Behind Brickell: Always on the frontier, where you can find me…
Spotlight on David McAvoy, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer
Brickell Biotech sits at the intersection of innovation, novel clinical science, and a commitment to patients by advancing experimental treatments for those with devastating skin diseases. Our executive leadership team sees itself as being on a kind of frontier, fighting for and deeply committed to our only priority: patients who are waiting. The patient is the overarching WHY of our business. We work to develop novel medical dermatology treatments that have the potential to transform the lives of those living with clinically debilitating dermatology conditions that adversely impact quality of life in physical, emotional, and psychological ways.
If there’s anyone who understands and embodies this approach to drug discovery and patient-centered medicine, and who’s comfortable being on the frontier, it’s Dave McAvoy of the Brickell leadership team.
Dave’s unconventional path to the biotech industry began with a B.A. in political science from the University of Notre Dame and a J.D. and Master of Science in Environmental Science from Indiana University. When asked why he pursued law, Dave responded, “You can’t live in a society without rules. They can be both good and bad, empowering and confining, full of freedom or discrimination. Knowing how to navigate this opens up doorways and impacts many people. I wanted to get on the front lines and impact rules to change lives for the better through transformative problem solving and creativity – interlaced with a heavy dose of courage to challenge the status quo. We’re constantly told to live by the rules. I decided to learn how the rules are created and adapted, in order to punch through glass ceilings and think outside the box. My philosophy on life is to embrace change, look for lights in the dark, to help others navigate the night. I believe the best way to solve society’s problems is through having an interdisciplinary approach that has a healthy skepticism for expertise, as many of the world’s greatest epiphanies come from outside the experts.” It’s probably why in law school Dave simultaneously interviewed with the large Wall Street law firms and also Greenpeace, ultimately deciding that change could come quicker from inside the castle than outside.
During his 6 years as an environmental lawyer for one of the world’s largest law firms –then named Squire, Sanders & Dempsey – and later in the early 1990’s as in-house counsel at Eli Lilly and Company, Dave ignited reform efforts and led initiatives that changed Clean Air Act laws to focus more on reducing pollution than just regulating industry. In a short time, he brokered a deal with Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management to change its state air rules by bringing together a consensus between activists and the business community, and then was asked to serve on the U.S. EPA’s national environmental advisory board. Following this success in changing laws, and after witnessing cancer take down one of his best friends at Lilly who was also in his early thirties at the time, Dave shifted his internal focus within Lilly to food & drug law where he joined the fight against fatal diseases and diseases that overpower the soul by attacking the mental part of our lives … a fight he’s never left. Although pharma and environmental law exist on seemingly opposite ends of the industry spectrum, they provided Dave a similar opportunity to be on the forefront of changing lives by combining science with law, both at a macro and micro scale.
Over the next two decades at Eli Lilly and Company, Dave served in a multitude of leadership roles, ranging from legal to policy to business, learning that “the best style of leadership is one that empowers members of your team, by combining an inspirational focus with a servant accountability.” Basically, “you have to be willing to wash the dishes and walk in the mud too,” according to Dave. Through his engaging and collaborative leadership style, he led the longest as General Counsel of Lilly Emerging Markets, an international business unit that covers nearly 2/3 of the world’s people, while also serving at different times as lead counsel to launch several iconic medicines, including Prozac® for depression, Gemzar® for pancreatic and lung cancers, and ReoPro®, one of the first interventional cardiology agents. During the development and commercial launch of these breakthrough prescription medications, Dave was intrinsically motivated to meet the patients and their families to personally understand their patient journeys by “listening to their stories, answering their questions, and learning about patient access needs.” He never wavered from his commitment to others and kept that core belief as the stimulant to all his professional efforts, becoming the first lawyer at Lilly to go on medical rounds prior to launch with the sales reps and to attend scientific conventions to meet with the doctors who would ultimately use the drugs being developed. His work with others inside Lilly on Prozac helped change the world, encouraging people to realize that mental illness is not a moral failing, or a result of sin, but that it has a potentially treatable biochemical origin. Later, Dave led the pharma industry in self-regulating to make its clinical trials more transparent and open for patients, committing to publish the negative as well as the positive study results they obtained and producing the first clinical trial registry by a pharmaceutical company accessible to the general public. He worked with the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development to create a completely new regulatory pathway to incentivize pharma companies to invest in solutions for rare disease. Dave further worked with the FDA in their groundbreaking decision to allow direct-to-consumer advertising to patients and their families, getting valuable information directly to those who need it to better empower their conversations with their treating physicians.
