Meet the Evaluate Team: Lisa Urquhart

In this edition of Meet the Team, we’re chatting to someone who is bordering on national treasure territory. Lisa Urquhart is the editor of Evaluate Vantage where she ensures that our news coverage provides smart analysis, underpinned by Evaluate’s data. What advice would Lisa offer a biotech CEO? What excites her about the industry? And why should you run like the wind if you see Lisa heading towards you with a bottle of rum? Let’s find out.

What do you think is going to have the biggest impact on the pharma industry in the next five years?
I think we’ll see increased scrutiny from regulators and patients around pricing and efficacy. We are already seeing the action of regulators impacting pricing, the US signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law last August allowing direct pricing negotiations with Medicare for certain medicines and countries like Germany and Japan are stepping up their efforts to contain drug costs. The industry will have to find a way to work within this new framework and that means proving the cost effectiveness of drugs in terms of real, rather than incremental health benefits. In terms of efficacy I think we will see a much broader definition that will start to include quality of life considerations and long-term societal benefits including keeping people economically active. But there is still a lot to iron out in terms of who decides that value and if it is standardised across countries. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing pharma and biotech companies at the moment? 
The rising cost of capital due to higher inflation is going to be a real challenge for biotech companies. While some of the predictions of a recession in the US are starting to be rowed back, there is growing conservatism on the part of investors. This means venture funds taking fewer, bigger bets on a diminishing number of biotech companies, so some smaller companies are losing out on funding, which could hit innovation. For already listed companies it is much harder to raise money from the markets, so we’ll expect to see more company failures; although this might be a good thing as it could finally wipe out all the zombie companies out there that are doing their shareholders a disservice by burning through money with nothing to show for it. 

What’s the one piece of advice you would give a biotech CEO? 
For some smaller companies, it would be stop dribbling out meaningless incremental data updates in the hope of moving your share price. It’s irritating and in the current market is unlikely to work. Save announcements for real news. I know this is two bits of advice but, also know when to call it. There are far too many companies out there wasting shareholders’ money fruitlessly analysing sub group analyses of data following a clinical trial failure, when the reality is the molecule is a bust. 

Which areas of the industry are you most fascinated by? Why? 
Artificial intelligence, or more realistically machine learning. It offers huge scope for speeding up drug development and discovery, potentially reducing costs, which will hopefully be passed onto patients. It is also helping with diagnostics from everything from oncology to cardio. However, there are also great risks that we fall down the trap of clinical trials, where the data sets used are not diverse enough, inadvertently baking in future health inequalities. This would be a real shame as we have finally seen pharma companies start to tackle lack of diversity in clinical trials. 

Other than working for Evaluate (of course!), what’s your career highlight to-date? I had a temporary job after university on a TV game show where I came on at the end with the prizes. I’m not going to tell you which game show, because to my horror they have been uploaded to YouTube, I thought I was safe given they were filmed years ago, but no, my horrible black cat suit is out there! 

How did you end up working in this industry?
Like most five year olds I had a burning desire to work in financial journalism and add a pharma specialism on top. No, it was a happy accident. I was recruited in the early days of, when the old journalists said it would never take off and moved from engineering to biotech correspondent and loved it. Getting to interact with people who genuinely want to save lives and are passionate about it is pretty special. 

What’s the best thing about your role?
I’m going to go with the usual Evaluate cliché of the amazing, talented and smart people who I get to work with every day. But it’s true, the people here are great. I also love that I get to learn new stuff every week because the industry and treatments are constantly evolving, so no two days are the same. I’ve also had some pretty decent canapes at the various external events I get to go to. 

What’s your favourite drink?
I love and make a great Jamaican Mule – Jamaican rum, ginger ale and fresh limes. I’m a bit heavy handed with the rum so they can be lethal. My mules have been responsible for at least one divorce, two marriages and several children. So if you see me turn up with bottle of Wray & Nephews and a bag of limes be afraid, be very afraid.

What’s your favourite industry conference/event?
It used to be the non-official party at Bio International, but then there was the incident with the half-naked dancers and it was cancelled. Those who were there know what I mean…

What really irritates you?
Queuing. I don’t know why but queuing drives me nuts. I’m terrible when it comes to queue jumping and have been told off several times in America, where they take ‘line cutting very seriously’; the English are usually too polite to call you out.  

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