Boston Principal and recent re-joiner Christopher Stern tells us about his career journey, experience in the Healthcare sector, and why he decided to ‘boomerang’ back to L.E.K. 

Tell us about your background and how you came back to L.E.K.

I was born and raised in New Castle, PA which is a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh and 30 minutes from the Ohio border. I majored in Biochemistry at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA and then did my Ph.D. training in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. I decided to do postdoctoral training at Stanford University studying epilepsy and neural circuits, with the idea that I would get great research training but could also explore non-academic options like entrepreneurship, investing, and consulting. I networked with a lot of folks in the business and investing community at Stanford, and was eventually fortunate to receive an offer from L.E.K. for the Life Science Specialist role in the Spring of 2013 in Los Angeles. In 2020, around the transition from Senior Manager to Principal, I got the itch to try my hand at biotech venture investing and joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Enterprises Translational Sciences Team. I spent a couple of years doing biotech company creation and venture investing before returning to L.E.K. as a Principal in May 2023.

Why did you decide to 'boomerang' back to L.E.K.?

I never felt like I “ran away” from L.E.K. My decision to leave was much more about feeling driven and motivated to explore opportunities the early biotech innovation and investing space, for which L.E.K. had been great preparation. And the UPMC role represented an opportunity to spend some time living closer to family. I learned a lot from my former UPMC colleagues enjoyed my time immensely and came away with a much better perspective on how investors think, how licensing deals are done, how companies think about creating value, and everything that goes into operating a new company on a day-to-day basis. I developed deep admiration for my entrepreneur colleagues who are willing to spend years driving forward ideas and concepts that will hopefully one day benefit patients, often in the face of major setbacks and long odds of success. For me personally, I started to realize that I missed being able to focus on corporate strategy across a variety of disease areas and company sizes, and that I may not have the appetite for risk that’s really required to be successful in venture capital. It just made a lot of sense to go back to L.E.K. given the positive experience that I had, my affinity for my colleagues, and the opportunity to grow into the role of “trusted advisor”.

What's an example of a recent case you worked on that you felt was especially impactful for you and the client?

We recently worked with a company that was interested in a potential opportunity to improve treatment of schizophrenia, which, despite available medications, still imposes a huge burden on patients and society at large. The client was particularly interested in the fact that something like half of schizophrenic patients will have a run-in with the criminal justice system at some point in the course of their disease, and that current solutions like incarceration or mandated short-term care are wholly inadequate. We analyzed their proposed solution and found that it was going to be extremely difficult to execute, but were able to identify alternative strategies that have real potential to make a difference. It was rewarding to interact with a company that so clearly cared about improving lives, and to be able to contribute to their path to doing so.

What are current trends you are seeing within the healthcare sector?

Within the biopharmaceutical space, the biggest issue that cuts across everyone right now is the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its potential to impact development strategy and resource allocation. To address the high cost of prescription medicines, Congress included provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with manufacturers. Unfortunately for the industry and for patients, the framework is likely to negatively impact the development of novel innovative medicines by disadvantaging small molecule drugs and discouraging sequential development of a single drug across multiple types of cancer that impact smaller patient populations, for instance.

On a more optimistic note, we’re seeing tremendous rates of scientific innovation. For decades, medicines were mostly limited to types of molecules that could be synthesized in a lab or purified from natural sources. We’re now at a point where “biologic molecules” like antibodies are commonly used across cancer and autoimmune conditions. We’ve seen companies like Kite, Juno, and Novartis figure out how to take a patient’s own immune cells, genetically reprogram them, and then re-infuse them as a durable curative approach to once deadly cancers. Within the last two years several companies have started trials of medicines that can literally edit and correct the DNA of patients who are born with deadly genetic disorders. We have functional cures for HIV. Its stuff that would have been considered science fiction at the turn of the millennium, and there will be lot of thinking that we at L.E.K. get to help with in terms of how best to develop, pay for, and deliver these medicines.

What professional and personal value do you feel a career at L.E.K. brings?

L.E.K. offers rapid career growth and promotion timelines that are less common in the consulting industry and the culture is filled with smart, organized, and thoughtful colleagues who know how to approach complex problems. Our core corporate strategy practice provides a unique combination of scientific and business perspectives. We work on projects that can potentially improve patients' lives. Whether it's developing drugs, diagnostic tests, or other healthcare solutions, the work we do is impactful.