5 Questions with Cara Felish, VP, Commercial Operations, Aurinia Pharmaceuticals

“5 Questions With……” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This edition features Cara Felish, VP, Commercial Operations, Aurinia Pharmaceuticals

Cara has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry spanning across payer, biotechnology, clinical diagnostics, and pharmaceutical organizations. She is currently responsible for building Commercial Operations for Aurinia Pharmaceuticals. Prior to Aurinia, she worked for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals as Vice President, Commercial Excellence & Chief of Staff. Additionally, she worked for Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Clinical Diagnostics Division, MedImmune (a specialty care division of AstraZeneca), and UnitedHealthgroup. She holds a BS degree in Communication Studies from Virginia Tech.

1. What was your first job/role in biotech?

I started out on the payer side working for UnitedHealthcare’s dental division initially in Account Management, then as a dental provider contracting sales representative before leading a small national provider contracting sales team. While I loved the relationship building and travel aspects of those roles, I was drawn more to the commercial effectiveness functions and shifted to a career in Operations.

I joined Medimmune (specialty care division of AstraZeneca) in 2008 leading Sales & Marketing Operations (functions: sales reporting & incentive compensation, sales force effectiveness, and marketing effectiveness.) My MedImmune days bring me fond memories of a phenomenal leadership team, collaborative talented employees, and an environment that valued performance, culture and patient centricity.

2. Tell us about your current role and your current employer.

I joined Aurinia Pharmaceuticals in October 2019 as Vice President, Commercial Operations. Aurinia is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical start-up focused on developing therapies in disease areas of high unmet medical needs. Our most advanced therapy in development is voclosporin as a treatment of lupus nephritis, which is a common and life-threatening complication of Lupus. We are also developing voclosporin ophthalmic solution (VOS), a topical formulation, for the treatment of dry eye syndrome.

We are headquartered in Victoria, BC, and are in the process of building out our Commercial hub in Rockville, MD. Personally, I am thrilled to have relocated back to the Washington, DC area for this role and was one of the first employees to work in our Rockville offices. It’s an exciting time of growth building on the strong foundation our Victoria employees began while quickly expanding our employee base across all functions and geographies.

As Aurinia’s Commercial Operations’ leader, I have the opportunity to shape our Commercial processes, services, systems, and insights to ensure launch success and ongoing commercial effectiveness. Commercial Operations includes functions like sales operations, commercial effectiveness, commercial insights (business analytics, forecasting, competitive intelligence, market research, and data management), marketing operations, and launch readiness.

Building a company while launching a product is challenging in itself on any day. When you layer the complexity of doing so in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we’ve had to stretch ourselves to find innovative and effective ways to move our launch forward. We know that LN patients, in the end, are counting on us to do so and this gives us the energy and focus.
We’ve pivoted to hiring employees solely over video conference, moved to a virtual working environment, and finding new innovative ways to engage our customers. These are just a few examples and many of our peers are doing the same.

I am excited to have joined Aurinia. We are a resilient group of talented individuals who are passionate about bringing meaningful treatment to patients in need.

3. What do you think is the biggest gap in this industry, and how would you suggest closing it?

While our industry has made great strides prioritizing Diversity & Inclusion programs into their core values and mission, we have more work to do as an industry, company, and individuals.
Each company I have worked for has placed a high value on Diversity & Inclusion. I have seen firsthand the positive impact robust business resource groups can have on culture, business performance, and a feeling of employee connectedness. Industry conferences and companywide programs are helpful, but I feel the greater opportunity lies with individual leaders to push themselves to hire talent with diverse backgrounds, skillsets, and points of view.

Personally, I have been grateful to have industry coaches, mentors, and managers who took an interest in my professional development offered advice and helped me recover through missteps. As leaders in the industry, I would encourage each of us to be generous with our time and perspective to mentor others, encourage new voices at the table, and leverage the power diversity of thought and talent can bring to our teams.

4. What advice do you have for somebody looking to get into your field in this industry?

People who flourish in the life sciences industry have one very important thing in common, a passion for improving patients lives. If you have a deeply rooted compassion for others and are willing to tirelessly work to uncover and deliver treatments for patients, you will enjoy a worthwhile and meaningful career.

For those specifically seeking a career in Commercial Operations, you would be well served to be a naturally curious, analytically inclined problem solver. People who thrive in Commercial Operations roles tend to take great pride in helping others be successful. Our role is to ensure all commercial functions have the tools, services, and insights needed to succeed. The constant in our industry is change, so someone with an adaptable, nimble, and creative mindset will be well suited for this work. Finally, listening to and engaging with your field personnel is critical to success.

5. What is your favorite musical memory? Concert or buying your first album. (Tell us about it)

My favorite musical memory is an easy one, hands down this was the first time I heard my husband play the drums. He’s an awesome musician and has filled our home with all sorts of great music over the years.

Thank you to Cara Felish for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region.

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Andy Eckert

Andy has worked with BioBuzz for the last decade to help spread the word of the BioHealth Capital Region even before it was branded with that name. His background includes years at MedImmune supporting the Commercial Operations Organization before becoming a BioHealth Nomad working with various clients in Operations, Communications and Strategic Services.

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