Welcome to our “5 minutes with” series examining what makes successful leaders in the life sciences industry tick — from their personal and professional habits to their hobbies, the books they read and even their guilty pleasures.
Inside the industry, Mike Rea is perhaps best known as an influential thought leader on innovation. Specifically, IDEA Pharma, where Rea is CEO, is known for its annual Innovation and Invention Index — a ranking of how companies launch and realize the value of their pipelines.
With a specialty in path-to-market strategies, IDEA originally started the index about 12 years ago to get more insights for its own work as a consulting firm. Since then, the index has taken on a life of its own in the public, winning press attention each year for opening a window into the efficacy of business strategies inside pharma’s biggest players.
But there’s much more to Rea than his work in the pharma realm. The owner of an independent music label called Medical Records Limited, Rea also fosters dogs for charity and played a pivotal role in bringing American football to U.K. universities.
Here’s more about Rea’s life on and off the job.
Editor’s note: To hear more from Rea about how to lead an innovative pharma company, join us at PharmaVoice and BioPharma Dive’s virtual event, “The Next Frontier of the Life Sciences.” On Oct. 25, Rea will present a keynote address on innovation at 1 p.m. ET and then moderate a panel discussion with industry execs on how companies can future-proof their pipelines.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
Although I have been acknowledged in many ‘best in pharma’ lists over the years, my real highlight is seeing the work that we’ve done go on to succeed on its own merits. For example, we positioned five of 2028’s 10 biggest brands, and 19 of the top 30 drug launches from 2015 to 2022.
What’s the one aspect of innovation many in pharma don’t understand?
For a very good reason, we separate invention from innovation, which is about the creation of value from your inventions. With that in mind, it is obvious why commercial has to be part of development, yet many pharma companies bring in a commercial view, beyond basic forecasting, up to five years too late.
You specialize in understanding industry innovation. How do you keep your own company innovative?
We see ourselves as a kind of pirate ship, but with some understanding of what that meant: flat structure, democratic, ideas from everywhere, mastery and more. So people are encouraged to take their own ideas on and supported in doing so.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
The only thing I am on Wikipedia for is starting the British Collegiate American Football League, which later became affiliated with the NFL. I started the U.K.’s first university team and loved playing.
What’s the biggest leadership mistake you’ve ever made?
Probably a slow-rolling mistake — taking too long to assemble the right leadership team to take IDEA from founder-led to a world-class company.
You own a record label and have a big music collection. What are some of your most prized records?
I’ve actually just built a shortlist of the 10 records I have to have on vinyl, by my turntable —some records need to be listened to in their entirety, to have the end of side one, for example. I’ve a couple of thousand albums that I’ve bought over the years, but that is tiny compared to Spotify or Apple Music, but the listening experience is different there. With my own label, I’ve been lucky to be able to release some of my favorite records ever by bands like The Can’t Tells, Bear Ceuse or Don Babylon, for example.
What kind of innovation or breakthrough does the industry need most right now?
Our belief is that most of the real work in pharma happens pre-phase 2 — that is when the idea of the drug that actually launches is really set. However, it is often seen just as a setting to establish safety signals for the drug. This is the stage when innovators get to make the biggest difference.
What kinds of dogs do you foster for charity? Do you have any right now?
I foster doodle mixes for the Doodle Trust – I actually have two fosters with me right now (both at my feet), on top of my own four, one of which was originally a foster we adopted.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Maybe endlessly watching reruns of the U.S. version of “The Office,” or that I’d always rather be with my main dog, Doug, than wherever I currently am.