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Member Spotlight

July 17, 2020

Adamas Pharmaceuticals CEO, Neil McFarlane

Adamas Pharmaceuticals continues to develop solutions to neurological diseases with proven leadership and experienced vision.


Neil McFarlane, Adamas Pharmaceuticals, CEO

Adamas Pharmaceuticals

Adamas has zeroed in on providing solutions to patients dealing with Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Can you share your personal connection to the company’s mission and what led you to becoming the CEO last year?

It was a great opportunity for me to join Adamas. It’s a critical time in the company. We’re expanding, we’re maturing into a sustainable business, and for me it was a great opportunity to work in neurology, especially in the unmet needs space where we are working today. I usually focus on three areas when I explore opportunities and for Adamas it was no different. It’s about the impact to patients: are the solutions and therapeutics that a company’s working on actually going to make an impact?

Adamas has meaningful therapeutics and a late-state development efforts that were attractive to me.

In terms of the people, another great reason to join an organization, both the Board and the team has an intense passion to make an impact for patients which is right up my alley.

For me as a first time CEO, Adamas has offered me the ability to grow. As a background, I became invested in helping people early in my career. I served as enlisted and as an officer in the United States Army Reserves, I was an OR tech as an enlisted soldier and then I was an ICU nurse in the Army Reserves before becoming a nurse practitioner in transplantation at the University of Florida.

From the clinic I landed at a Bay Area biotech and then over the last few decades I worked to serve patients with serious illnesses both on the specialty side and on the orphan therapeutics side, across the globe, from the US to Europe to Asia to Latin America, at leading companies you may have heard of. Sangstat was in the Bay Area; I spent time at Genzyme both domestically and abroad; UCB, both domestically and abroad; and most recently at Retrophin in San Diego before taking the ball at Adamas.


Building a talented, collaborative, and motivated team is so important. Tell us about the culture you’ve instilled at Adamas and what makes it unique?

At Adamas we’re a purpose-driven company. It stands out in our culture: we put patients first, we keep them at the center of our decisions and as we strive through the health and daily lives of people affected by neurological diseases purpose is really important. At Adamas, we’re at a time of growth and expansion and we’re building a culture that reflects the evolution we have to create a sustainable organization.

We thrive on collaboration, we encourage our team members’ voices to be heard. As you can imagine, coming in as a new CEO, we recently launched some shared new core values and behaviors. It’s probably no shock but we put patients first. We commit to our people. We act with integrity and respect. We exceed expectations and we embrace the journey.

These values are the foundation of our company culture and we stay true to them even during this very unusual time of working remotely. I have been incredibly impressed by how adaptable and flexible our people have been and how supportive they’ve been of each other.

I feel like I’m in the right place and I’m enjoying being with Adamas.

“We thrive on collaboration, we encourage our team members’ voices to be heard.”

From your professional experience over the years, what do you find are the strongest qualities leaders tend to share and how do these qualities translate into overall success?

I think authenticity is really important. It’s about being true to who you are. Maybe along those lines vulnerability is another trait that I think is really important. You don’t have to have all the answers all the time. Bringing talented people together and catalyzing them to achieve more than they ever thought they could is something that I think is really important in leadership.

Not being afraid to fail, you know, failure is part of growth. I think if you come to work every day to learn something new it really puts you in a place to drive as a leader but also be able to continue to grow as a leader.

“Not being afraid to fail… failure is a part of growth.”

One of Biocom’s initiatives is to connect veterans interested in pursuing life science careers to our members. What advice can you offer to your fellow veterans who might be considering a career in the life science industry?

I give a lot of credit to my mom and my dad for when they signed the waiver to have me join the military when I was 17 years old. The military was instrumental in developing me in more ways than I can put into words today.

Things like consistency, training, leadership, responsibility, respect, completing the mission are lifelong skills. And those skills are transferable to the life sciences environment. For me, I would encourage former service members to follow their passion. The skills they have will work in life sciences. For me, it’s always been about making an impact for patients. As you probably have seen, this hasn’t been a straight line. However, I can say coming from the clinic to the office of the CEO, those passions have remained the same and I continue to follow them. If there are ways I can help to improve the lives of patients, it works well. Veterans can really transfer those skills into the life sciences environment. Learn more about Biocom Institute’s Veterans Initiative.


