Arcus COO Jennifer Jarrett/Courtesy of Arcus Biosciences
Start-up biotech companies walk a fine line between growing the organization and achieving profitability and sustainability. Jennifer Jarrett, Chief Operating Officer at Arcus Bioscienceshelped many companies find that balance during his years as an investment banker at Credit Suisse and Citigroup and later as head of business development and capital markets at Uber, and chief financial officer at Medivation .
“There is a parallel between biotechnology and high technology,” Jarrett told BioSpace. “In tech, everyone thought spending money was a good thing. The more you spend, the better. The tech industry is rethinking that stance, but biotech still has a bit of that mentality. “But you you can’t spend money forever. At some point, you have to become profitable,” Jarrett said. “I hope to make the connection between responsible pricing and profitability.”
Her move from finance to biotech was “a combination of instinct, gravitational pull and luck,” she said. “My dad was a doctor, so I grew up around medicine. I attended Dartmouth College for premedicine, but eventually chose economics – specifically investment banking.
While studying for her MBA at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, she worked on a paper analyzing adverse event reporting systems. This rekindled her interest in healthcare and led her to take up a position with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ), an investment banker that was acquired in 2000 by Credit Suisse.
“At the time, biotechnology was still booming. Most investment bankers didn’t focus on it, so I became a biotech and helped grow DLJ’s life sciences business on the West Coast. DLJ exposed Jarrett to the inner workings of some of the biggest players in biotech at the time.
After working with biotech companies on the banking side, she joined the industry directly, becoming CFO of Medivation just seven months before it was acquired by Pfizer. When rumors of an impending acquisition emerged, Arcus CEO Terry Rosen, Ph.D. contacted Jarrett. “It looks like you weren’t staying at Medivation long,” he said, and he started courting me for Arcus,” she recalled.
It was an interesting career opportunity that matched his personal interests. “I had a natural passion for oncology,” she said. “A friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and my mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.” Jarrett’s mother participated in nine clinical trials before succumbing to the disease. Her friend also died. “Watching what they both went through made me want to do something to create better medicine and get closer to patients.”
At first, she planned to work to some extent with MD Anderson Cancer Center (where her mother had been treated) but, she says, “my mind kept returning to Arcus”. Arcus designs small molecule drugs with the goal of combining them with others to create synergistic activities that result in world-class cancer therapies. It focuses on well-known pathways that still lack effective drugs. Currently, Arcus has several molecules in development:
– Etrumadenant, a small molecule dual A2aR/A2bR antagonist
– Quemliclustat: a small molecule inhibitor of CD73
– Domvanalimab: a TIGIT mAb
– Zimberelimab: a PD-1 mAb
These four molecules are the basis of seven programs targeting four of the most frequent cancers: lung, colon, prostate and pancreas. For some programs, Arcus has partnered with Gilead Sciences and Taiho Pharma.
The decision to join Arcus was made easier by his experience with the company’s CEO and President. Jarrett has known Rosen and Arcus chairman Juan Jaen, Ph.D. since his Citibank days. “They’re willing to constantly review processes and find ways to do things more efficiently…and they’re also not afraid to cut their losses,” she said. These are important features for start-ups, in particular.
Rosen was smart to approach Jarrett early. “After acquiring Medivation, I got a lot of calls from people I knew in the banking industry. They associated me with the successful sale of a business,” she said. With this experience, a well-established “street cred” and a solid network in the financial world, she was a perfect fit for biotechnology boards of directors. She immediately joined the boards of directors of Audentes Therapeutics and Arena Pharmaceuticals.
As a member of the board of directors, there are obstacles, but also advantages. “As you get older in your career, you’re expected to have late night drinks or golf with people.” This can be difficult for many women, she says. The advantage is that women are generally less overtly competitive than men and tend to excel in soft skills. As a result, “I developed friendships and a level of trust with the male executives that helped them open up more.” This helps make her a knowledgeable and trustworthy advisor.
While no less committed to Arcus and the companies it advises, her priorities have shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Jarrett explained, “I think probably, until COVID-19, I had focused on work first and then family — including my seven-year-old daughter — second. Like all of us i have been spending time with them working from home during the pandemic and realized how happy i am to be home with my family i feel like i have a real work/life balance now.This means that free time is consumed by his family.