Jessie (Fox) Bustamante – ProPharma Group
The responsibilities had evolved though her title had not. As recently as early last year Jessie (Fox) Bustamante was still referred to as staff attorney for ProPharma Group, though time was overdue for her to delegate and concentrate on big-picture matters.
ProPharma, a provider of consultancy services to life sciences companies, had just merged with The Planet Group, which operated within the same industry, as well as the energy, engineering and technology sectors.
Now, ProPharma has rebranded from its former status as a contract research organization or CRO to “The World’s Largest RCO,” as in research consulting organization. The former was somewhat limited in scope while the RCO model offers more customized consulting solutions with much input from experts in discovery and development, pre-clinical research, clinical development, compliance and post-market monitoring.
And with ProPhama taking on a much larger role in an industry as sensitive as pharmaceuticals, Bustamante successfully pitched her bosses the idea that she could better perform as their first general counsel, which for all practical purposes she had done since joining its legal staff in April 2020.
“In early 2020, business was booming as lot of our clients put the brakes on ongoing projects and shifted to COVID-based products, therapeutics, testing and vaccination,” she tells Vanguard in January amidst no indication of a slowdown. “We, as an organization, had to show our clients just what an agile and valuable partner we could be.”
Missing link ID’d
Since becoming general counsel in March 2022, Bustamante has conducted more strategy while delegating such tasks as contract review and compliance to her staff. She’s simplified it, too, Engaging LinkSquares, a Boston-based specialist, to move contract review from Excel spreadsheets to a centralized repository that alerts staff of such details as renewal time.
She’s also aided in ProPharma’s international growth, helping establish entities in the European Union and Asia-Pacific; and supporting exploration in South and Latin America. That’s a particular challenge given data privacy laws, including the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which provide stiff penalties for non-compliance.
ProPharma’s international activities were further complicated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The company had contractors in Russia, and while the health care and pharmaceutical industries are generally exempt from international sanctions, issues still arose with payments crossing borders and Bustamante being a stickler for compliance.
“It’s something I’m proud to be part of,” she says. “We want to support our clients who launch products in Russia, but we’ve had to pause on some things. I’ve kept open communication with our clients, some of whom have also paused their activities.”
But whatever the situation on the other side of the world, there’s always much for Bustamante to oversee at ProPharma from her home in Kansas City, Missouri.
With ProPharma and Planet Group playing off each other’s strengths, Bustamante says a would-be innovator can better concentrate on research and development while relying on an outside party to handle so many extraneous yet necessary details.
By contracting with ProPharma, a drugmaker can outsource the rounds of clinical testing and 1-800 call centers where trial patients report adverse effects. Subject-matter experts are available on-call to advise in such areas as oncology, cardiovascular, cell and gene therapy, infectious diseases and what-not. Compliance with the FDA and other boards is ensured.
“While there are other players in this space, we’re the most comprehensive end-to-end provider,” Bustamante says. “From product idea to product launch and all things in between.”
She spent much of last year fine-tuning the Planet Group merger as well as smaller acquisitions in the U.S. and the U.K. As some of the acquirees lack legal staffs, the to-do list grows for the new general counsel as for well as her much-valued four reports.
Two of them preceded her: Taisier Adil, the Netherlands-based senior counsel for EU, and “superstar paralegal Jan Gentry.” Senior counsel Colin Miller arrived from Planet Group and Bustamante recently hired Guy Thomas for its UK operations.
With the worst of the pandemic hopefully over, Bustamante expects life sciences R&D to broaden and ProPharma to be ready for a bigger industry role. She is proud to partake in her first in-house role—and in an area she considers home.
At home in-house
A born-and-bred Kansas Citian and daughter of a lawyer father who’s still practicing, Bustamante earned her poli-sci undergraduate and law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Over the course of a decade, she honed her skills at three Kansas City firms: Case Linden, Zerger & Mauer, and Fisher Phillips.
Bustamante wasn’t looking to go in-house in 2020, but a former colleague at Zerger & Mauer, a woman with the unlikely name of Jessie James, was leaving the ProPharma legal department and urged her to apply. It’s been a good fit for the 38-year-old Bustamante, who had been litigating employment law at Fisher Phillips.
“I’ve enjoyed in-house more than I did litigation,” she says. “It had become very contentious and was affecting the quality of my life. There were some tough cases that really impacted me after I gave birth to my son.”
Demanding as ProPharma might be, Bustamante says she still has more time to enjoy 4-year-old Witt as well as her husband, Jared D. Bustamante, who is assistant district counsel for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City.
“At least I have just one client now and it’s my company,” Bustamante says. “Having a personal investment and stake in it makes it so much more meaningful. What an exciting time it is to be in this industry.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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