The Wolf of Pharmacy Wall Street


Pharmacists can take working in industry to a whole new nontraditional pharmacy level by working in finance.

Pharmacists can take working in industry to a whole new nontraditional pharmacy level by working in finance. In this interview, The Nontraditional Pharmacist talks with Danielle Brill, the Vice President of Equity Research at Needham & Company.

Matt: Matt Paterini here with The Nontraditional Pharmacist, part of The Pharmacy Podcast Network. Welcome to tonight’s episode, where we are joined by Danielle Brill of Needham & Company. She is Vice President of Equity Research, so we will get into that here in just a little bit. At The Nontraditional Pharmacist, we’re constantly getting inquiries, questions about how pharmacists can apply their skills to business and industry, so I think Danielle is going to bring a very unique perspective today to some of those roles. She had a very unique role in equity research in conducting evaluation research of biotechnology companies.

So, if you could describe your path through pharmacy, your background, what you've done from pharmacy school, and how you got to your role today.

Danielle: Sure. I not only have a nontraditional pharmacy career, but I also have a nontraditional path into pharmacy school. I first got a bachelor’s in science at Michigan State University, and I moved to New York City, where I worked in a research lab for drug development, and lymphoma, for a couple of years before I decided that I wanted to go, and pursue my PharmD. I was was debating between medical school, and a PhD, at the time. I didn’t know much about the PharmD, and my mentor actually said that if you’re interested in pharmacology, and you like the clinical aspect, that a PharmD was the route you go.

So I went to Rutgers' pharmacy school, and I had thought that I was going to be a clinical pharmacist. I applied for a PGY-1 residency. I had already fully committed to the clinical path. But during my experiential rotations, I did an elective rotation here at Needham. My husband actually works in finance on Wall Street, and I had always wondered what those people are up to. So I thought I’d just check it out. And I actually found it super fascinating.

At that point, I had already committed to my residency, and was on my way. But I stayed in touch with my boss here at Needham, and a few years later he actually reached out to me to see if I was interested in a role. So, I went for it, and its been about 3 years, and I love it, and I think it’s a great opportunity for pharmacists, so I can't wait to dive in a little bit more.

Matt: Excellent! That’s a great story. Did you ever think at any point of stopping residency, even though you had committed to changing paths, sooner rather than later?

Danielle: No. I actually think that the residency enhances the ability to perform research better. Having that clinical knowledge, and understanding how P&T committees work, and what goes into formulary processes, and the deeper understanding of drugs in general, as much as you can know about them, is very useful for this role.

Matt: So what is biotechnology equity research? And you mentioned Wall Street? Are you like the Wolf of Wall Street of Pharmacists!?

Danielle: Basically, that about sums it up. ... Basically, we conduct research on companies that are traded publicly that are developing drugs. We have our big Pharma companies, like Pfizer or Merck, and then we have our smaller guys, and those are our biotech companies. A lot of these companies don’t have drugs on the market. They are all in development, we are finding pipelines that we think are exciting, things that are guessing unmet needs or where there’s definitely a lack of available therapies, and we’re first evaluating the science. And then also there’s a financial component, where we have to model out the revenues, the potential revenues, and make a recommendation to investors on whether you think they should invest in the stock.

Matt: So you conduct all of the clinical, and the more scientific research of a potential company to then advise investors as to whether that’s appropriate of investment or not?

Danielle: Yes. You also have to tie in the financial stuff too.

Matt: Financial stuff, very important, yes. Nothing without the money, that’s true. So what exactly is your role? You touched on it a little bit of conducting research, but kind of walk us through day to day, what you do. How is this job for your work life balance, and those sorts of things?

Danielle: Okay. Well, you know you have to be really excited about the stock market, and in the news flow, and things are crazy all the time! It is not a job that you should pursue if you don’t love working because the quality of life is not one of the perks of this role, but it is never boring. It is always exciting.

The day-to-day can vary substantially. Really, news flow can dictate how your day goes. But, to give you some framing, I’m now covering names on my own. I worked under analysts when I started out, and now I’m going to be my own covering analyst. In order to do that, you have to initiate coverage on companies, and basically that’s just a deep dive into everything the company is doing. You do a pipeline analysis, competitive analysis, you just go in as deep as you can, you write up a long report, launch coverage, and then from that point on, you follow the company as they progress. So I’m working on initiating on a bunch of names right now, and we also travel a lot. There’s a lot of medical conferences, you are going around to meet management teams, you're taking management teams around to see investors. You're going around to talk to investors, to give them stock ideas. There’s a lot. It's really exciting.

Matt: You mentioned that you had a rotation or you met someone in this field through pharmacy school. Let’s back up a second to how you got introduced to this field in the first place.

Danielle: Sure. Rutgers actually offers a rotation here at Needham, and we don’t see students from other schools, but we’d be happy to have students from other schools. I did actually have one student reach out to me to ask if I would be a preceptor, but there are a few other pharmacists also in the field so it is an option.

But yeah, we get Rutgers students that come in here come through to rotate, usually only a few a year. I think they’re scared, but that’s how I stumbled into it. And I loved it.

