Our latest 60-second interview features Lily Hepworth, general counsel and company secretary for Immunocore, a T cell receptor biotechnology company working to develop and commercialise new medicines for cancer, infection and autoimmune disease.
Hepworth talks about what the last year looked like for her, the role her team has played in advancing the strategic goals of the business and what she expects from her external counsel, just to name a few.
What were the main challenges that have taken up your time over the last year?
In March we completed our Series B fundraising round, led by General Atlantic, raising $130m and achieving scientific validation from investors such as Eli Lilly and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Naturally a lot of work has flowed from the covid crisis and we have worked hard in particular to keep our clinical trials on track despite the disruption in the healthcare sector, so that we can get our medicines to patients as quickly as possible. I have also done a lot of work on our employee option schemes, which are a really important tool for aligning investor and employee incentives, particularly in growth companies like ours.
What role does your legal team play in advancing the strategic goals of the business?
My legal team is essential to advancing the strategic goals of the business. Our strategy is to prove that our science works now and to progress the next generation of ImmTAX to stay ahead in our fast-moving field. My team advances this strategy directly, for example by advising on contracts with clinical trial counterparties and by patenting new inventions. We also advance this strategy indirectly by contributing to the running of a company which is an investee and employer of choice, for example by resolving disputes and ensuring compliance with applicable law.
Name three ways external counsel can best facilitate your in‐house team.
The key is to be a partner to me in making the business as successful as possible – it’s simple but not always easy to achieve:
- It’s not just about me asking questions and external counsel answering them – be a sounding board for me, help me to anticipate issues. I recently had a great conversation with my US healthcare compliance external counsel, in which I ran my proposed strategy for European healthcare compliance past her and we discussed what experience I would look for when selecting a consultant to help me with this work.
- Have a can do attitude and be prepared to work outside your comfort zone – the sorts of issues I bring to external counsel are difficult and I need to know my external counsel will help me to find the best way forward not just tell me what won’t work. Sometimes finding the best way forward involves external counsel working outside their comfort zone, for example I might want to pursue a more aggressive strategy, I might need expertise outside what a particular person or firm can offer, or I might need external counsel to understand the detail of an operational issue.
- Be responsive, and realistic on timing and budget – the basics matter.
How is the general counsel role changing in your view, and what will it look like in five years’ time?
The breadth of GC roles is increasing and GCs’ views are increasingly sought on business questions with no (obvious) legal element – in this sense I think the GC role is becoming more like the CFO role which has long ranged far beyond the accounts.
Which future development, internal or external, do you consider will have the biggest impact on your in‐house legal team over the next year?
As for all drug development companies, the key inflection points for our business, and therefore for my team, come from data from drug trials. These data will inform our strategy, and the legal demands will flow from that.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
I have been incredibly lucky to work with and be supported by many inspirational colleagues throughout my career. At Linklaters, Jessamy Gallagher introduced me to Corporate work when I was her trainee, and I had a great time working on the Glencore IPO in 2011 in a dream team with Charlie Jacobs, Owen Clay and many others. At Centrica, where I worked for seven years as head of legal for corporate, David Isenegger taught me so much about being an in-house lawyer. The late Iain Wagstaff, my old Linklaters friend and colleague, gave me great career advice and support. And at Immunocore, it has been fascinating to learn about the healthcare sector from my CEO Bahija Jallal, who is incredibly experienced and strategic.