Features

Peter Tu – Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp.

Winning moves for biotech startup

As a youngster, Peter Tu was an avid chess player, competing in tournaments and on an intramural team during college. Although he’s long since retired from competitive chess, he still applies many of the skills and lessons he learned over the checkered board in his role as in-house counsel.

“Playing chess is similar to practicing law in many ways,” he says. “First, you have to understand long-term strategy and develop effective strategic plans. This means that as a lawyer, you have to understand your client’s business objectives and business strategies, and you have to design legal and IP strategies that mesh with and support your client’s objectives and strategies.”

Peter Tu | Senior Vice President, Legal | Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp.

Peter Tu | Senior Vice President, Legal | Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp.

He brings that mindset to New York-headquartered Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp., a startup specialty pharmaceuticals company where Tu is deputy general counsel and senior vice president of legal and intellectual properties.

Among his responsibilities is to design a patent portfolio and IP strategy that protects the company’s anti-seizure medication from generic competition. The drug, currently in Phase 2 clinical trials for focal onset seizures in epileptic patients, has shown great promise. If his efforts at designing effective IP and legal strategies are successful, then Tu and his colleagues have reason to be optimistic that the company’s drug will ultimately be commercially successful.

Tactics and blunder checking

Toward this means, Tu leaves nothing to chance.

“In addition to understanding and implementing effective long-term strategy, a good lawyer must also be effective at short-term tactics and just avoiding dumb mistakes,” he says. “Examples of activities that might be considered ‘tactical’ include drafting patent applications that effectuate the company’s IP strategy and negotiating and drafting contracts that protect the client’s interests and minimize risk.”

He emphasizes that it is imperative to implement systems for “blunder checking” to avoid mistakes like missing a deadline or losing track of contractual obligations. For example, before Tu joined Equilibre, the contracting process was informal and slightly chaotic, with business units often entering into agreements without formal legal review and with executed contracts stored haphazardly in multiple locations.

Peter Tu | Senior Vice President, Legal | Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp.

Tu has since streamlined the process with a formalized contract management system that he says is much more efficient than what had been in place. He’s also overseen the development and dissemination of formal company policies and standard operating procedures with respect to which all relevant personnel are trained.

He means business and science

Time was when Tu seemed destined to wear a lab coat instead of a business suit. A chemical engineering and biology double-major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he did work a short spell as an engineer in the oil industry but with its collapse in 1986, enrolled in Seton Hall University’s MBA program. With his high GMAT score, he had his tuition covered and was given a stipend as a graduate assistant.

Upon earning an MBA in finance in 1987, he envisioned a career as a tech company executive but the software company he founded failed after three years. In 1991, encouraged by a professor, he returned to Seton Hall as a law student and again had his tuition covered by a full-tuition merit scholarship.

Tu’s scientific credentials qualifying him for patent law, he started his legal career as a patent litigator. He also drafted patent applications and advised clients on intellectual property law. By 2000, he was ready for his first in-house position as IP director at the startup Physiome Sciences. Three years later, he became senior counsel and global licensing attorney at Hoffmann-La Roche, where he routinely negotiated licensing deals with valuations of up to $500 million.

Peter Tu | Senior Vice President, Legal | Equilibre Biopharmaceuticals Corp.

He could have continued in this seemingly prestigious position for the remainder of his career, but Tu felt drawn to return to the world of biotech start-ups.

“At big pharma, you’re often a cog in a wheel and feel that your contributions are not significant to the company,” he says. “In contrast, at a start-up, everything you do has a large impact, and your work is more material and appreciated. For me, having that impact is more important than being assured that in 10 years, I’ll still have a job.”

After Roche, Tu worked at a series of start-ups, initially in IP roles but rising to the role of chief legal officer.

And his every career move has been well thought-out, a characteristic befitting this chess enthusiast who might still play competitively if not for so much else on his agenda.

“I’ve been with a lot of startups but haven’t yet taken a company public,” says the married father of grown children. “I’m hoping for that experience here. I’m also from the generation that dies with its boots on. I need something that keeps me engaged mentally and has an impact. I have it here at Equilibre.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 10, 2023

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