Tag Archives: Russo Partners

A Q&A with Tony Russo, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Russo Partners

How did you get started in healthcare public and investor relations?

From an early age I have always been drawn to medicine, and even while my studies for my undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees were in psychology I focused on my work on nature and less on nurture. Consequently, I took a large dose of physiology and biology classes in the lead up to my doctorate. While I originally  thought I would go into research when I graduated, funding for social sciences research had been dramatically cut and I quickly realized that I needed to begin looking into alternative careers. I first thought of business school, but then I realized that if I could get a taste of business by working on Wall Street, I could then gauge whether it would make sense to get an MBA.  It was on Wall Street that I learned about financial public relations and that is when my career started.   After two years on Wall Street I joined a public relations agency and over the years naturally gravitated towards healthcare public relations, due to my inherent interest in the medical field.

At this time it was the mid 1980’s and biotechnology was beginning to take off. My partner and I decided to form an agency solely focused on the healthcare space, and in 1988 Noonan/Russo was founded, which evolved into today’s Russo Partners.

What do you believe are the important qualities a healthcare public and investor relations agency should possess?

It is so important for a healthcare public and investor relations agency to be able to speak the language of the companies they represent. From day one we realized that we needed to hire people who had worked in the medical field or had scientific backgrounds-Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s-who could articulate the science and be able to speak the same language our clients and their target audiences speak.  We also knew that we wanted people that were passionate about their work and the science behind it, which you are more likely to find in people who have studied science at an advanced level. To this day, each of these qualities is a critical part of our success.

What is one of your favorite announcements that you have handled?

Well, there are so many. However, one of my favorite announcements we handled was the first mapping of the human genome in 1991. This was the first announcement we could find in the biotech area that mentioned the Internet.  At that time, people hadn’t heard of a genome, much less a map of one, and the Internet was not a term that was used in connection to anything except in theory. In fact we had to define the Internet in the news release by calling it “the new super highway, the Internet.” That announcement gave us an opportunity to educate the public and the media about the significance of the genome, the Internet and mapping. This news ended up making the front page of The New York Times.

Another fun announcement was the cloning of the first mice in the 1990’s. This was after Dolly had been cloned, so this announcement also required much education about the significance of the news.  Even when we first took on the project, a member of our staff said to me, “Tony, why is anyone going to care.  We already cloned a sheep?  Who cares about mice?” I then realized that we needed to make the connection to the lab and to scientific research which may have not been obvious to most people.  Through our work, this advance ended up being well received and generated global attention, including broadcast news and again, was placed on the front page of The New York Times. However, the interesting part was that people became fascinated with the mice. They wanted to follow them to see where they went next and what they were doing. They were like celebrities, and ended up on Jay Leno and in gossip columns! The investors loved the story.

How have you seen the field of public relations evolve over the past few decades?

In the past, public relations was media relations and working with the media was much simpler-there was a set list of publications with which it was important to interact. Now, however the world is flat and  there are thousands of outlets that are important to consider for reaching your target audience-print, online, blogs, broadcast (televised and also online), radio, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few. A web-based publication can be as important to an organization as The Wall Street Journal.  There are more opportunities for coverage, but it also means that it is important to think through in great detail your media strategy-who you speak with and when. It is much more important to cultivate a media list of journalists you court and with which you build a relationship. Today you also have to think about news on a global basis, which influences factors such as timing of the announcement, where it is announced, when, etc.

The digital age has also changed interactions with the media. An average journalist can easily get hundreds of emails per day, and likely 50 plus news releases, and it is highly unlikely they are able to read all of this correspondence. In fact, they may only read a fraction and not even open up most of the attached news release.  This means that your relationships and what you send are critical in obtaining coverage.

Breaking through a journalist’s cluttered universe is an art, and to do this successfully requires building a compelling story. News bureaus have been shrinking, and it is common for a journalist to cover multiple beats, meaning they are hit with news at all times. In addition, now journalists need to write for both print and online portions of the publication, stretching their time even further. This means it is more important than ever to build a compelling story that will command attention despite a journalist’s busy schedule, and to be strategic with your media communications.

Aragon Pharmaceuticals Secures $42 Million in Series C Financing to Advance Pipeline of Therapies Targeting Hormone-Driven Cancers, Announces Positive Phase 1 Data for Prostate Cancer Program

This week Aragon Pharmaceuticals announced that it secured $42 million in a Series C financing, which will be used to advance its pipeline of therapeutics targeting hormone-driven cancers. These types of cancers are usually treated with anti-hormonal therapies; however patients often become resistant to treatment, making hormone receptors a promising target for therapeutics.

Additionally, the company also reported positive Phase 1 data for its lead therapeutic for the treatment of castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), ARN-509. The data announced are part of an ongoing open-label, dose-escalating Phase 1/2 clinical trial and demonstrated that ARN-509 was safe and well tolerated in patients with progressive metastatic CRPC. The therapeutic also demonstrated promising preliminary antitumor activity, with declines in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) observed in patients treated at all doses of ARN-509.

