Scott Applebaum is the president of Context Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company based in Philadelphia, PA. Founded in 215, Context is dedicated to discovering, acquiring, and developing medicines for patients with breast, prostate, ovarian, and other hormone-driven cancers. The company is currently focused on development of Apristor (Onapristone XR), an investigational Phase 2 drug that targets progesterone receptor positive (PR+) metastatic breast cancer.
EDWIN WARFIELD: You’re originally a lawyer. How did you transition into the pharma industry?
SCOTT APPLEBAUM: When I went to Stanford Law School, I really didn’t have a great idea of exactly what I wanted to do after law school. I wasn’t even sure where I wanted to end up, but I decided to come back to Philadelphia. My wife and I are both from Philadelphia and lifelong Philadelphians. We enjoyed it here, wanted to come back and start a family here, so I started to look for opportunities in Philadelphia. At the time, I started with Dechert, Price & Rhoads. Dechert is one of the largest firms in the world now; at the time, it was the largest firm in Philadelphia. I started as a tax associate, working in the area of tax, corporate tax, individual tax, employee benefits. I worked on a number of corporate transactions—M&A-type transactions—and did a variety of counseling. It was a great environment in which to learn. I worked with some great people there, some great mentors. But I also decided that I did not want to spend the rest of my life in a law firm. As much as I enjoyed it, I felt that there were probably more opportunities that would be a better fit for me in the corporate world, so I started to listen to and pursue opportunities outside of the law firm.
When I had the opportunity to join Bristol-Myers Squibb, that was something that really excited me, because I was able to use my expertise as a lawyer in part of an organization that I felt was really a dynamic industry and a great industry—one ultimately that’s focused on helping patients. When I started at Bristol-Myers Squibb, it was a very big difference from being at a law firm, where essentially you’re being rated on the quality of the work but also how many hours you bill. So, now, you’re working as part of a team that is ultimately being judged on the quality of the drugs you get to market and how well they do in the marketplace.
I worked at Bristol for about eight years and learned every aspect of the business I could. I had some great mentors at Bristol-Myers Squibb who gave me some stretch assignments and opportunities to work on some really important projects. My wife used to joke that when I was at cocktail parties and I was dispensing advice about high cholesterol and other things—she was like, “you’re not a doctor!” I said, “well, it’s true, but in narrow areas I think I know as much as anyone does.” And, we really did. The drugs that we worked on that I helped work with the regulatory filings, I helped worked with the promotion of those drugs—to really be effective, I had to learn as much about the drugs as anyone did. I had to really understand how doctors were going to prescribe it, the conditions that patients were living with, and how it was going to help them. I tried to learn as much as I could about the science. I am most definitely not a scientist, but I learned just enough probably to be dangerous.
I really enjoyed my time at Bristol-Myers Squibb, but it was a very large organization when I was there—about 50,000 employees. It had some ups and downs. Some of those downs for me personally were very big opportunities, because I got to work on a number of crises that the company was going through, and crises can be great learning experiences. I look back on that time very fondly because it really did give me a broad knowledge base and broad exposure to all different issues, both domestically and internationally.
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