CFO Intelligence Magazine – Winter 2022
Paolo Tombesi, CFO
Turning Point Therapeutics, Inc.
A Fantastic Voyage: Turning Point Therapeutics, Inc. CFO Paolo Tombesi navigated from Big Pharma to Biotech
Seasoned CFO Paolo Tombesi left the security of Big Pharma companies like Novartis for smaller ones like Turning Point Therapeutics, Inc., a precision oncology company developing next-generation therapies that target genetic
drivers of cancer.
He sees his own journey as a reflection of the broader pharma landscape, where larger companies may benefit by taking lessons from smaller ones. “Global competition and the threat to patent protection mean that large pharmaceutical companies increasingly have to think like startups,” cautions Tombesi. “But equally importantly, CFOs need to adopt a startup mindset.”
Before joining Turning Point in July 2021, Tombesi most recently held the CFO role at Epizyme, a pre-revenue biotech that’s developing and delivering novel epigenetic — or non-DNA sequence — therapies. Prior to that, he was CFO
at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. in the U.S. and earlier served in high-level financial positions with global
companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Unilever NV and Johnson & Johnson. Tombesi began his “smaller is better” journey in 2017 when he left Novartis for Insmed Inc., a biopharma focused on treatments for patients with serious
and rare diseases.
STRIVING FOR PERSONAL GROWTH
“I wanted to be CFO of a growing biotech, where I could get involved with investor relations, capital raises, and helping to build a company through its entire spectrum of early development to commercial market,” he says. “Your staff and financial resources may be smaller, but your responsibilities grow. So, it’s a way to experience the full life of a developing enterprise. At a large pharmaceutical, you’re either in the big R&D phase, or at the commercial stage, but at a smaller enterprise you live the whole spectrum every day and it’s personally very fulfilling; although, especially at a smaller firm, you have to be creative and flexible about capital and how to allocate resources.
The main thing is “To be able to leverage milestones, or catalysts, especially about data or FDA interactions,” he adds. “You want to demonstrate progress, like your Phase 2 or 3 data, positive NDA or other meetings with the FDA.”
SMALLER DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN EASIER
Tombesi had to stretch his creative muscles when he moved away from Big Pharma. “When you join a pre-commercial biotech, in particular, you don’t have a large stream of revenue, so accessing capital is more involved.
During the four years through May 2021, Tombesi raised an aggregate of $1.5 billion to fund operations at a variety of companies. The total includes almost $1 billion at Insmed through two equity raises and one convertible offering, and the rest more recently at Epizyme that featured a creative multi-part financing that included equity and royalties with Royalty Pharma and a loan facility with its subsidiary, Pharmakon.
“We have to remain flexible about financing, but it’s exciting to interact with knowledgeable investors,” he says. “My team and I have to gain their trust and explain that not only do we have a strong pipeline with a potential business opportunity, but especially that we have an experienced and top-class management team that can execute on our financial and operational plans.”
NAVIGATING THE MOVE FROM BIG TO SMALLER
“When you’re with a multinational pharmaceutical, there’s some security that comes from being with something so massive,” notes Tombesi. “When I originally left Big Pharma for biotech, I wondered if I’d be able to continue to do the right thing in such a different environment. Now that I’m on my third biotech, I’m much more confident that my mindset and capabilities have been transformed and adapted to the biotech, pre-commercial world. Fortunately, my personal and professional career prepared me for this. Moving between the U.S. and Europe and Asia exposed me to different cultures, so by the time I made the shift from Big Pharma to a biotech startup I already had deep exposure to change management.”
At a smaller firm, there’s no shortage of responsibilities. “My team and I are helping to build commercial and IT infrastructure, while developing financial planning and long-term business strategies, in addition to external business development,” he says. “It’s a matter of balancing strategic objectives. We’re laser-focused on our product candidates and how to get them to patients, but you have to integrate those efforts into your long-term drug development strategy. Bringing the molecules to the patients requires balancing your long-term and short-term strategies.”
As CFO he’s also coordinating multiple investor roadshows and working with investors. “By the time you’re a late-stage development company you’ve likely already held investors’ and management’s hands through multiple rounds,” Tombesi says. In his case, it means being comfortable with a financing mix of equity, bank debt and notes, with the proportion depending on a variety of issues, including investor sentiment, market cap, and a company’s debt level.
Beyond the technical details, Tombesi enjoys the challenge of joining companies that are on the cusp of change, particularly those that are moving from late-stage development to commercial launch. “A CFO and his or her team have to strike a good balance between the level of change and the speed of change as their company moves forward
and achieves milestones,” he explains. “It’s also about balancing investment resources, needs and uncertainty.
Sometimes taking a gated approach helps: identify where you need to push ahead, and where you need to slow down, keeping in mind how each effort is integrated within your overall goals. Remember, when you get to the product-launch stage, you basically have one shot at getting it right. You cannot miss the first chance since you may not have a second one.”
SIDEBAR: No CFO is an Island
Turning Point Therapeutics, Inc. CFO Paolo Tombesi says the company’s seasoned R&D and clinical professionals, and his own team of finance and accounting professionals all contribute to the company’s mission. To help
coordinate, unite and motivate the disparate elements of the company, Tombesi taps into his own “emotional intelligence.”
“I let everyone know that I’m comfortable with them, and confident in the ability of our team and the
company itself to continue to reach our goals,” he says. “We know that we can work together to process
information, develop strategic plans and then execute on them. When you motivate people, you unleash their creativity.” <