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How to Attract More Women and People of Color into Manufacturing with Nancy Lurker, President of EyePoint Pharmaceuticals
Episode 3719th July 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:29:10

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Contact Nancy Lurker

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nancy-lurker-6603316/

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce you to our guest today Nancy Lurker. Nancy is President and CEO of EyePoint Pharmaceuticals, a specialty company that develops and manufacturers sustained release drug delivery, innovative ophthalmology products to treat debilitating diseases of the eye, leading to blindness.

Ms. Lurker is a healthcare industry veteran and decision-maker who brings more than 30 years of experience with the public, and private startups, including fortune 500 biotech and pharma companies. Nancy, welcome to the show. It's so good to have you here.

Nancy Lurker: Thank you, Lisa. It's great to be here.

Lisa Ryan: Nancy, please share with us your background, particularly in manufacturing, since that's the audience that we have.

Nancy Lurker: Well, I've spent several years in the pharmaceutical industry at big pharma and several small pharma companies. In almost all cases, except for actually two companies I was at, which was on the service side. I've been in a manufacturing company, so I've got a lot of experience, just in terms of how you think about manufacturing drugs, which is not easy.

Lisa Ryan: I understand that you have some pretty cool technology with what you've developed at your company. Why don't you tell us about what you do?

Nancy Lurker: We have some exciting technology. We are an ocular drug delivery company, making products that we will commercialize ourselves. We also do work with partners, though they might, in some cases, come to with drugs they want to put in our drug delivery technology. The reason is that when you're dealing with drugs that go into the eye, it's very complex. If you can think about the eye, it's tiny, and it's a highly complex organ. Our drug delivery technology is minute. We have one's called Duracert, and one is called Verizon. They're very different from each other. I'll focus on Duracert are because that's our main platform.

It's an amazing drug delivery technology that we can release drugs into the eye. You inject into what's called the posterior back, part of the eye. I know, for listeners, they might be like, 'oh my God, injecting the back of the eye. How horrible!' It's not as bad as it sounds. Doctors are very used to it. It's an extremely small, about the size of a tiny piece of hair in terms of diameter, and that gets injected into the eye. We can tailor the release of the drug depending on the drug. Depending on how long we want it to go - anywhere from three years down to one month. Right now, we have one drug on the market that releases out over three years. This drug is no more than three millimeters long - about one millimeter in diameter. It's amazing!

The patient can't see it. You can't see it. It drops to the bottom of the eye, and it just sits there. It releases a tiny microscopic dose, in this case, asteroid, every single day, 365 days a year, for three years.

We also have a very exciting drug in the pipeline that will release a kinase inhibitor over six months. But, again, based on how we pick these timeframes is based on what doctors want and what's best for patients, in some cases to literally what we can do, because, as you can imagine, the pharmacogenetics from a code dynamics of a drug also have to marry up with a drug delivery technology. So there are some limits there in terms of what we can do.

Lisa Ryan: I love having people in manufacturing on the show because of their passion for it, and you are extremely passionate about what you do. We talked about one of the things before the show was getting more women into STEM, getting more women into manufacturing, and being excited about the mission that you have. What are some of the things that you've done as an organization to find women and find people in stem and steam that are working for you?

Nancy Lurker: it's not easy. I want to encourage women to persevere in this field. We need more women and people of color. Persevere, because look there's no doubt that when you bring in more diversity into an organization, you get different approaches to problems, different ways to think about things. It also changes the culture of the company, which I love.

Undoubtedly, bringing women into manufacturing and women into stem changes the dynamic in many different ways, very much for the positive. One of the things I like to do is mentor women, particularly young women - up and coming. It's not easy. It never is. None of these fields are easy. Indeed, getting to the C suite is difficult. It takes a lot of hours and commitment. But also, what I do is we do reach out so, for instance, many times will be doing a job search, and we open it up to all comers, of course, but I want to try to make sure that we do get diversity in the organization. We promote from within, so we make a real effort to mentor our people of color and women so that they can know that they've got a great career track at EyePoint pharmaceuticals.

Lisa Ryan: There are the traditional ways of finding employees. When you are looking to increase that level of diversity and the number of women that join you, what are some nontraditional ways you do that? I know that there's no magic cure or easy button when it comes to finding people, but if there are some nontraditional ways that you've discovered?

