an enormous effect on how we treat mental illness.
What do you think most participants in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical space don’t currently understand about psychedelics?
I think there has been a stigma from the Nixon-era war on drugs and a lack of education and research resulting from that, but that is very much changing. There has been extensive work over the last decade as leading research centers such as Johns Hopkins University (Roland Griffiths), New York University (Stephen Ross) and impressive neuroscience research using functional MRI at Imperial College, London (Robin Carhartt Harris). As the public learns more about this impressive research and as regulators accept new drug applications I fully believe that our cultural attitude toward these fascinating molecules will change.
What do you see the pathway being for psychedelics to becoming medically accepted and accessible?
Simply put: a focus on the science. Now that pharmaceutical companies like Cybin are partnering with major research institutions to develop the scientific research into drug develop programs, I see a way forward for psychedelics to become approved medicines within the next few years.
The venture capital community is keeping a close eye on what Cybin is working on. What are you hoping to accomplish in the short term and medium term as you guys approach being publicly traded?
Well, I can’t talk much about our plans to go public. We are currently in the middle of a capital raise and we are seeing an unprecedented level of interest from investors and the media. Our near term catalysts include completing this capital round, completion of our sublingual film formulation work and the initiation of dosing in our Major Depressive Disorder study around the end of this year. I also anticipate that you will see Cybin enter into a number of transactions to acquire and license additional capabilities, drug candidates and intellectual property. This is an exciting time for drug development in this area and we fully expect to see a lot of consolidation and transaction activity in the months ahead.