Insights from Skye’s CEO, Punit Dhillon
Your vision for Skye
A: Skye’s proprietary cannabinoids represent a new class of therapies that have the potential to treat a wide spectrum of diseases. We believe that the endocannabinoid system, and the molecules that interact with this system, including cannabinoids, can play a critical role in health and disease. Despite this, there are only a handful of cannabinoid-based drugs approved worldwide. Therefore, our vision for Skye is to be a pioneer in unlocking the pharmaceutical potential of cannabinoids. We believe we are on the cusp of a new class of therapies that will have broad applicability across multiple diseases, and as a leader in the space, we hope to be the first to gain market approval for a cannabinoid-based drug that has been specifically designed to improve upon natural cannabinoids by developing better chemistries, better formulations, and better delivery methods. We have strategically focused on the ocular space given the overwhelming evidence of cannabinoid’s effects on positively impacting ocular diseases, such as glaucoma. However, scientific research continues to add to the growing evidence that cannabinoids can have broad application in multiple conditions, including pain, addiction, sleep, inflammation, and even cancer. Therefore, as our name suggests, as we continue to develop our pipeline of proprietary cannabinoid-based drugs, the Skye is the limit.
It is very exciting. If I were to fast forward, and as one of my mentors used to say, how will a Wall Street Journal article report on a company like Skye down the road?
Leadership traits most important to you for success
A: Accountability, personal drive towards progress, and integrity stand above the others. I don’t get too attached to the time end of the experience. Experience is a function of time, but more often than not, it is the relevance of the experience. I look at the job and the expertise someone brings to it and try to measure the likelihood of their success – personal and corporate. We can measure someone’s accountability and integrity by seeing his or her preparedness, knowledge of the business, and ability to manage and help execute. Effective leaders think steps ahead to be preemptive and they have contingency plans. No matter what, there is always a plan A, B, C, and D because they’ve been there before and can foresee the challenges that could arise, and they spend a lot less time being reactive. Leaders hold themselves accountable and are motivated – both personally and professionally – to ensure success.
A leadership experience that inspired you to become one
A: I am very fortunate to have this role at Skye. There is a lot of we and us that allowed me to get to this place. I have been part of some great companies focused on critical missions. What inspired me most in those work environments, and what I realized very quickly, was how important it is for a team to come together to win. When it comes to drug development, a well-synchronized team is essential.
Being a “virtual” CEO must have its challenges but may also be presenting some rewarding opportunities
A: Time has become much more efficient. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were all much more outward-facing in our jobs, and by nature, we traveled quite a bit. Now, we have all recalibrated our priorities and have become stricter when looking at the opportunity cost of traveling and ensuring everyone’s health and safety. There is a good balance now being achieved, particularly from an operational standpoint. Despite the challenges of working remotely, work doesn’t discriminate, and we are all rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done. In fact, not getting on planes, taking taxis, and waiting at airports has given back the minutes and hours we gave to business travel and created a lot of extra bandwidth to be more focused.
Rationale for your organizational structure
A: We’re a growing team. Right now, we are focused on the development and so we are heavy on the R&D side but are also managing the required G&A functions to operate a company. Our first priority is to accelerate development while remaining lean and maintaining and managing our risk profile. I believe we tick the necessary boxes right now, and when the time is right, we will build a larger team in parallel with the expansion and growth of our clinical pipeline.
Company value(s) you instill for a happy and productive “virtual” work environment
A: Clarity. It is critical that every team member is clear on what Skye’s milestones are and how their role aligns with them. That way, there is a clear operational plan for every person and every department to meet our company objectives, achieve our milestones and be successful. Having clarity reduces the counterproductive uncertainties and output that come with not knowing or understanding.
I want the team at Skye to experience the joy factor that comes from knowing their purpose at the company and the value they bring to their day-to-day role and in contributing greatly to our success. Happiness and productivity go hand in hand.
That’s not to say we haven’t experienced growing pains while adapting to our new virtual working environment, but we have done a good job keeping the needed balance! I feel very confident in what the Skye team is positioned to accomplish in 2021 and beyond.
Key commitments you expect from your team
A: To be responsible, accountable, and have a desire to lead. Skye team members have clear plans for achieving their goals and have the resources and support to follow through. When they come across challenges, it’s important we communicate and quickly problem-solve together. My job is to help ensure we remove any obstacles standing in their way from getting their jobs done.
Your process for decision-making
A: At Skye, the team member responsible for meeting a particular milestone plays the biggest role in making the related decisions and being accountable for them. I expect the experts to make the decisions, but I am always available to help manage any bottlenecks. My own decision-making is based on the contributions and feedback from the team, Skye’s BOD and experience. When it comes to drug development, decisions need to be based on the data and advice from the well-informed experts involved.
