Features

Chris Branch – ACell

Branching out at ACell

Gunshot wounds. Flesh-eating diseases. Car accidents and efforts to salvage damaged limbs.

In the world of emergency medicine, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Thanks to cutting-edge technology companies like ACell, the chances of a full recovery—and living a normal life—are greater than ever.

ACell, a regenerative medicine company based in Columbia, Maryland, leverages its platform technology to treat a variety of medical conditions—including hard-to-heal wounds.

Right in the thick of operations is Chris Branch, the company’s general counsel and chief human resources officer (CHRO).

“My role at ACell is broad,” Branch explains, “which means that I have been able to use my experience in a wide variety of critical situations, much like ACell’s medical devices that have been used to treat a wide variety of conditions ranging from life-saving to life-enhancing procedures.”

Branch notes that the company is busy expanding its global reach and advancing a pipeline of new applications for its technology.

“My career, to this point, has been defined by taking initiative and maximizing opportunities—and that’s exactly what we are doing at ACell,” he says.

What’s in a pig’s bladder?

Discoveries in regenerative medicine come from the most unlikely places.

In 1999, ACell took inspiration from the research of the late Dr. Alan Spievack—a Harvard professor, surgeon, and tissue engineering pioneer—to make medical history. Dr. Spievack studied the regenerative properties of salamanders and other animals beginning in the 1950s. In the course of his studies, it was discovered that a pig’s bladder is unusual because its cells can regenerate within a few days. ACell began research into the practical applications of this natural phenomenon and its benefit to human patients.

After the successful defense of its core patents in the early years of the company, ACell introduced its devices to the market to treat humans—allowing patients to receive the benefits of treatment with what Branch calls “the Swiss Army knife of medical devices.”

The devices revolutionized treatment options in acute wound care, offering new options for hard-to-close wounds, traumatic wounds and even offering an alternative to amputation in some cases. The company also introduced a line of surgical devices for hernia repair. Over time, ACell’s products helped lay the foundation for where the company stands today: a leader in the acute wound care market.

Supporting the team

With external business growth, however, comes the need for robust internal support.

Branch quickly learned that to enhance ACell’s operations, he would have to make changes to the organization and take on challenging roles.

“I was able to leverage some of those tasks into early wins and enhance my reputation and ability to effect change within the organization,” he says.

At ACell—home to approximately 400 employees—that meant doing everything from negotiating contracts to advising the company’s board of directors on sensitive issues, or temporarily assuming management responsibility in the absence of a department head. Branch, in effect, managed to become a trusted advisor across all levels of the organization. Known for his pragmatic business advice and ability to make decisions that have saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, Branch has worked to limit ACell’s liabilities and to streamline the company’s reimbursement, human resources and legal departments.

Branch also played a key role in building the company’s corporate compliance program from scratch. Working closely with the chief compliance officer, Branch and his team did everything from developing policies to conducting investigations and overseeing enforcement activities.

Enter, HR

“An organization is only as good as its people,” Branch says, which is why he’s so intentional about his added responsibility for the human resources department.

Currently a department of five, the HR team worked to develop new policies and practices such as parental leave and enhanced managerial training; established a compensation philosophy; and bolstered recruitment efforts to draw and retain the best employees.

“Through our collective efforts, the company’s culture is maturing and the overall employee experience is being enhanced,” Branch says. “As we seek new opportunities to grow our business, we work with our managers to look for opportunities that leverage employee skills, develop them professionally, and meet the needs of the company.”

That winning feeling

The corporate world isn’t the only playing field where this Silver Spring, Maryland, father of three has tasted success.

Branch earned his bachelor’s degree in public policy studies from Duke University in 1999, where he also played football. He then went on to earn his J.D. in 2002 from Georgetown University Law Center.

According to Branch, he took a non-traditional route to become a general counsel. Joining the firm Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll from 2002 to 2004, he trained as a plaintiff’s lawyer, prosecuting securities fraud, antitrust, consumer protection, and employment law class-action cases.

“My experience at Cohen Milstein provided me with a great opportunity to work on interesting, high-stakes matters and to quickly obtain hands-on experience.” Branch says. “By volunteering to work on a variety of cases, I gained exposure to multiple industries, types of clients and practice styles.”

Branch left Cohen Milstein in 2004 to join a smaller firm—Kozyak, Tropin & Throckmorton—in Coral Gables, Florida. His goal was to gain more experience running cases.

“I was able to work on any matter for which I volunteered,” he says. “At KTT, I learned a lot about building an environment where people could thrive personally and professionally.”

To become more of a “generalist,” Branch moved back to Washington, D.C., to join a midsize firm, Dickstein Shapiro LLP, to continue gaining experience, working on a variety of matters from antitrust to intellectual property.

His initial foray into in-house legal work was with Catalyst Health Solutions Inc. where he managed litigation and internal investigations. His role there quickly expanded when the company was establishing its first risk-based product; he led the acquisition of the insurance company that would serve as the basis for that product. He also played an integral role in Catalyst’s acquisition by SXC Health Solutions Corp. He joined ACell in 2013, intrigued by the opportunity to contribute to the exciting field of regenerative medicine.

Growth and opportunity

At ACell, Branch wasted little time diving into the legal fray, negotiating and drafting contracts and also working closely with the company’s executive management team to develop strategies with a goal of bolstering the company’s growth.

“I’ve been afforded a number of opportunities,” he says, noting in the past six years the company has steadily increased its revenues and number of employees. He believes ACell’s growth will open doors for new applications for its platform technology and help patients lead healthier, happier lives.

Branch looks to his experiences and variety of projects as a proving ground for his next role as a CEO or COO down the road.

“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to find the right opportunity. Simply find somewhere you can contribute and give your best effort,” he says. “Life is short. I want to try to contribute as much as I can.”

Published on: December 6, 2019

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