Day in the Life of a CEO—Yuval Cohen, Corbus

Published: Jun 12, 2015

Day in the Life of a CEO—Yuval Cohen, Corbus
June 12, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

Yuval Cohen joined Corbus Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in July 2013 as chief executive officer. Prior to joining Corbus, he was the president and co-founder of Celsus Therapeutics from 2005 to June 2013. Under Cohen's leadership, Celsus successfully developed five novel anti-inflammatory drug programs—including two in Phase II—focusing on allergies and autoimmune diseases of the skin, airways, digestive tract and eye. He participated in all stages of the pre-clinical and clinical development from project management to interactions with regulatory bodies and with the investment community in fund raising.

In March 2013, Cohen successfully completed a public listing of Celsus in the United States. Apart from his industry experience, he is also the author of a number of peer-reviewed papers and reviews as well as listed inventor on a number of patents. Cohen has a Ph.D., summa cum laude, from the Curie Institute of Cancer Research in Paris and the University of Paris V. He obtained a Bachelor of Science (Honors) from the University of Cape Town (South Africa) before being awarded the prestigious BGF Scholarship from the French foreign ministry to carry out his doctoral studies in Paris.

BioSpace chatted with Cohen about what makes him tick and how his passion helped steer Corbus into scheduling Phase II clinical trials of its lead product candidate Resunab for the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

1. Did you found your company? Why?

Corbus was founded by Mark Tepper, (CSO), Sean Moran (CFO) and myself. Mark has more than 20 years of leadership experience in pharmaceutical R&D and his past roles include leadership positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Merck-Serono. Sean also has more than 20 years of senior financial experience with emerging biotechnology, drug delivery and medical device companies. All of us shared a passion for making an impact in the lives of patients coupled with a love of entrepreneurship.

I have always been interested in inflammatory diseases, even prior to founding Corbus. My experience ranges from allergies to autoimmune diseases. Our current opportunity with Resunab is unique, in that we are able to make a significant improvement to the quality of life in individuals with cystic fibrosis.

2. Corbus was just formed last year in May, and it's now a public company with plans for a Phase II study. What advice would you give yourself one year ago to help you prepare for this kind of success today and were there any business lessons that you learned?

If I knew then what I know now, I would probably say to myself, 'Yuval,even the best laid plans require a backup plan.' I would remind myself to make sure I was always surrounded by the right people, who would be able to handle “surprises” quickly and efficiently. There is never a 100% guarantee when it comes to timing in R&D, so flexibility and rapid response within the team is crucial.

3. Who do you view as Corbus's competitors in the cystic fibrosis market?

One of the wonderful achievements of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) is that it has succeeded in getting so many companies to be interested in this previously neglected, rare disease. While there are many companies focusing on various aspects of the disease (CFTR correction, antibiotics, mucolytics, etc.), Corbus is the only company working on targeting the resolution of the underlying chronic inflammation and the fibrotic aspect of the disease. Our drug, Resunab, could one day become part of the routine therapy all CF patients use.

4. Competition for tomorrow's blockbuster drugs is hot and we're seeing a lot of deal-makings between small and large companies. If you could choose a large pharma company to partner with, who would that be and why?

An advantage of being a small, focused rare-disease company is that we have the luxury of choosing between partnering or doing it on our own. Should we choose to partner, we would look for a large pharma that has the resources and track record to making this a success as well as shares our passion and commitment to bringing impactful novel therapies to these patients.

5. Best book you’ve read lately?

I have only recently read Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Strangely, I never read it as a kid, and finally decided to do something about it. I actually got it as a gift at my sister-in-law’s wedding that took place in New Bedford, Conn.

6. What did you learn from reading Moby Dick? Was there anything in that book that inspired you personally or professionally?

The most significant takeaway for me upon completion of the novel, was that if you blindly follow a goal while refusing to constantly reassess its merits and the means of achieving it, you will fail. Of course, this has implications in everyday business life, in that, in order to succeed as a CEO, you need to be pragmatic with your decisions and flexible to ever changing environments.

7. Walk us through your typical workday.

Corbus has recently commenced trading on the , and as such, I have to balance my time carefully between internal day-to-day management and external investor relations. I split my time between my home in New York and our Boston office. On Mondays and Fridays, you will find me in New York, while Tuesday through Thursdays, I’m at the Corbus corporate offices located in Norwood, MA. I’m very fortunate to have an outstanding team at Corbus, along with capable and trustworthy service providers who keep things running smoothly, thus allowing me to work at both locations.

A typical work day for me begins around 6 a.m.; that’s when I start checking my emails. When I am in New York, I commute into the city from Brooklyn via the L train. This usually takes me about 10 minutes. I get to my first meetings by 8 a.m., and try to wrap up by 6 p.m.. After work, you’re likely to find me on my bike doing loops in Prospect Park, accompanying my wife to the theater or having dinner with our friends. I usually wrap up my “work day” around 10 p.m.. That’s when I normally stop answering emails for the night. We just found out there is a canoe launch at the end of our parking lot in our Norwood location, and beginning this summer, we will be paddling away after work.

8. What’s your proudest career achievement to date?

Since the inception of Corbus, one of the main goals I set for myself and the company was to launch a cystic fibrosis clinical program with the support of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. On April 24 2015, Corbus was awarded a $5 million Developmental Award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to further our research on Resunab and inflammation resolution in cystic fibrosis. It came just one year after Corbus was launched and capped a year filled with several significant milestones. Needless to say, I’m tremendously proud of this and infinitely grateful to the CFF for their support.

9. What’s your hometown and do you get back there often?

I was born in Rehovot, which lies about 20 kilometers (12 mi) south of Tel Aviv, Israel, but grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is where I spent my formative years, studying at the University of Cape Town, followed by a Ph.D. at the Institute Curie in Paris, France. I visit both Israel and South Africa, once a year, to reconnect with family and friends. We typically visit Israel for a week during May and South Africa for two weeks in December. The sunny mild weather year round is something that draws me back year after year, as well as the local cuisine and being surrounded by friends and family.

10. Any pieces of advice for people looking to get to where you are now?

I have to say I am very fortunate to be leading Corbus, and believe that your greatest asset is to be passionate about what you do. Of course, hard work, persistence, ambition and a thirst for knowledge are all invaluable but it’s your passion that will drive you forward and convince others that you’re 100% committed to what you’re doing. Commitment to excellence is the best recipe for positive outcomes.

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