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So You’re Ready for a Chief Medical Officer Role – What’s Next?

  • November 14, 2017

  • Conference Forum advisor, Sophia Davis recently published an article on LinkedIn for emerging biotechs ready for a chief medical officer. Enjoy.

    You’ve worked hard, accomplished a lot and now feel ready to take on the challenge of a Chief Medical Officer role – but how do you get the opportunities? I speak with many physicians who are ready for that next step but don’t know how to successfully position themselves. Having recruited biotech/pharma physician executives since the 1990’s, I have seen what works and wanted to share that knowledge. The principles outlined below apply equally well to other levels, but would have different content based on each role.

    For biotech/pharma physician executives ready for CMO opportunities, there are several things you can do:

    1. Update your social media presence/profile (especially the one on Linkedin) to reflect the experience you may have that is relevant to CMO roles. Why Linkedin? Every recruiter in our industry uses Linkedin to identify potential candidates. Many companies have internal talent acquisition professionals who also use Linkedin to identify candidates. You want to create a professional presence on social media that best represents your expertise and experience. This should be high level and concise.

    So what kind of experience are companies looking for? Most companies looking for CMOs are either in the clinic or will be going into the clinic in the next ~18 months. Opportunities occasionally come up with commercial stage companies that have broad portfolios, but the majority of opportunities are with smaller companies that are at an earlier stage of development. It is important to note that in smaller companies the CMO is an individual contributor as well as a leader – you may be the only physician in the company.

    These smaller companies often prefer candidates with experience bringing molecules into the clinic for the first time – collaborating with discovery, preclinical, regulatory and other functions as well as KOLs, identifying the right indication and patient population, working to file the IND, write the protocol, conduct the study, etc. If you don’t have this experience it is not the end of the world – plenty of people have secured CMO roles without it. If you do have it, make sure it is on your profile.

    Experience designing and leading proof of concept and pivotal studies is very important. Even if you will be supervising people who have hands-on responsibility for this, you are the one accountable for clinical strategy and implementation.

    Experience interacting with the FDA and/or other regulatory authorities is also important, especially in situations where you were able to gain agreement on endpoints and/or trial design for a registration pathway.

    NDA/BLA/MAA experience is a definite plus, although not a requirement in most cases. If you have that, it strengthens your position so make sure you include it in your profile. If you have experience obtaining Breakthrough Designation, Fast Track status or with other accelerated approval pathways, include that as well.

    Management of people and teams is a critical component of being a CMO. Even if you will be the first clinical development person in the company, they will want to know that you know how to lead individuals and cross-functional teams. If you are in a large pharma you may not have direct reports, but you should have experience leading matrix teams.

    Presenting to the Board and to investors is another aspect of the CMO’s role. If you have not had the opportunity to do this, but have presented to a diverse range of audiences (KOLs, the big pharma leadership team, at conferences, to potential corporate/strategic partners, etc.), note that instead.

    Some other areas that are relevant include technology assessment, leadership roles in relationships with corporate/strategic partners, responsibility for an R&D budget, ability to identify and form relationships with KOLs and work well in a fast-paced environment. For larger companies, portfolio management experience is an asset.

    Most of you will probably have some of this experience but not all and that is okay.  Remember to make this a concise description.

    2. Reach out to people you know who are in CMO roles and let them know that you would like to learn what their experience has been. This not only provides you with an idea of what to expect, and how the CMO role differs from other roles you have had, but may prompt them to suggest you as a potential candidate when they get called for other CMO opportunities. Share a little bit about your experience so they have a better understanding of where you are right now.

    3. Expanding on the point above, broaden your network of CMOs. A well-connected recruiter should be able to introduce you to CMOs that would be your peers were you to take that next step. I generally introduce individuals to 3-4 CMOs in a relevant therapeutic area or situation (perhaps they were in a similar role in large pharma before taking a CMO role). This not only builds a support network for future situations, but helps put you in the path of CMO opportunities. After all, they cannot suggest you if they don’t know you exist.

    4. There is a conference designed by CMOs for CMOs, called the Chief Medical Officer Summit. Topics on the agenda change every year, and it is a good opportunity to meet CMOs from a variety of companies as well as learn more about the role. The link to the conference website is If you would like to receive the agenda for the 2018 conference just let me know and I will have the organizer send it to you when it is final.

    5. If you are located in the Boston area, the Boston CMO Network holds events throughout the year, and is a gathering of executive level biotech/pharma MDs – a great place to expand your network. If you have an interest in learning more about this please let me know.

    If you would like to discuss the information above in greater detail, please feel free to reach out to me at or