Jennifer Fox – Emergent BioSolutions
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Victor Martins & Cherie Scott
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
For many lawyers, the pinnacle of their careers is making partner at a prestigious law firm. Some, like Jennifer Fox, however, reach that summit—only to start searching for new and challenging career opportunities.
For Fox, that next thrilling peak to summit appeared in 2018 in the form of Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland-based biotechnology company that develops, manufactures and delivers protections against emerging and existing global public health threats. She was drawn in by the company’s mission statement: “For over 20 years, we’ve been at work defending people from things we hope will never happen—so that we’re prepared, just in case they ever do.”
So, she left her position at Brinks, Gilson and Lione as a shareholder and member of the executive management team and board of directors. In December 2018, she became the vice president and associate general counsel of intellectual property at Emergent. By February 2022, she’d received her second promotion and is currently the company’s executive vice president of external affairs, the general counsel and its corporate secretary.
She wasn’t new to the health industry, having worked with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for over two decades as a scientist and attorney. Since 2018, she’s been helping Emergent grow through several acquisitions. For the past year, her focus has been on introducing and integrating technology not just within the legal department but companywide.
“We do important work here, so it’s important to automate where we can, so neither legal nor other departments like procurement or business operations are getting bogged down with handling administrative, redundant tasks,” Fox says.
Acquisitions lead to an injection of technology
Automation was near the top of Fox’s “to-do” list when she was hired in 2018—but it wasn’t an enterprise priority at that time.
Circumstances changed rapidly at the beginning of 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic—and the company’s acquisition of four companies and significant assets from 2018 to 2022. This included its acquisition of TEMBEXA, the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved smallpox oral antiviral for all ages. According to Fox, this is an example of the type of leading-edge products Emergent provides to protect lives in the event of an outbreak; this particular product is only sold to governments in the event of a smallpox outbreak.
Emergent BioSolutions’s growth meant Fox had to accelerate her plan. She adds that this digital transition is also imperative because Emergent is almost three companies in one: a government contractor, a commercial pharmaceutical company and a contract development and manufacturing services provider.
“This makes our company dynamic and complex, which means a larger lift from the legal team because we’re rarely doing the same thing every week—or even every day,” she says. “That’s why we must standardize and automate wherever possible.”
With a cross-functional team, she implemented an end-to-end contract lifecycle management system that handles the thousands of contracts her team and the business encounter.
The system automates contract template creation, pulling data from a customer management system and sending a standard agreement to the customer. Once an agreement is finalized, the system routes it for approvals and execution and back for payment or billing. The system also monitors progress, sends reminders and provides real-time status information.
Fox says this type of automation not only saves possibly hundreds of hours a week across the enterprise but also reduces errors and turnaround time.
She’s also implemented a digital solution to review and approval legal billing. It alerts approving attorneys about entries that don’t comply with the agreed rates or billing guidelines; it simultaneously allows for matter level budget management. According to her, this not only reduces the time attorneys spend reviewing invoices but also allows the entire team to share the responsibility of managing the department budget. That, in turn, ensures consistent enforcement of the company’s billing requirements.
“I wanted to build out and automate systems and processes so that individuals could instead spend their time focused on complex, business-critical work—and I believe I’ve been mostly successful thus far,” Fox says.
From inventor to IP lawyer
Part of the reason Fox’s efforts have been so successful is because she started her career as a scientist.
After graduating with a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Toledo, she was a staff scientist at The National Institutes of Health where she studied the transcriptional regulation of cytochrome P450 enzymes. After that, she was hired at GlaxoWellcome, now GlaxoSmithKline, as a research scientist.
There, she continued her research on steroid nuclear receptors and their role in transcriptional regulation, particularly of genes involved in metabolic disorders, endocrine cancers and drug-drug interactions. During this time, she was named as an inventor on several patents—which is how she was introduced to intellectual property law.
“I was thinking about the next steps in my career and did some work shadowing the IP attorneys at the company—and I was hooked,” says Fox, who began taking evening classes while working and graduated cum laude from North Carolina Central University School of Law.
In 2002, she joined the legal department at GSK, handling FDA regulatory matters, patent strategies, validity and infringement analysis, and patent prosecution and litigation. After a decade at GSK, she was a patent attorney at Novozymes, a biosolutions company, and then a pharmaceutical and life sciences attorney at the Coats and Bennet firm before joining Brinks, Gilson and Lione.
“With an education in the hard sciences, I bring a unique legal perspective to Emergent—and I’m a strong proponent of innovation and utilizing technology whenever possible to truly let the talents of our legal team members—and those in other departments—shine,” Fox says. “Through my efforts, legal is not only enabling the business, but we are a business partner with a seat at the table as the company works to counteract global health threats.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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