Throughout 2020, Saniona strengthened its executive team with the recruitment of key leaders in areas such as clinical development, finance and communications. This team is essential to support Saniona’s strategy for discovering, developing and ultimately commercialising treatments for rare diseases – with an initial focus on obtaining regulatory approvals in the U.S. BioStock recently spoke with life science communications veteran Trista Morrison to get her view of the company after a few months in the position of Chief Communications Officer at Saniona.
On August 10 last year, biotech company Saniona carried out a directed share issue of USD 65 million (approximately SEK 567 million) to a number of international institutional healthcare investors. The proceeds opened the doors for Saniona to advance its primary drug candidate Tesomet into larger clinical trials – an essential step towards securing market approval – and to propel the pipeline forward from the research phase to the clinical phase.
One of the goals that CEO Rami Levin highlighted as important when he took office in January 2020, was to establish a presence for the company in the United States. Behind the decision was the fact that the U.S. has the most established regulatory pathways, the most developed rare disease market, and the most extensive healthcare investor base. All of this is critical to Saniona’s strategy of bringing treatments to patients suffering from rare diseases. Part of building the U.S. presence involved putting together a U.S.-based executive team, including Chief Communications Officer (CCO) Trista Morrison.
Also see: BioStock Studio: BioStock studio: Saniona’s chairman aims to recruit America’s best talents (Oct. 20th, 2020)
CCO shares her views
BioStock contacted Trista Morrison who told us more about her role as CCO at Saniona and her strategies to increase interest in the company and it’s pipeline.
Trista, you have accumulated 20 years of experience in strategic communication in the field of health and medical care. You were Vice President of Communications and Patient Advocacy at Sobi in North America, where you were involved in processes of FDA approvals, product launches, acquisitions, etc. Can you name some of the specific experiences that will help guide you in your current position?
– I have been fortunate to have held a number of communications roles in the life science industry over the past 20 years, and each role has provided valuable learning experiences. Beginning my career at a public relations and investor relations agency taught me basic communications skills and principles. Working as a reporter at a daily biotechnology newspaper taught me urgency and instilled in me the highest respect for truth and transparency. Running communications within biopharmaceutical companies gave me experience managing data read-outs, FDA approvals, product launches, acquisitions, financings and many other important milestones.
– I also learned the importance of strategic communications, both externally and internally. At Sobi, I was introduced to the rare disease community, and to the incredible impact of patients, caregivers and advocates. I saw the tremendous unmet need in these communities, and I knew that if I was capable of making a positive difference in this industry, then it was my responsibility to try to do so.
What convinced you to take on the challenge of becoming the CCO at Saniona?
– Saniona is focused on discovering, developing and delivering innovative treatments for rare disease patients. I had seen the unmet need in rare diseases, so I was immediately drawn to Saniona’s mission. As I began to research hypothalamic obesity and Prader-Willi syndrome, which are the diseases targeted by Saniona’s lead drug Tesomet, I saw that these were conditions with no cure and few if any treatments, intensifying the unmet need. I was also impressed with Saniona’s ion channel drug discovery engine, which looked to be laying the foundation for an exciting future. Finally, I had worked with Rami Levin at Sobi, and I knew him to be a strong and experienced leader. Altogether, I saw Saniona as an exciting company that was just beginning to realize its potential, and I was eager to be a part of that journey.
»We have increased our communications with analysts, we meet frequently with institutional investors, and we continue to seek opportunities to present at prestigious conferences. I think you will start seeing a lot more of Saniona soon«
After almost six months as CCO, what are your impressions of Saniona and the team?
– Since I joined Saniona, the company has already achieved some significant milestones, including positive data from the open-label extension of our Phase 2 study of Tesomet in hypothalamic obesity. We also realized some value from our exciting ion channel drug discovery expertise with the recent acquisition of Cadent Therapeutics, which had licensed one of our programs, by Novartis. This is encouraging progress, and there is so much more ahead.
– Regarding the Saniona team, I feel grateful to be a part of such a skilled group of professionals. Every member of the executive team has decades of expertise in their respective fields, and we are all encouraged to be innovative and to do everything we can to help Saniona achieve its mission. The U.S. team works very closely with our Danish colleagues; we are always on MSTeams meetings together, and we look forward to the day when Covid-19 is over and we can visit our colleagues in Denmark, and they can visit us in the U.S.
What is your philosophy when it comes to communicating with investors?
– Our investor communications philosophy is to present accurate, transparent information to the investing community, which enables each investor to make their own decision regarding whether or not Saniona is an appropriate investment for them.