Nancy Lurker: I was just going to say there's no secret sauce. I tap into my network. I will say this, in pharma, it's a unique ecosystem. It is biotech. You go into the Boston area where EyePoint pharmaceuticals are headquartered. There is an incredible biotechnology pharma ecosystem. It doesn't take much to reach out and find women and people of color in that area now. Because of the pandemic, the good news is we figured out you don't have to be living in Boston. We will often go way beyond Boston to find people now. Sometimes we use the traditional executive search firms, but I would also say to go on LinkedIn. We post every job except for very high-level positions. We post every job on LinkedIn. If you see a job there, apply for it because we want to make sure that we get a broader pool of women and diverse candidates. I'm very committed to that. I think that it brings a different perspective to the company.

I tap into my network. I reach out to people in the Boston area that I know, but we also go on LinkedIn, and we go way beyond the Boston area.

Lisa Ryan: It's good that you're saying that because people have this idea about LinkedIn that the jobs are there, but all of them apply. It would be almost impossible to get a job because of the competition. So obviously, you're not finding that.

Nancy Lurker: No, no, in fact, we often use the LinkedIn network to get candidates in for positions. All the time now again, you put your resume in. We do want to make sure the resume is at least somewhat close. We've had excellent success through LinkedIn.

Lisa Ryan: Awesome. When you're thinking about bringing women into STEM and people of color, what are some of the myths preventing people from joining STEM that is not necessarily true?

Nancy Lurker: Yes, so I'm going to say some things. I was not the smartest person in my class now; there's no doubt that when you take courses in my undergraduate biology and chemistry, it's not easy when you take courses in that field. But you don't have to be the smartest person in the room. You don't have to be the one that is a brilliant scientist. I don't have a Ph.D., I have a master's in business, but I don't have a Ph.D. I'm surrounded by very, very talented scientists and iPoint pharmaceuticals with PhDs, and but yet. Don't let that intimidate you. You have something to offer. You can bring insights in, and often you may not be the scientist working at the bench at the lab.

You might need that background. On the business side, you might need that background in regulatory. You might need that background, working in the manufacturing area, to understand some of the basic science that goes into making the drug, so don't be intimidated by it. If you like it, hang in there. Being a B student is perfectly fine. Sometimes people have this idea that scientists are nerdy. You got to be brilliant. I'm never going to make it. Don't think that way. It's a big ecosystem of people. That science degree, even if it's just a bachelor's, will come into great use in many different areas in this field.

Lisa Ryan What is some of the leadership lessons you've learned through your experiences as a woman in STEM.

Nancy Lurker: There are many leadership lessons one, I would say that I have never felt that I wanted to or needed not to be feminine. I love to dress in nice pretty clothes. I like to fix my hair up nice. I like jewelry. You can be who you are in this whole field and still do very, very well. But, again, you have to stick to your guns. Often, I'm not going to deny that you go into meetings at times, and it still exists. Men will tend to at times talk over to you. I'm not trying to any way denigrate men because they bring a tremendous amount to the table as well. Everybody does, but sometimes men can still talk over you. I just push right on through. I don't. I'm not afraid to call it out to say, excuse me, I was talking or excuse me, I just said that, and you're repeating it so. It happens, but you have to have the confidence to do that. That's probably the biggest thing I would say, and the second thing is to advocate for yourself.

Women have a hard time with this. There are patterns in terms of what I've seen over the years. Women tend not to advocate for themselves as much. They don't come to me as much and say, hey, I'm ready for a promotion, I want to be promoted. Men typically do that, which I have no problem with that. I will say to women, "you're ready for a promotion. You should be going to your boss," and I was advocating for this.

The second thing is that women tend to feel that they have to be 95% ready for that next promotion. Often men will feel 75% good enough. I can do that next job. Don't feel like you have to have every single box checked off before you're ready for that next promotion.

Finally, don't get too loyal to your company, because the reality is often you can make big leaps forward by leaving one company and going to another company. I'm not saying that IPoint should do this because I love you all, and I want them to stay here. But it does help at times. I did that in my career, and it helped tremendously.

Lisa Ryan: Alright, well, and it's different today than it used to be. I mean, back at way back in the day, when I was an executive recruiter, if I saw somebody with fewer than five years at a company, I'd be like - job hopper. But it's different today. You already said that instead of having employees just in the Boston area, the pandemic had shown us that you could have people from all over the country. So we're expanding our views. We're expanding our candidate base. We're expanding the diversity that we're able to bring in. I like the lessons that you talk about for women because it's true they're not advocating for themselves. They feel this sense of loyalty to a company that may not appreciate them and goes somewhere else.

