As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview John Temperato.
John is the CEO of RDD Pharma, a company merging with Innovate Biopharmaceuticals and Naia Rare Diseases to create 9 Meters Biopharma (where he will also be CEO). John is a pharmaceutical industry veteran who was instrumental in the commercial and operational buildout of Salix Pharmaceuticals, for more than a decade, which culminated in Salix’s acquisition for ~$16 billion in 2015. In addition, he has held leadership roles as U.S. President & Chief Operating Officer with Atlantic Healthcare and President & Chief Operating Officer/Chief Commercial Officer with Melinta Therapeutics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have worked in the healthcare industry for decades. Throughout my career, I have been focused on defining and executing capital efficient go-to-market strategies, business development strategies and overseeing the commercialization and life-cycle management for small molecules, devices, and biologics.
My time at Salix was one of the most defining moments of my career. When it was acquired in 2015, it left a hole in the industry for a truly GI focused company. As CEO of RDD Pharma, we are focused on developing targeted therapeutics and delivery systems for treating diseases of the anorectal region and lower gastrointestinal tract. We thought there might be an opportunity to combine our assets with another company’s in the GI space. Innovate is headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., where I live and where Salix Pharmaceuticals, where I worked for more than 10 years, was headquartered. Prior to Salix being purchased by Valeant, we were in the process of evaluating Larazotide, which is Innovate’s asset for celiac disease — and the first ever to enter a phase 3 registration trial for celiac. Lastly, several months ago Innovate, which is also headquartered in Raleigh, announced that it was looking for a CEO. So, with those facts as the preamble — plus Lorin Johnson, the co-founder of Salix, being a current board member at Innovate — conversations began.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, having the opportunity to merge three companies at the same time has definitely been an interesting endeavor. While in the process of the ongoing merger with RDD and Innovate, RDD also signed a letter of intent to acquire California-based Naia Rare Diseases, a biopharmaceutical company developing novel drugs for rare GI disorders.
We were actually working on the Naia deal prior to our announcement with Innovate. When I was brought on to RDD, I was tasked with expanding the RDD pipeline and taking the company public. To do so, we looked at probably 30 or 40 possible acquisitions, then narrowed down our list to our top 10. Naia was the first on that list.
However, while we were working on that deal the opportunity with Innovate came up. Now, we have been working through the complexities of merging three companies, private and public, each with different headquarters within the United States (North Carolina and California) and Israel.
The combined company, 9 Meters, will become a larger player in the GI space and we will benefit from synergies, while applying our knowledge and expertise in the breadth and depth of GI research.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are building a next-generation GI company, 9 Meters, and plan to fill the gap that was created when
Salix was acquired by Valeant. Since that time there has been a clear void of a public independent company specifically addressing gastroenterology (GI).
There are still so many patients living with debilitating GI diseases. Some of these diseases are more common, like celiac disease, and others are quite rare like short bowel syndrome with orphan disease status. Yet, whether its celiac, short bowel syndrome or incontinence, people that have to live every day with these conditions are desperate for treatment options. These diseases can have a major impact on daily life.
So, upon the merger, 9 Meters will have the first-ever drug candidate to make it to Phase 3 clinical trials (the last step before applying for FDA approval) and a robust pipeline of other promising therapeutic options that are each based on the latest scientific discoveries.
We also have put together a world-class leadership team and board that has a proven track record of bringing tremendous treatments in GI and liver disease to market. The board of 9 Meters includes some of my colleagues at Salix like Dr. Mark Sirgo (who will be Chairman) and Lorin Johnson, who was the co-founder of Salix.
Can you share with our readers details about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
9 Meters will be focused on bringing to market urgently needed treatments for people living with GI diseases — including those that have no approved treatment option (like celiac disease) as well as specialty, rare and orphan indications.