Matt: Would you recommend a certain type of person pursue a rotation like that. Or would you recommend every pharmacy student if they get the opportunity to do a rotation? I mean you probably will say everyone should do it. But you know different personalities, different types of people, certain roles fit people better?

Danielle: Originally, I would have said everybody, but I know people in my class who did this rotation, and hated it. So, I know it’s not for everyone. Anyone who is considering a career in the industry would like is this rotation I think. Rutgers also has a scholarship program. I think that may be better suited for those who are pursuing that route. Anyone who really wants to be a part of the medical team around in the hospital—as much as I thought that was me—this really isn’t for them.

Matt: Now that’s fair enough and we were seeing more and more roles in in different areas, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do here at The Nontraditional Pharmacist, is expose some of those roles.

I think pharmacy students and pharmacists included look at pharmacy and kind of see a narrow focus of roles, but there’s a lot of different things out there. But with Wall Street specifically, what other roles are there for pharmacists, besides biotechnology evaluation research?

Danielle: I would say the vast majority start out, or stay in, biotech equity research. You know it’s just a natural fit, to the people in biotech equity research are MDs, PHD, or now happily growing PharmDs, but from there a lot of people go to what we call the 'buy' side. So those are the people that are actually buying the stocks. They work at hedge funds and are big asset managers. That’s one path. You can go to sales and trading if that’s something for you. And a lot of people also will transition over to the corporate side, and they will work in investor relations or end strategy for biotech or pharma companies.

Matt: OK so there are a number of branching paths stemming from what is sounding like the best fit in biotech equity research. So for you personally, long term, how does this role match with where you thought you would be after pharmacy school, and how is it helping you get to where you ultimately want to be long term in pharmacy?

Danielle: I’m still figuring out where I want to be. But you know my career is always super important to me. I’ve always wanted to feel challenged and excited by what I do, and I do love learning about new drugs, and this is the full package. I never really thought I cared about numbers stuff, I’m not sure that I really do all that much, but honestly when you’re looking at these companies they’re all in development stages, and what they have in the pipeline is really what it’s all about.

Matt: Yes, sometimes you’re just surprised with what clicks, and what you end up liking doing, and I would encourage everyone to explore those options because you never know what might actually be a big interest for yourself personally. What about the landscape of biotech Equity Research? Is the demand growing for pharmacists and are the opportunities growing? What does it look like moving forward into the future?

Danielle: The field of equity research itself is becoming a bit more challenging because just the way that the financial world works. Its people in the way that they pay for research, its becoming more stringent. The quality of research has to be better. You have to dig deeper. There's more channel-checking. You have to be creative, look at things from a different angle, not just the looking at it the same way that every other research analyst on the street is doing it. People are always kind of surprised when they hear PharmD because they’re so used to dealing with PhDs, and even more common still than PharmDs is MDs, but PhDs really dominate the field. And they don’t have that same broad knowledge of drugs that pharmacists do. They are very narrow in their focus, so I think that pharmacists can add a lot, and I think there is a demand for them in equity research.

Matt: It sounds like a role that, yes, would not be for everyone in pharmacy. I can think of people that would not be interested, and I can think of people that would be very interested. What advice would you give to people who are interested in learning more or what advice would you give to them if they’re looking to pursue a career in this area?

Danielle: I would tell them to try to get an internship. First of all, in business it’s who you know not what you know, that’s very true. So that would be one step. The financial modeling is always the deficit for pharmacists, so there is a course called Breaking Into Wall Street. It’s pretty cheap, and teaches you basic modeling. That opens a lot of doors for people. They like to see the clinical science background, but also like to see that you have some idea of what you’re doing when it comes to modeling.

Networking, obviously. Find me on LinkedIn. There’s other pharmacists out there, we all find each other on Wall Street. So that’s really a great way to get your foot in the door

Matt: OK fantastic. Where would people go to learn more about the industry? Resources, other contacts maybe, or where are some places people could do some of their own research?

Danielle: I would say something Breaking into Wall Street is one of the sites; Wall Street Oasis, There is this other site you can apply for jobs on, called Dropout Club, where people have dropped out of being doctors, and want to go work in finance. That’s kind of the club for them. I think all of those are great are great avenues.

Matt: That’s perfect. That’s awesome. We like to conclude, Danielle, with the same question. What do you think is the future of the pharmacy profession?

Danielle: Well I’m not in the clinic anymore, but I wholeheartedly hope that the pharmacy profession keeps gravitating towards becoming more clinical. I hope that pharmacists evolve to become clinicians in the community, and really integrate within medical teams. And I also hope that we branch out more, and start exploring other avenues, like finance.

Matt: Thank you so much Danielle. Thanks for joining us today.

Please share this post and connect with Danielle on LinkedIn. Reach out to us at The Nontraditional Pharmacist for her contact information. There you have it, the wolf of pharmacy Wall Street. Danielle Brill, thanks again so much we appreciate you coming on The Nontraditional Pharmacist, part of The Pharmacy Podcast Network.

Danielle: Thanks, Matt.

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