Lisa Taylor Ash is general counsel at Shape Therapeutics (ShapeTX) and the founder and creator of Effective In-House, a website for in-house lawyers. An alumna of Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office, Lisa was an associate with the firm’s Healthcare practice from 2011–2014. We recently caught up with her about the opportunities and challenges facing biotech companies, and what inspired her to help other in-house lawyers succeed.
You are currently general counsel at ShapeTX, which focuses on a range of cutting-edge technologies. Can you tell us about the company and the kinds of challenges you’ve seen in the biotechnology space?
ShapeTX is a gene therapy biotechnology company developing novel therapies using RNA editing. We also engineer viral delivery and viral manufacturing technology to improve access to gene therapies for patients. Our goal is to cure a wide range of diseases, from rare genetic disorders to common neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
I have been fortunate to work for biotech companies for the last 10 years, and I believe the space is undergoing a transformation. AI will revolutionize how we develop therapies, and I am confident this will result in breakthroughs for patients. However, regulations for these new therapies, especially those developed with AI, have not been fully established, and we will need to work closely with agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ensure patients can access these breakthroughs.
We are also in a challenging fundraising environment. New drugs cost billions of dollars to create, and over 97% of drugs fail before they are approved. In addition, we know many Americans are concerned about their ability to afford the existing drugs they need. This tension led to new requirements for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will take time for investors, companies, and regulators to adjust to the new requirements.
Effective In-House is a website you’ve been building to help in-house lawyers. What inspired you to create this resource?
When I took my first in-house counsel role at a small biotechnology company over 10 years ago, I scoured books and the internet for resources on how to succeed in my new position, but I could not find anything. My goal is that Effective In-House will be the resource I wish I had when I started my first in-house role. The website has three types of content: articles filled with concrete tactics for in-house counsel, sample documents that in-house counsel can use immediately, and interviews with other in-house counsel about how they approach the unique practice of in-house law. I also plan to offer training to help teams share best practices and align on risk tolerance.
On that same note, what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned while building Effective In-House?
When I first started Effective In-House, I wasn’t sure what the reception would be. I have been blown away by the interest. It’s great to hear from people about how they are using the website and sharing it with their colleagues!
I have also learned so much from my interviews with other GCs. Whether its GCs in the same industry as me — like Brett Pletcher, the former GC of Gilead, or Brandon Etheridge, the GC of the Baltimore Ravens NFL team — we all face similar challenges as in-house lawyers, and the shared lessons are invaluable.
Can you share a story about a mentor you’ve had and their impact on your career path?
Before ShapeTX, I worked at Juno Therapeutics, a company that developed CAR-T cells. Essentially, CAR-T cells are a way to help your own immune system detect and destroy cancer cells. At Juno, my GC Barney Cassidy was the best mentor I have ever had. From my very first day, he made it clear that he was going to make sure I got the experience I needed to become a GC. He made sure I attended and presented at board meetings, had exposure to the executive team, and gained experience with new subject-matter areas. Barney is a wonderful person, and I am lucky to have him as a mentor.
How has the Sidley network helped you in your career, both during your time at the firm and now as an alum?
I made the most amazing friends during my time at Sidley. Some of those people are now Sidley partners and some have gone in-house. I am fortunate to be part of such a great community. Sidley’s excellent reputation has also served me well throughout my career. People know that I received fantastic training at the firm and that I have a strong network to call on if a novel legal issue arises.
Published November 2023
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