The requirements for running efficient clinical studies
A: Patient safety. But on the practical side, it is important to have clear protocols and a clear study design that minimizes the number of patient-related variables, and any surprise variables to the planning, budgets, and so on. This will then lead to rigorous, accurate data collection and the conversion of that data into meaningful interpretations and insights generated through similarly rigorous analysis.
Skye’s biggest strength
A: Skye is limitless! There is already evidence (and it’s building) demonstrating that cannabinoids work in a variety of different diseases. But fully understanding cannabinoids and their medicinal and therapeutic potential is still a largely untapped opportunity where much more knowledge can be built. As a pharma company, we can leverage existing data to advance new therapies that have positive therapeutic outcomes with our proprietary approach. Skye has the intellectual property with our two molecules, THCVHS and CBDVHS, derivatives of the most common cannabinoids, to work with an existing body of research and decide what therapeutic indication to develop rapidly and effectively.
Skye’s biggest challenge
A: Staying focused. There is a wide opportunity when it comes to cannabinoids, and we want to do a lot working with them at Skye. With growth companies you can easily get attracted, and distracted, to applying a drug to a range of applications, but if you cast your net too wide, you end up being what is that saying – a “jack of all trades, master of none”. There is an opportunity for us to show credibility, repeatability, and validity demonstrating one approach working well – which equals success. We are focusing our initial efforts on glaucoma and our prodrug THCVHS has shown the ability to lower intraocular pressure (IOP).
What do you want Skye to be known for short-term and long-term?
A: Strong science. I think it’s missing in the cannabinoid space. It is what is going to help uncover the gem of what cannabinoids can offer for a variety of different diseases and understanding those mechanisms in the endocannabinoid system can only help to deepen the credibility of the science and the usefulness of cannabinoids. That stands true short- and long-term.
Long-term, I would like Skye to be recognized as a company that isn’t just helping address unmet medical conditions but is showing a differentiated approach in a wider array of applications. This will be better understood as we generate additional data on the interactions between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.
What would you say about Skye’s competitors?
A: I think other companies developing drugs to treat glaucoma are shooting for the same thing – to have a reliable drug for ophthalmic use to effectively lower IOP in glaucoma. Our company’s distinguishing characteristic is that THCVHS is the first and only proprietary prodrug of THC designed and formulated for ocular use. Skye is fortunate in that we have important and innovative intellectual property for this unique molecule.
My macro-observation is there is quite a lot of opportunity to explore what cannabinoids as a novel class of drugs can offer in different therapeutic settings. To date, there have only been three drugs – one plant-derived cannabinoid-based drug and two synthetic THC molecules – that have been approved by the FDA in the US. So, there is a lot yet to be discovered.
The general consensus at this stage, for companies involved in R&D with cannabinoids, would be to see each company flourish. It would only help support the broader acceptance of this class of drugs. Collectively, we have a responsibility to improve our understanding of (and the complexities of) the entire ECS and its receptors that are linked to specific therapeutics. In other words, there is plenty of room for other companies to participate in the nascent understanding of the link between cannabinoids and the ECS. The more we can scientifically prove, the more it helps support the advancement of a specific approach to effectively address unmet medical needs for patients.
How do you measure company success?
A: It starts with the more intangible measurement – teamwork. When a team is working strongly together, completely in sync, reading each other’s cues, finishing each other’s sentences, you’re able to accomplish company objectives that much easier and more efficiently, and naturally, that helps lead to the true tangible measurements of a company’s success – growth, ROI, valuation.
Reason(s) you took on the role of Skye’s CEO
A: The company was ready to turn the page and accelerate its progress in new ways, and I am familiar with this playbook. Also, as a board member, I felt a responsibility to shareholders. I became CEO in September 2020, and I am excited about Skye’s position and where we are headed.
Your business philosophy
A: This is a very lofty question, but I have made it my mission that basically any business I have the privilege to be part of has to meet two important criteria before I join. 1) it distinguishes itself with a business plan that can effect positive change and global impact; 2) the business is backed by credible science and innovation.
The collective goal for any community or business should be to stimulate positive and big change. Within our communities, we have a duty to foster a foundation of innovation and technology and pass down unique life experiences to the next generations as our ancestors did. There needs to be unrestricted access into the mindsets of what it takes to succeed so that anyone who is intrinsically motivated and positioned to make the decision can transform their life and others. Whether we are a c-suite executive or an employee within an organization, we all contribute to a larger purpose, but only the individual can determine how small or large the contribution.
In communities, there are transformational leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and connectors who strive for a greater purpose – they are self-driven, accountable, authentic, and operating with intent and taking action towards what is possible.