Written by Elyse Nabata
Biotechnology (Biotech) is defined as “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes.” As one could imagine, this encompasses a wide variety of activities across many industries, such as the genetic modification of crops, pharmaceutical drug discoveries, the creation of biofuels, and much more.
As a sector, biotech has seen steady growth in recent years and provides ample opportunities for innovation and change—the perfect environment for a CPA to thrive. Since graduating with two degrees, Jason Ding CPA, CA has done just that. He currently works for Deloitte as Edmonton’s Corporate Finance Leader and the National Biotechnology Leader.
“I studied genetics, which was fun; I love my science degree,” says Jason about how he got started in biotech. “During my degree, I worked as a summer student in various laboratories. Then one year I had the chance to work for CBC Radio as a science reporter. The next year, when I came back to the labs, I realized I wasn’t into bench work. I preferred talking to people.”
With this realization, Jason decided to pursue a business degree immediately after graduating from the University of Alberta (U of A) with his science degree.
“Even though I do a lot of finance work now, my accounting experience has been invaluable to me in terms of financial statements, dealing with clients, and project management,” he explains.
While Jason has experience in many different areas of biotech—including agricultural, industrial, pets, and livestock— pharmaceuticals are an area of particular passion for him. And it’s between these worlds of biotech, business, and finance where things get interesting.
Jason explains that typically pharmaceutical drug development includes three major phases that each contain extensive testing. On average, it takes 12–15 years and costs approximately $1.2 – 1.3 billion for a new drug to pass all phases and be approved for commercialization.
“Also, a patent for a drug is 20 years,” adds Jason. “So effectively you have spent 14 years and $1.2 billion developing a drug, and you only have six years of exclusivity to try to get a return on your initial high-risk investment.”
What often happens is that smaller companies will get through the first two phases of testing and then sell or license to a larger pharmaceutical company to complete phase 3 and commercialize the drug, explains Jason. These larger companies have global networks and the resources to effectively market the drug.
This is where the skills of a biotech-savvy CPA come into play. Brokering these transactions and the challenges that accompany them are a significant part of Jason’s work. The failure rate for drug development from beginning to end is about 95 per cent; from the perspective of the larger pharmaceutical company (or buyer), the drug hasn’t been fully proven until phase 3, and there is the risk that it still may fail. At the same time, the smaller company (or seller) is looking for a fair deal for their innovations.
Despite these challenges, Jason mentions it is one of the aspects that he enjoys the most about his work.
“I love transactions and the creativity involved in deal-making. A great deal will create value for both sides,” he says, “It’s amazing how happy, especially in the healthcare industry, people feel on both sides of a good deal.”
Jason mentions that he also loves supporting the sciences and being able to help scientists and researchers advance their innovations. From 2012–2016, Jason left Deloitte to work with TEC Edmonton, an Edmonton-based Accelerator/Incubator organization. TEC Edmonton supports commercializing technology from private, university, and public sources, and helps build successful innovation-based companies. During this time, Jason had the opportunity to work with and help many interesting and innovative startups.
Jason’s passion for the sciences and drive to pursue what he loves have earned him success and recognition on a national level.
“Regardless of industry, do stuff that you love,” is Jason’s advice to students. “If you work on things you’re passionate about it will never steer you wrong. This is generic advice,” he adds with a chuckle, “but it certainly worked for me.”
This article originally appeared in CPA Alberta’s Capitalize Magazine.