In 2018, Dave made his entry into biotech as General Counsel, Vice President, and Chief Compliance Officer of the nuclear medicine and oncology company Endocyte in order to tackle the fatal part of prostate cancer with a completely new way of attacking that disease, via targeted radioligand therapy. In this role, Dave worked with the leadership team to raise $275 million across two equity offerings, allowing the company to begin clinical trials with an experimental drug called 177Lu-PSMA-617 that on June 3, 2021 received positive results in its pivotal trials for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, known as the VISION study. During this time, he partnered with the Swiss government to create a new global legal precedent for bringing pharmaceutical innovation to smaller countries faster and brokered partnerships with foreign governments to leverage the brainpower of their scientists to attack cancer. Keeping with a mission to be on the front line with patients, Dave visited South Africa to meet with and support those underprivileged patient population receiving compassionate use from Endocyte’s investigational cancer treatment, which he says “was a humbling experience that ignited my passion for global access to medicine regardless of race, politics, gender, or income.” That work with the rest of the Endocyte executive team resulted in Endocyte’s stock being one of the highest performing stocks on the Nasdaq in 2018.
After helping Endocyte be acquired by Novartis in January 2019 for $2.1 billion, which was after the Endocyte team had in-licensed its lead asset for only $12 million one year earlier, Dave joined Brickell Biotech, another clinical stage company, as its first General Counsel. “I was drawn to Brickell’s clinical focus and commitment to disease awareness about hyperhidrosis (uncontrollable excessive sweating) because it aligned with my interest in high-impact, daily quality of life diseases that hinder people’s ability to fully express themselves”, harkening back to Dave’s work on Prozac and other drugs like Cialis® to talk about deeply personal diseases that were heretofore mentioned only in the shadows. Brickell allows Dave to team up again with Rob Brown, Brickell’s CEO, who was responsible for most all of Lilly’s successful commercial launches over the past decade, and Andy Sklawer and Deepak Chadha, two visionary entrepreneurs and drug developers who had been with Brickell from the early clinical development phase for the company’s investigational agent being studied for the treatment of hyperhidrosis. Despite initiating clinical trials amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, Brickell’s investigational drug for the hyperhidrosis treatment is currently wrapping up Phase 3 pivotal trials in the U.S. Brickell’s partner in Japan completed its registration trials and has launched in that country. These efforts lead Dave to declare, “We’re working toward changing lives so that people no longer have to hide from these debilitating skin diseases and can be the person they want to be”.
Dave’s personal endeavors prove to mirror his career work, that is, to enter and embrace the frontier. When he’s not helping to develop and commercialize life-altering medicines, Dave jumps into extreme sports that he says are “petri dishes for leadership development and creative problem solving”. He explains, “By putting myself on the physical frontier where there is a forced intersection of intellect, emotion, and spirituality, at pretty high stakes, I’m able to make deeper connections with myself, which in turn allows me to make deeper connections with my team and later the patients I serve.” Dave’s accomplishments in the outdoors are as eclectic as he is. He has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world, including Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Denali in North America, Elbrus in Europe, and ran the Gobi March ultramarathon, across the world’s windiest desert, which is featured in the documentary Desert Runners available on Amazon Prime.
With all of these incredible life experiences under his belt, Dave was asked for any final nuggets of wisdom. He responded by saying think about the great quote by Friedrich Nietzsche – “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” Given this, we look forward to Dave trailblazing paths least travelled along with the rest of the Brickell executive team to serve patients and the greater medical community in finding answers that matter.