You’ve worked in San Diego and the Bay Area. What differences have you seen in the environments of these two major life science hubs?

As I mentioned earlier, I started my biotech career in the Bay Area. I took a turn east for a while and then I came back west to San Diego and then more recently up north to the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s been home to Adamas for over 15 years. It’s got a system that’s driven by entrepreneurship and collaboration. It allows for easy connection with biopharma companies, academic institutions and other partners. The Bay Area’s also helped Adamas grow. We’re tapping into the rich talent and the expertise and the resources and at Adamas we’re offered the opportunity to work in the neurological space, with the interesting science in clearly unmet needs which we feel is right for the Bay Area.

San Diego is also an exciting place to work and live. It’s a thriving hub for life sciences and biopharma companies. They’re expanding it on a daily basis and making a difference in tackling these unmet needs. I enjoyed them both and think that they have their own flavors—maybe a slight temperature difference—but they’re both very collaborative and high science-driven hubs.

What kinds of challenges has Adamas experienced since California’s stay at home order was put in place just over a month ago?

This is a very uncertain time for the company, for the industry, for the country, for the globe. As a CEO the one thing I can take away from this is that I am very proud of our team. The team is tremendous. They’re staying focused on our shared mission to deliver innovative medicines, to reduce the burden of neurological diseases on patients and caregivers and society. We’re really focused on the health and safety of our team, their families and also making sure that our customers are safe. We want to continue to stay engaged. We have rapidly embraced new ways of working; as part of our values, ‘embracing the journey’ is really showing. They’ve come up with creative ideas to continue our communication with the patient community and healthcare providers to continue to support them to make sure our solutions are getting to patients.As you can imagine, a lot of folks on our team have been working under really challenging circumstances. They continue to deliver value for patients every day. I think of the last few months, if anything, as a CEO it’s given me the confidence in the strength of our team. They’ve overcome some significant challenges and continue to deliver on our mission and we’re proud of them.

“This is a very uncertain time for the company, for the industry, for the country, for the globe. As a CEO the one thing I can take away from this is that I am very proud of our team.”

Many of our members are searching for the right partner to bring scientific or financial resources so they can ultimately move products into the marketplace. Tell us about your past experiences with partnerships and what you look for in a partner when you are considering collaboration.

For us right now, we are really focused on making sure we’re delivering our internally developed therapeutics for patients with unmet neurologic needs. This is what’s positioning us for future growth. As part of that growth strategy we absolutely want to explore partnerships and we really look for ways we can leverage our infrastructure.

We have a clinical development expertise as well as a commercial infrastructure which, as you know in the biotech community, not a lot of folks are fully integrated. I think that it’s important for us that whatever we do we do it in a disciplined way and we partner with organizations that have the same fabric that we have in trying to make a difference in the lives of patients.

What are the company’s top priorities this year and where do you see Adamas in the next five years?

Building on the advancements that Adamas has made over the last 15 years is critical for us. There’s a platform here that’s been created that’s fully integrated and it’s here to bring not only our current solutions to patients but also our future therapeutics to patients and families. I think we’re only going to be able to do that if continue to develop and invest in our people. We’re also going to have fun along the way. I like to say when I interview people that we really want to make Adamas an experience that becomes more than a job. We want it to be a place where you can have fun and make a tremendous impact to continue our purpose and mission of making life significantly better for people affected by neurological diseases.

We’re not going to get very far without our people.


How does Biocom help in Adamas’ mission?

I spent a lot of time with Biocom while with Retrophin in San Diego and one of the first things I did as CEO coming into to Adamas was fire up our Biocom membership because of the networking, the ability from a healthcare perspective and a benefits perspective and just the overall network. We’ve grown a lot in my previous roles and I can see already that’s happening to a lot of what Biocom has to offer.

How do you start your day?

My day starts the night before. It starts either before I leave my office in Emeryville or if I’m at home or on the road. I like to prepare and prioritize in the areas I feel like I can make an impact the following day. I follow that up with the wakeup email deleting session, which is what I like to say. I wake up pretty early, as a lot of folks do, but I delete most of my emails for the day before I even leave my house and before my first meetings of the day and then I go on and see what I can do to make a little impact.