Doogie and the Rock Star:
BioFactura’s Remarkable Journey
BioFactura, a leading developer and manufacturer of biosimilars and biodefense products, is one of the crown jewels of Frederick, Maryland’s growing biotech hub. The company is thriving and has secured strong funding from both private and government sources that see the potential of the company’s StableFast™ biosimilars platform. In May 2021, BioFactura reached an important milestone, announcing that it had moved its first biosimilar product into the clinic.
BioFactura’s ongoing success and recent growth are the latest achievements along the intriguing and somewhat unconventional journeys of its two principal architects, Founder and CEO Dr. Darryl Sampey and Dr. Jeffrey Hausfeld, BioFactura’s Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the Board.
BioFactura’s culture of curiosity, innovation, problem-solving, and a deep love of science was forged because two very different career paths converged, bringing together a once long-haired rock singer that loved science and a real-life version of teenage television doctor Doogie Howser.
Sampey and Hausfeld’s partnership and remarkable story prove that not all roads to successful biotech careers look the same. Sometimes the proverbial “road less traveled” delivers hard-fought experience and insight that can make all the difference.
The idea for BioFactura began as a “side hustle” for Sampey and three other driven, smart, and entrepreneurial Human Genome Sciences (HGS) employees.
At a 2019 event, Sampey recounted those early days for his audience, stating, “Starting BioFactura was like starting a band. I was trying to find really talented players–in this case scientists and technicians–to make something valuable. I found three other really talented people with the right skills and values and we did our thing ‘underground’ and on our own time while at HGS. It took us two years. Developing the business plan was like our first demo tape. I put the same passion and drive I had for music into what became BioFactura.”
The four founders bootstrapped the company while still working demanding jobs at HGS. Eventually, they all departed the comfortable positions they held at the stable and established biotech to start BioFactura. Each founder had only two months’ salary in reserve; they had no additional outside funding. In fact, one founder took a second mortgage on his home to provide capital to the fledgling company.
“We knew we didn’t want ‘cushy’. We had a great idea. We were ready to take a risk and wanted to create solutions, to problem solve, and to build,” said Sampey in a recent interview.
Like most startup ventures, there were successes and bumps in the road. A major bump in the road occurred in 2013 when BioFactura lost a major government contract; three founders subsequently departed the company, leaving Sampey and an unpaid intern to get the company back on track.
And that’s just what they did.
While Sampey and his team’s perseverance, will, and hard work eventually righted the BioFactura ship, things might have turned out differently if Sampey, a University of Maryland graduate, hadn’t crossed paths with an entrepreneurial medical doctor and a former child prodigy from New York City.
Dr. Jeffrey Hausfeld, affectionately known by all as “Dr. H”, grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where he displayed remarkable academic abilities at a very early age. He skipped multiple grades and attended college early. He ultimately decided to become a doctor and attended medical school at the Yale University School of Medicine. Remarkably, Dr. H also skipped a year of medical school and a year of his medical residency, eventually earning his board certification at just 27 years old.
“I still remember the first day that I went into the operating room. The head nurse asked how old I was. When I answered she didn’t believe me and I had to show her my driver’s license. I was given the nickname ‘Doogie’, which was good and bad, but certainly set me apart,” recalled Dr. H.
“Starting so young, I was able to have a very full career as a surgeon for 23 years. At 51 I had achieved many career and financial goals and I started to ask “What’s next?”, he added. “I started to explore how I could leave a bigger footprint and help people on a larger scale.”
The first step to amplifying his drive to go good came after some prodding by his son Joshua, who was about to enter Johns Hopkins University’s four-year MBA program. He said, “why don’t we do this together?”
And soon the father and son duo were both in the MBA program together.
“It was a great experience to spend this time with Joshua,” shared Dr. H, jokingly adding with a laugh, “I always enjoyed the tests when I earned better marks than him.”
Dr. H and his son earned their MBAs—Joshua moved into healthcare finance and Dr. H went on to invest in several businesses, one of which improved the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These experiences taught Dr. H the ins and outs of starting and scaling successful companies.
Dr. H knew his entrepreneurial experience could be helpful to other physicians seeking to better understand business opportunities at their own practices or within the healthcare industry. He founded the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, or SOPE, with another doctor about 10 years ago; the organization has been a resounding success and has approximately 30,000 LinkedIn followers.
It was through a SOPE connection that Dr. H found himself at a pitch event along with Sampey, who presented on the potential of biosimilars. Dr. H was intrigued and started asking Darryl many questions. Thus, “Doogie” met Darryl and the rest is BioFactura history.
“I had never heard of biosimilars because as an otolaryngologist we never used them at the time. After talking to Darryl, I thought that if we could make more expensive drugs more accessible and more affordable with biosimilars, we could improve so many lives and bend the cost curve downwards. Darryl had me hooked and he reeled me in,” stated Dr. H.
Since that fortuitous moment, Sampey and Dr. H have propelled BioFactura to its place as one of the more promising biotech companies in the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR). BioFactura is now nearly 40 employees strong, has its first product in the clinic, and in 2019 secured $67M in funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or BARDA, to name just a few of the company’s more recent milestones.
BioFactura’s startup days are long behind it but new and bigger challenges remain.
“Biopharmaceutical development is tremendously complex, and as you move into the clinic and start raising larger rounds of capital, the complexity gets bigger and bigger and every little thing is a potential land mine,” stated Sampey.
“You have to be so careful with the details now. That’s the big evolution of the company since its conception. That startup energy powered us for a long time, but now things have changed from creative chaos and high efficiency to a moment where the stakes are really high and expensive. We’re at a point where we are focused on striking that delicate balance between creativity, structure, and efficiency,” he added.
“We’ve always focused on scientific innovation and that enabled us to develop our biosimilars platform, which gives us a real competitive advantage in the market,” stated Sampey. “Our mission is to help people and save lives and our team is in tune with this mission and our culture.”
“If you bring great solutions, you’ll advance and get more responsibility. We look for that spark, aptitude, and personality that will help people advance. When we talk to potential new team members I want to know if they really love the thing they do. Is it something you can tell when you talk to them that it is part of them? Are they excited when they talk about what they do? I interviewed someone recently. Very quickly I knew this person loved what he did. He’s now part of our team,” shared Sampey.
“I try to constantly reinforce with our team you’re here because you’re really good at what you do. We’re still relatively small so everyone is really important; no one is here to punch a clock and go home and not think about it anymore. If you’re here you earn your respect and give respect regardless of title or where you earned your degree. To me, these things don’t bring an implied differentiator that entitles you to certain opportunities. At some bigger companies, if you don’t have a PhD there’s a ceiling for you,” shared Sampey.
“At BioFactura, we strive to do well by doing good,” added Dr. H. “Everyone buys into this mantra from the team to our board and our investors. Our culture is one of learning and of opportunity creation, both for our employees and to the end-users of these products.”
“Darryl and I come from very different backgrounds but we can harmonize. It’s the analogy of the rock singer and folk-rock singer that can get up on stage and make great music together. And that’s what we do and what our team does. When we approach issues we face at a growing company we do so with passion, understanding, and respect so we can have throughput at the end of the day to get our assets to the market.”
“This is a really exciting time at BioFactura. This took a lot of hard work, risk taking by many people. And a whole lot of luck,” stated Sampey. “We’re really excited about the future and are actively looking for new talent to help us realize it.”
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