– I think it is important to note that our goal is not to attempt to manage the short-term share price. We are of course frustrated to see the price decline recently, despite the positive milestones we have achieved. However, we know that progress is not always reflected in the share price in the short term. We know that we have some very exciting milestones ahead, and we are confident that if we remain focused and continue to execute on our long-term objectives, all while continuing to increase Saniona’s visibility, this will deliver value to patients and shareholders in the future.
You mention increasing visibility – what are you doing to increase Saniona’s visibility ?
– When I joined Saniona last September, one of my first priorities was to partner with Rami Levin [President and CEO], Jørgen Drejer [Chief Scientific Officer] and the rest of the executive team to get very clear on who Saniona is, where we are going, and why people should care. We crystalized our vision and mission, set goals and timelines, and started working to increase the focus on the exciting parts of the Saniona story that are undervalued.
– For example, while many people who know Saniona know about Tesomet, they may not know that we are world leaders in ion channel pharmacology. Now that we have crystallized the Saniona narrative, you can expect to see that coming out soon through updates to our web site and corporate presentation, as well as new materials. We have also begun a significant outreach effort to media in the U.S. and Sweden, we have increased our communications with analysts, we meet frequently with institutional investors, and we continue to seek opportunities to present at prestigious conferences. I think you will start seeing a lot more of Saniona soon.
What are you doing to improve investor communications?
– Our efforts to optimize Saniona’s investor communication are ongoing. Some improvements that we have already made to provide greater transparency, information and service for our investors include: switching the provider of ownership data on the website, implementing a system to triage and respond to investor inquiries, conducting an investor monitor/survey to understand investor perceptions, adding detail to the analyst coverage page on the website, creating an FAQ document, and enhancing our interaction with analysts and media to provide greater visibility for Saniona, as I shared.
– In 2021, we look forward to continuing these and other improvements – such as updating our website, further enhancing our analyst and media communications, and additional initiatives – all in order to better highlight and communicate Saniona’s business strategy and investment case. We are committed to controlling the things we can control and ultimately bringing medicines to patients who need them.
What are the most common questions you receive from investors?
– We have some very engaged shareholders who have been investors in Saniona for a number of years. Recently, they have been reaching out with advice for how we might improve investor communications. Some of their suggestions we have already implemented, such as switching the provider of ownership data on our website to allow greater transparency and creating an FAQ for our web site. Many of their suggestions – such as bringing more visibility to our ion channel expertise – are things we are working on right now.
– Sometimes we get questions from investors seeking to understand our clinical development timelines or our burn rate. I try to make sure they are aware that Saniona’s business model has transformed over the past year. While historically the rights to many of Saniona’s novel molecules had been out-licensed to other companies, like Medix or BI, Saniona is now aiming to become a fully-integrated pharmaceutical company with the ability to discover, develop and commercialize our own innovative treatments for rare diseases.
– The focus thus shifts from external collaborations to internal development of Saniona’s proprietary compounds. This strategy requires large initial investments to support clinical development, and it requires several years to conduct the clinical trials. This is a long-term investment. However, when it succeeds, it creates tremendous benefit for both patients and shareholders. We believe in the potential of Tesomet and our proprietary ion channel pipeline to create real value for patients, and that value to shareholders will follow.
And what about your priorities in terms of contacts with potential patients and patient organisations – Is Saniona working with patient organisations?
– Saniona is very actively involved with patient advocates and patient organizations in the rare disease, hypothalamic obesity and Prader-Willi syndrome fields. We are committed to listening to, learning from, and partnering with patient communities in every step of our drug development process. To that end, we are in the process of putting together a patient advisory board, which will complement the existing physician advisory boards we rely on for expertise. Additionally, some of the projects we are currently focusing on include partnering with the Raymond A. Wood Foundation to raise awareness of hypothalamic obesity and partnering with the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association to educate their community about participation in clinical trials.
Saniona achieved a number of milestones in 2020, both financially and clinically. What visions do you have for 2021, both in terms of your own efforts and the company as a whole?
– In 2021, Saniona expects to achieve several important milestones including initiating Phase 2b trials of Tesomet in hypothalamic obesity and Prader-Willi syndrome, and initiating a Phase 1 trial of SAN711 in a rare neuropathic disorder. As Saniona’s Chief Communications Officer, I look forward ensuring our stakeholders are aware of and understand important events like this, while I continue to build visibility for Saniona as an emerging innovator in the rare disease field.
The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.