GI diseases can be tremendously hard to manage every day and so in addition to focusing on treating the disease itself, we also want to make an impact on quality of life. Take celiac for example. While there are now dedicated sections in the grocery store that are “gluten free,” people living with this condition still have to be extremely vigilant about what they eat at all times. The Celiac Disease Foundation says that “people who follow a gluten-free diet experience social and emotional stress around eating out due to fear of cross-contact, embarrassment about having to ask a lot of questions, and frustration with the gluten-free diet being perceived as trendy.” If the diet is not strict, people can find themselves having severe diarrhea, bloating and other symptoms like iron deficiency anemia.
For short bowel syndrome, patients have to deal with diarrhea and metabolic complications. Most people need complex parenteral support to survive and risk life-threatening infections.
We intend to disrupt the status quo by addressing these needs. We hope to bring the first-ever approved treatment for celiac disease to at least 3 million Americans who are living with it. By the way, we already disrupted the status quo for this patient population by designing and validating the Celiac Disease Patient Reported Outcome (CeD PRO), which is a proprietary measure celiac symptoms and treatment effectiveness in clinical trials. In addition, we hope to progress our drug candidates for short bowel syndrome and fecal incontinence through clinical trials, with multiple data readouts over the next 24 months or so and beyond.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- Without a doubt my number one answer to this question is this — the most influential person you’ll meet every day is the one looking back at you in the mirror in the morning. If you truly believe this and are absolutely honest with yourself, then your future is limitless.
- It’s not the smartest person in the room that achieves the most. Instead, it’s the one who is the most prepared and has a high level of emotional intelligence. Companies are comprised of people, products/services, and processes. If you don’t get the people right, then nothing else matters.
- You have to make healthcare personal and you have to care deeply about patients, providers, and payers. If you make healthcare about the drugs, then you’ve made it about the company when instead you need to be patient centric and make everything about improving patients’ lives. The more patients’ lives you improve, then the better everyone else does — everyone is 100% connected.
- Spend more time listening and less time talking because saying more with less is ridiculously powerful.
- Treat every day as if they are the “good ole days.” Time is the most precious resource.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
- People are taught the “three R’s” in school but are not taught how to manage their lives. And that is especially important when it comes to healthcare in a free market society. Each individual is in charge of their own health and healthcare first — not a physician or payer.
- We need a better safety net for those who can’t manage themselves. Unfortunately, too many end up on the streets and are characterized as “frequent fliers” when it comes to hospitalizations.
- Our insurance system is a year-to-year renewal process, which I believe is insanity and disincentives payers to truly care about the long-term health and wellbeing of their members. I believe we are only one of three countries in the world to operate this way.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Early and ongoing education regarding life skills. As I mentioned above, knowing how to prepare for the challenges in life — how to manage finances, how to live a healthy life — are so important and it does not necessarily come naturally.
- Move insurance renewals to at least a 3-year minimum. This is key to making insurance companies focus on the long-term well-being of their patients. It also prevents a lot of headaches and stress for patients going through such a complicated process and not knowing each year if they will have the same coverage.
- Regulatory agencies, companies, researchers should prioritize the discovery, development and approval of new therapies and new classes of medicine for unmet needs over copycat therapies that do the same thing and treat the same group.
- Access is so important when it comes to healthcare, particularly for medication. Formularies should be expanded.
- Every voice needs to be heard — industry, patients, and providers should all work together.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
- Incentivize novel and meaningful science over copycat brands in the following ways: pricing, review/regulatory timelines and patient access.
- Educate, educate, educate — there are long term consequences to bad eating and drinking habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Every time I turn on the TV, there is an ad espousing the consequences of smoking — we need a similar public health program aimed at diet and exercise.
- Continue to develop and enhance novel diagnostics. However, they must be tied to awareness and appropriate adoption.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
In terms of inspiration and attempting to improve myself, I’m a voracious reader. I love biographies of all types and great fiction. I’m fastidious about the order in which I read books and alternate between the types. A few of my favorite biographies and autobiographies are Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson and Last Words by George Carlin. In terms of fiction, I love anything by Tom Robbins and one of my absolute favorites is Skinny Legs and All. In addition to reading, I really enjoy Ted Talks with my favorite being The Diffusion of Innovation by Simon Sinek. He is spot on with this concept that we all should spend more time on the “why instead of the what.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I can be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-temperato-62aba52
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!