The financing was led by a new investor, the Topspin Fund, which is an investment group of James Simons, Leo A. Guthart and Steve Winick, and also included the participation of existing investors Aisling Capital, OrbiMed Advisors and The Column Group. With this financing, the amount of capital raised by the company since its founding in 2009 now totals $72 million.

Russo Partners worked to secure coverage of the announcement in the media, resulting in articles from newswires, including Dow Jones VentureWire, as well as trade publications, including Scrip, BioWorld Today, The Pink Sheet and Xconomy. For more information, please visit Xconomy’s coverage of the announcement.

Back to Basics: 3 Key Tips for Developing an Effective Pitch

Before reaching out to the media to discuss a potential story, there are several key steps that will make your pitch truly effective.

1. Really Do Your Homework

Once you have decided on a target publication, it is important to conduct detailed background research. Beyond reading the publication and researching if your topic has been covered, it is important to dissect the publication critically, noting different sections, columns, types of coverage (Is it news of the day? A feature story?) as well as the angle of the stories in each (Should it have an opinion? Or inform?).

Although this may seem time consuming at first, conducting background research will greatly increase the quality of your pitches, which will increase the likelihood that they will be of interest to the publication. And when you send a well thought out pitch to a journalist, they will be more likely to look for your pitch in the future. Additionally, doing your homework helps demonstrate the value you can bring to the publication.

2.  Learn Individual Beats

While at first glance it may seem as though journalist’s within a publication have the same area of interest, for example science, there can be key nuances between coverage. Some may focus on the business side of science while others focus on scientific research. Getting your story to the right journalist will increase the likelihood it will be of interest and is a more effective use of your time and the journalist’s time.

3.  Think Like a Journalist

Once you have broken down the publication and understand more about the format and who is writing certain stories, it is time to begin to think like a journalist, if you haven’t already. Think about your pitch in terms of a story. Are there trends in the space around which the company can provide insight? Does the company have a novel way to solve a problem in the space? It is important to remember the readership of the publication as well. Would this trend be of interest to the readers? If not, could you tweak the story to make it more of interest to this audience?

Taking this next step and thinking about what the readership would like to hear about from your company makes life much easier for the journalist. Instead of having to work to fit an interesting company into their coverage, sending a prepared story, complete with relevant sources, is much more beneficial.

While these strategies take more time and effort, implementing these tips should both improve the effectiveness of your pitches as well as your relationship with the journalist.

First Study Demonstrating Safety of Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC)-Derived Cells in Humans Reported by Advanced Cell Technology, Results Published in The Lancet

For the first time, a study by Advanced Cell Technology (“ACT”; OTCBB: ACTC)

Dr. Steven Schwartz, a retina specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted the trial with two patients. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)

demonstrated the safety of the transplantation of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) derived from retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) into patients. Additionally, the injected cells survived and continued to persist during the study period.  Results were reported for two patients, the first in each of the Phase 1/2 clinical trials, and were published in The Lancet, representing an important milestone for the field of embryonic stem cell research.

A patient said her vision improved in a meaningful way after the treatment, which used embryonic stem cells. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)

In the study, patients with Stargardt’s macular dystrophy (SMD) and dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) were treated with ACT’s embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived cells. Both patients were legally blind, and both had measurable improvements in their vision that persisted for more than four months. No treatments currently exist for either indication.

Through extensive media outreach coordinated by Russo Partners, coverage of this announcement was secured across all levels of print and broadcast media, including top tier, national, international, newswire, trade and regional outlets.

Below are links to samples of media coverage of the announcement:

CBS

CNN

NPR

New York Times

USA Today

BBC News

AFP

Nature

The Telegraph

TIME

Bloomberg

Associated Press

Reuters

Los Angeles Times

The Scientist

WebMD

MedPage Today

FierceBiotech

Russo Partners Attends the 30th Annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference

The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco’s Union Square

The largest healthcare investor conference of the year, the 30th Annual
JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, kicked off activities last week at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. The conference was attended by over 8,000 participants and 395 presenting companies.

Multiple clients presented at the conference, including Reata Pharmaceuticals, Cellular Dynamics International, Ambit Biosciences, Arena Pharmaceuticals, Puma Biotechnology, MorphoSys, Probiodrug and Amarin Corporation. Additionally, some of our clients presented at the adjacent Biotech Showcase 2012 held at the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel, including Advanced Cell Technology, AssureRx Health, GlycoVaxyn and Sernova Corp.

Both conferences provided excellent forums for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies of all development stages and sizes to meet with investors, potential partners and buyers.

Russo Partners was involved with each step of the process, securing meetings with the media, investors, analysts and bankers. Russo Partners also supported other client communications activities related to the conference, such as news releases announcing client presentations and talking points for media meetings.

With over 100 meetings secured for our clients, we were extremely pleased with the connections made at this year’s JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, and we are looking forward to doing the same for next year as well.