Nancy Lurker: I'm married. I never sacrificed my family for my job, so what did I do. You need to be confident. You don't need to apologize if you need to take an hour off or two hours off to go to the soccer game, the dance recital. I don't care what it is running them to the doctor. I think this applies to men as well. Don't apologize for that. I don't feel like you mind if I do this. Just say, "I've got an important event with my kid, and I'm going to go. I'm going to go take two hours off and be there. If that's a problem, let me know. You deserve to be able to do that. You can have a family. You can have a successful career. I have never been one to ascribe to the theory that you have to be putting in 80 hour work weeks nonstop.

Now to be fair, in the C suite, you're putting in 60 hours - there's no doubt about it. I intersperse that there are many times I take time off to be with my family, and I'll rework meetings around. I tell people, I don't try to fudge it, and say oh, you know, and that's not just when I hit the C-level, I did that going all the way up. Be transparent about it. Be proud of it, and make sure that you prioritize what's important in your life.

Lisa Ryan: You're also setting the example for your employees and what you expect from your employees. Many times it's all fine and dandy when the leadership says, "Oh, your family's important, and you should spend time with them, and they never see the C suite leaving their office. They're putting in 60 or 80 hours a week. The fact that you are setting that example and being that transparent. You're not saying, "Ooh, I have another doctor's appointment," and then they see you on Facebook enjoying your kid's soccer game.

You're setting the example for the behavior that you want. That's so important. This is what I'm doing, and you're not taking advantage of it.

Nancy Lurker: The nice thing about the pandemic. I think it's allowed us to get rid of some horrible commutes; that frees up time. It will enable you to be on a conference call, go on mute. The dogs are barking; the kid just walked in the door. Go drop your bags off. I think it's wonderful.

Lisa Ryan: It's also changed how we look at the workplace. You have many people, particularly the baby boomers, who we never thought would retire because of their work ethic. Suddenly, they just spent a year working from home, playing with their grandkids and their kids, and realizing life outside. Hence, unless companies are willing to have that transparency from leadership, that flexibility can stay connected to family. There are going to be big losers in the long run.

Companies forcing their employees to come back to the office with no choice of doing any remote work ever again. These are the things that we look at. I believe that it's going to open up for women much more because we've all discovered the value of family.

Nancy Lurker: I couldn't agree with you more. I think it is going to change the dynamic and allow a lot more flexibility. It's about time; we need it.

Lisa Ryan: What are some of the things you have seen working best from a cultural standpoint? It sounds like you have a pretty significant culture over there at iPoint. What are some of the things you're doing that are working to keep that high engagement level?

Nancy Lurker: I'm going to say a lot of tech companies do this. But I also think it's how we go about it, so first of all, it starts at the top. I hire for what I call high achievers but low ego. I don't want a bunch of people in the company that are all about them. They can often be poisonous to a culture that's number one number two. I can be a demanding boss, but you also have to be kind. You have to be respectful. Don't throw your weight around. It starts with me. I have to model that, so I like to think of myself and the leadership team as we're just orchestra conductors, but we need everybody, so with that, as the backdrop.

This is not a macho culture, right. As I said, this is not where I'm going to come into your work 80 hours a week, and I got my snacks over here. I've never gone for that. You can be highly successful and have a very successful company and not have that culture. So again, with that as a backdrop, we try to do a lot of fun things. We often have International Food Day. Everybody brings in food from their respective countries, and you cannot believe the amazing food we have.

We throw a lot of company events. We have your typical snacks that people can get. I try to be around, and just walk around, and get to know people. We're growing pretty rapidly, so it's a little hard for me now to stay on top of who everyone is, but I always try to walk around and say hi to everyone. I also have what I call "coffees with Nancy." Over 12 months, I will have three to five employees meet with me as a group and work through the entire employee base through the year. It's just a chance for a casual conversation. I did it all through the pandemic, with that was all done virtually.

You just get to know each other. I try to bring in people from different departments to get to know each other as well. We do have several different locations, so it's it all those things go about building a fun culture. People don't feel like they have to have their political guard up all the time. I don't want energy to play politics. I want energy going to how can I do, how can I solve this problem? How do I make sure I get this project done? Because they want to, not because they're trying to kiss up to their boss.

I worked hard to make sure we have a culture that exemplifies it. We're not perfect. We never will be, but we strive to make sure that that's a key part of our company culture.

