Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
It’s no secret that Big Pharma has strayed from brain disorders in recent decades. But this R&D gap has become increasingly filled by emerging biotechs like Sage Therapeutics. And despite the complexity of treating these illnesses, Sage’s chief development officer, Jim Doherty, believes there’s “no greater frontier than the brain,” his nominator says.
Doherty even has a catchy phrase for his career path in neuroscience.
“He’ll tell you: ‘I get to use what I’m studying and study what I’m using,’” his nominator writes.
Doherty’s fascination with central nervous system conditions goes all the way back to high school biology — and came into fruition when he left AstraZeneca in 2014 to join Sage.
“[Doherty] focused on finding faster, more efficient ways to develop drugs that target the complex circuitry of the brain. He continues to push the field forward with small, targeted trials that build upon established pathways, taking a predictive approach to apply knowledge to other programs,” his nominator says. “This understanding of the disease mechanisms has enabled Sage to ‘lead with human data.’”
Sage’s pipeline now includes one approved treatment for postpartum depression and several other ongoing or planned development programs targeting major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and more.
His “proactive and predictive R&D strategy” is achieving solid results, his nominator says. Last year, the company’s investigational treatment, SAGE-718 was awarded fast track designation from the FDA for the lead disease area for the program, Huntington’s disease. The company is also using its early-stage platform to evaluate the therapeutic potential of the drug in other brain disorders.
“There are different roads that an individual can take to leadership, and it is important to help people see just how far their particular road can take them.”
Chief development officer, Sage Therapeutics
“While there have been many amazing advances, we are just at the beginning of a new age in neurology in which exciting new treatments will potentially be discovered,” Doherty says.
Here, Doherty discusses why Sage’s work is critical now more than ever and his key leadership advice.
PharmaVoice: What new leadership skill did you lean into in the last two years that you will continue to bring forward?
Jim Doherty: The world has faced an incredible challenge over the last few years, as COVID-19 has impacted so many lives. We have also seen that the pandemic has created a huge surge in brain health disorders like depression and anxiety for many people. Like so many other companies, my teams have had to work differently over the last few years.
Despite these challenges, our mission has remained critically important. I have learned that a group of motivated and committed people can find new ways to work and continue to make a difference.
What’s the most meaningful item on your desk?
I have two meaningful items on my desk. One is a replica vial of Zulresso, the first drug that Sage has delivered to the world for the treatment of postpartum depression. It reminds me that all of the hard work by so many people can lead to real help for people in need.
The other is a small vial of sand from my favorite beach. It reminds me that there are many important parts to life and it is important to be present for all of them.
What keeps you up at night?
How many people need help with their mental health right now?
What are your key pieces of leadership advice?
Think ahead, see what is coming, listen to your people and support your team.
How are you paying your successes forward?
Many leaders contributed to educating me over the years and I am indebted to them for training me. The best way to pay that investment forward is to pass what experience I have gained to team members who are earlier in their leadership journey.