Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
“A consummate professional, drug hunter and gentleman.” Meet Dale…Dr. Stephen Dale.
“If James Bond worked in drug discovery and development, he would be [Dale],” one of his nominators says. “To say he is brilliant is an understatement. He has one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever encountered, with an incredible ability to appreciate scientific innovation and translate how it can be applied to advancing patient care. Much of his strength rests in his strategic, forward-looking outlook. He reflects not only on where the field sits today but also on where it will need to be 10 to 15 years from now.”
Dale, a leader in precision oncology drug discovery and development, is said to have “an uncanny ability to see around corners, both across the development and regulatory landscapes.”
Dale joined Kura Oncology as chief medical officer in 2020 to lead the clinical-stage biotech’s precision medicine pipeline. Kura Oncology has three products in the pipeline, including tipifarnib, which is in a registration-directed study for HRAS-mutated head and neck cancer, and ziftomenib, a menin inhibitor in development for the treatment of genetically defined acute myeloid leukemia (AML) conditions with extremely low survival rates.
Dale’s keen instincts and visionary outlook have earned him industry accolades and have led to several new drug approvals, including Tagrisso for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and Iressa for patients with EGFR-activating mutations while at AstraZeneca, where he was global clinical vice president and clinical head of oncology.
His leadership also extends beyond the clinic, “combining a genuine mixture of intellect, empathy, sharp wit and charm,” and he leads by example inspiring his teams to reach big goals.
“Even for someone who is very accomplished, he is remarkably humble and self-effacing,” a nominator says. “It is through this leadership — and incredible humor — that [Dale] has transformed our R&D organization into an efficient, high-performing team. People at all levels adore and respect him and would follow him anywhere. And we’ve certainly experienced that here at Kura. By recruiting outstanding individuals across all levels of our company, he has managed to introduce an organizational structure that provides discipline and rigor, while still maintaining the agility of a small to mid-cap-sized biotech company. We have transformed as a company since he joined us in August 2020, and much of his unparalleled leadership is to thank for that.”
As a role model within the organization, Dale “represents a deep and unwavering commitment to the teams he leads and the individuals within them — both personally and professionally — and the patients he stands to serve,” one of his nominators says.
“I have a picture of Einstein with the quote: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; Imagination encircles the world.’”
Dr. Stephen Dale
Chief medical officer, Kura Oncology
Nominators note Dale’s unique ability to touch the lives of anyone who crosses his path, extending from patients to industry leaders to fellow employees.
“I can’t imagine a world where I’m not a part of his team,” one nominator says. “Having worked with each other for five years at a previous company, finding a role for [Dale] became a top priority when I chose to pursue a new opportunity at Kura. I have never experienced a more synergistic working relationship, and I immediately knew he was the ideal person to lead our clinical development efforts. I’m not surprised to find that I was right. He has a brilliant and astonishing brain. Working closely alongside him these many years, I firmly believe he is a regulatory mind-reader. He can predict the areas of interest that global regulators will raise, enabling our team to consistently remain ahead of the game.”
Here, Dale shares his philosophy around team building, his blue ocean in precision medicine and how he is paying his success forward.
PharmaVoice: What new leadership skill did you hone during COVID that you are bringing forward?
Dr. Stephen Dale: Over the past two years, I brought the concept of a ‘global product team’ structure and applied it within the auspices of a biotechnology organization. I believe strongly in empowering teams to deliver clear objectives and providing a structure to allow that to happen. While this is typically more recognized in larger pharmaceutical companies, we successfully implemented it in a high-energy biotech environment, which increased efficiency and levels of productivity at all levels within the company. Importantly, this implementation occurred while still maintaining the entrepreneurial flair of our organization. I will continue to support and develop this model.
What is your blue ocean?
One of the new breakthrough areas that can potentially lead to significant patient benefit is building on new data in the NSCLC disease area. These data show exciting synergy when a farnesyl transferase inhibitor (FTI), tipifarnib, is combined with the third-generation EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), osimertinib. Preclinical data demonstrate an ability to overcome adaptive resistance, thereby prolonging duration of effect. Additionally, we are currently working on IND-enabling activities for a next-generation FTI, which depicts another key blue ocean opportunity across multiple therapeutic applications.
What keeps you up at night?
Within drug development, there has long been an even balance between risk and reward. Ultimately, the patients are at the very core of the work we do and there is no room for error or failure. But the potential of reward to bring better treatments to patients and improve the quality of life, far outweighs any thoughts of failure that keep me up at night.
How are you paying your success forward?
I feel very strongly that people are our currency within an organization, and investing my time to train and develop the next generation of leaders is the best way I can think of to pay my success forward.
My advice is to be an expert at using experts, and to always remember success of any drug pipeline directly correlates with the ability, commitment and motivation of your people pipeline.
What trend are you tracking?
Maximizing on the trend of personalized medicine through rational combinations — extending the durability of precision medicine in larger patient populations.
What’s the most meanginful item in your office?
I have a picture of Einstein with the quote: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.’ Simply having knowledge without the imagination to apply that knowledge would only serve to limit our ability for innovative design in drug development.