Lisa Ryan: and how many employees do you have?

Nancy Lurker: We're up to about 120 now and continuing to add.

Lisa Ryan: The reason why that's important to know is that for people listening to the podcast, they're like, I can't be spending that amount of time. When you prioritize over a year, I talked about this in my programs all the time, so it's so nice to hear when people are doing it because you're getting the feedback you're creating a safe environment for people to share things. So I'm sure that from time to time, you get to hear some stuff.

Nancy Lurker: Much to the chagrin of my management.

Lisa Ryan: The response to that is simple, and I'm sure you do this. Thank you for sharing.

Nancy Lurker: Oh, my gosh, yes yeah.

Lisa Ryan: When you fight them, when you argue when you do any of the above, well that's not what I meant by that, they will never share with you again. It sounds like you have created a very safe, authentic, transparent environment as a CEO for your employees to do that, which is easy. It's not easy to do. It's something that when you place it as a priority, you can do it.

Nancy Lurker: You can do it, and I'm going to say again, it starts at the top. It's not just me. It's also the leadership team. So I'd say actually down to the Vice President level helps to set that tone. But you have to have people who are willing not to let their ego get in the way, and I will say, Lisa, unfortunately, I've seen it too many companies. It's all about them. If you make it all about yourself, you will never get the type of loyalty and trust that you want in a company.

They're not stupid. They can tell what's going on.

Lisa Ryan: Right, and they're not going to like everything you tell them, but at least if you're coming from a place of authenticity and transparency, they know that you'll always have their back.

So Nancy, what are some of the things that are still keeping you up at night?

Nancy Lurker: Well, actually, I would say two things one is, and it ties in right into manufacturing. We have a drug that's in for phase one. It's called AYP 1901. It's for a devastating disease called wet AMD. This drug will hopefully be able to be used once every six months. It's an implant releasing this Tyrus unkindness inhibitor. The problem in this drug category is that patients get injected every month or every other month, and nobody wants to get their eyes stuck with a needle every month or every other month. But it's a terrible eye disease, so you need to be treated for the rest of your life now if we're successful.

We are going to have to rapidly grow, rapidly produce a lot of drugs, and getting the supply chain involved. We're working on getting the supply chain in place, ensuring that we can produce enough drugs for the clinical trials. Subsequently, if we're successful down the road commercially, that's a big task. We can do it. We are working on that now, but it's still a big task to make that happen. The other thing is this is not an easy drug for an implant manufacturer. It's very minute, so you have to have skilled technicians who can manipulate the API and the implant and make it correctly. We have type quality control standards.

This is all producing clean rooms, so it's stringent manufacturing standards, so that's probably one big area that's a significant project for us is just expanding our manufacturing capability for these unique innovative but tiny implants with drugging them.

Lisa Ryan: Well, stay tuned to LinkedIn for those job openings coming.

Nancy Lurker: We are going to be growing rather rapidly in that area.

Lisa Ryan: Nancy, from a networking standpoint, what would you like to learn from your manufacturing colleagues, and what are the things you would be willing from your insight and expertise to share? What would that look like?

Nancy Lurker: I would say, insights on how you go about rapidly expanding a manufacturing base. We can always learn, we've got a great team, but I love new ideas that come in from people who've done this, been there, and done this before, so that's number one. In terms of input, the second thing is in areas that we could help people on. I think it's just what I talked about with women. I always love to mentor women in this space, and areas in terms of you know how you go about thinking about taking a drug from phase one up through phase three we've done it several times I've done it multiple times in my career. Finally, if people want to reach out, the best way to reach me is on LinkedIn. You can send me messages. I'm pretty good about responding to messages that come through all right.

Lisa Ryan: Well, that answered my following question, so Nancy, if you were to give listeners today your best piece of advice, what would that be?

Nancy Lurker: I would say, make sure that what you are doing you enjoy. You can't always find the perfect job, but work is such a big part of our lives, you have to enjoy it at least somewhat it doesn't have to be central to your life. But you want to make sure that, given all the hours you spend in it, you enjoy what you're doing, and number one, we know this from the research bosses matter if you have a bad boss, get out of there. Go somewhere else, where you can have a boss, who treats you with respect, and you feel fulfilled in your work.

Lisa Ryan: Well, Nancy, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Nancy Lurker: it's my pleasure.

Lisa Ryan: I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. See you next time.

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