Supporting Client Participation at the 23rd Annual Piper Jaffray Health Care Conference

Last week many of our clients were presenters and panelists at the 23rd Annual Piper Jaffray Health Care Conference in New York City. The conference provided a forum for key industry executives, investors and professionals to provide their perspective on important issues and to discuss critical trends in the healthcare space.

Russo Partners supported our clients’ participation in multiple capacities, including preparing executives for their presentations with talking points and anticipated questions with suggested answers, as well as scheduling and coordinating meetings with the investment community. Other supportive activities included drafting teaser news releases announcing the presentations, utilizing Twitter to publicize webcasts and attending presentations to provide feedback and recommendations.

Clients presenting at Piper Jaffray included AVI BioPharma, Regulus Therapeutics, Flexion Therapeutics, GlobeImmune, Ardea Biosciences, Arena Pharmaceuticals and Alder Biopharmaceuticals.

Steve Worland, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Anadys Pharmaceuticals, participated as a thought leader on a panel discussing the recent advancements in the Hepatitis C space.

The conference featured a fireside chat presentation format, with questions and answers moderated by a Piper Jaffray analyst, providing an excellent opportunity for our clients to deliver a company overview and to address key questions from the investment community. Feel free to listen to sample webcasts of our clients’ presentations from the conference below.

Webcast of Arena Pharmaceuticals’ Presentation

Webcast of AVI BioPharma’s Presentation

Advanced Cell Technology, Leader in the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Space

Two weeks ago our client, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), strengthened their position as a leader in the field of embryonic stem cell research when Geron, citing economic conditions, announced that it would shift its focus to developing the company’s later-stage oncology therapeutics and no longer pursue its human embryonic stem cell (hESC) programs. Geron and ACT were the first two companies to initiate clinical trials in the United States using hESCs.

ACT recently initiated the first-ever European clinical trial using stem cells, specifically using retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) derived from hESCs to treat Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy (SMD).  Additionally, the company is currently conducting two Phase 1/2 clinical trials in the United States using hESC-derived RPE cells to treat SMD and dry age-related macular degeneration, respectively.

When Russo Partners received the news that Monday morning, we immediately sprang into action, knowing this was a key opportunity for ACT to control the company’s messages surrounding Geron’s announcement when the public would want to know what implications this industry shift would have on ACT’s clinical programs. We proactively reached out to the media, securing interviews with multiple top-tier outlets, as well as financial wires, scientific magazines and trade publications.

By speaking with the media, ACT was able to communicate core messages surrounding the announcement, including emphasizing the strengths of its ongoing hESC programs and the company’s future development plans. In addition, the company was able to provide insight into Geron’s decision as well as information about the stem cell space in general.

Below are links to sample coverage we secured for ACT following Geron’s news:

New York Times

AFP

Bloomberg

The Scientist

Inviting the Media to Life Sciences Summit 2011

Interested in bringing novel therapeutics to patients? Want to discuss more efficient ways to develop drugs?

Then the Life Sciences Summit 2011 was the conference for you.

Held in New York last week, the conference was a forum for key opinion leaders from industry, academia, medical research foundations and other major stakeholders to explore new paradigms of drug development, examine barriers to success and to discuss strategies for improving efficiency and productivity in therapeutic development.

Russo Partners’ objective was to raise awareness of the conference in the media community, a task we were happy to undertake.

Our first step was to develop a media advisory describing the event, as well as potential sources in attendance, and then to distribute the document to select media contacts. Russo Partners continued working to facilitate connections between the media and attendees, both in advance of and during the conference.

We are pleased to report that the conference was well attended by both media and companies alike, and we are looking forward to assisting Life Sciences Summit in their media outreach next year.

Media Relations: The Importance of Dialogue

A cornerstone of our media relations philosophy is to always engage in a dialogue with a journalist, taking the time to find out their specific interests and preferences and to build a strong relationship.

So when we received an opportunity to attend Business Wire’s 50th anniversary event, Meet the Media, featuring an expert panel of local journalists discussing characteristics of effective pitching and current trends in journalism, we had to make sure we were in the audience.

As we expected, it was well worth our time.

The format led to an excellent discussion that ranged from insight about uses of social media to best practices for pitching a story, with actionable steps surrounding each topic. Key points either reinforced what we already knew or brought up interesting points that were not immediately apparent, such as the importance of easily-accessible photos in the increasingly digital age. Each insight re-emphasized our belief that an ongoing dialogue with the media is crucial to be able to work effectively and efficiently together.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the panelists, Keith Darcé, biotechnology writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Bruce Bigelow, editor of Xconomy, and Joe Guerin, editor of the San Diego Daily Transcriptas well as moderator Katie Easkins, vice president of Lewis PR, for their time and participation. We hope you found it as helpful as we did!

Ringing the NASDAQ Closing Bell

Two of our Russo Partners team members, Martina Schwarzkopf and Elliot Fox, attended the ringing of the NASDAQ closing bell today, hosted by Amarin (AMRN), a biopharmaceutical company using lipid science to treat cardiovascular disease.