BioBuzz by Workforce Genetics

In Conversation: Stacy Rollinger, VP of Human Resources at NextCure

NextCure (Nasdaq: NXTC), located in Beltsville, Maryland is an exciting and innovative clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to discovering and developing novel, first-in-class immunomedicines to treat cancer and immune-related diseases.

The company was co-founded in 2015 by CEO Michael Richman, who previously led Amplimmune to an acquisition by AstraZeneca in 2013. In the past few years, NextCure has closed a successful $90M IPO in 2019 and continued to grow rapidly as a publicly-traded company (NXTC).

The company’s proprietary discovery platform is called Functional, Integrated, NextCure Discovery in Immuno-Oncology, or FIND-IO. FIND-IO is being deployed to identify novel immune targets so the company can develop and commercialize therapies for patients not responding to existing therapies or whose cancer types are not addressed by the current standards of care.

NXTC is on a mission to help these patients and continues to build its team and expand its in-house capabilities as the organization ramps up to accommodate anticipated future growth.

NextCure recently brought on a new Vice President of Human Resources, Stacy Rollinger, SPHR, to lead the human resources function and drive talent acquisition activities. We caught up with Rollinger to discuss her career journey, NXTC’s workplace culture, the company’s talent acquisition approach, and its future hiring goals.

Talk to us about your career path that led you to joining NextCure as its new VP of Human Resources?

I began my human resources career in the Midwest with a really interesting opportunity to work for a startup in Milwaukee. When you work for a growing startup—and in this way it’s somewhat similar to working at NextCure— it’s a great opportunity to work across the business and not just focus on human resources or staffing needs. That was a great experience for me to learn how a business operates. I also got in the mindset of keeping a positive attitude to support the business in whatever is needed to be successful.

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My human resources career started to gain momentum when I moved to Washington, DC in 2009 and joined Crown Agents, an international development organization that was, at the time, a 200 year old organization. Crown Agents opened their first United States-based office for a pharmaceutical supply chain project. That’s when I became interested in biotechnology and public health. I scaled a small office and project to about 1,200 employees worldwide across global project offices over a period of eight years. I ended up directing both human resources and talent development at an earlier stage in my career, and this experience was invaluable.

I then joined Emmes in Rockville, Maryland. Emmes is a global, full-service contract research and biopharma organization that works primarily with the National Institutes of Health. At Emmes, I had another wonderful opportunity to work closely with executive mentors to scale the business and really shape and grow their human capital and talent functions. They now have over 1,200 employees globally.

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I love scaling and growing companies, and when I discovered the NextCure opportunity it aligned with everything I was looking for: the company was public but still had a startup culture and growth mindset, which is where I can make a valuable difference for the company and for patients.

What drew you to the human resources field and why are you passionate about it?

I was a sociology major in college and the study of how people interact has always fascinated me. I also love data and analytics. What really drew me to human resources was the pairing up of the human resources people function and data to understand what our employee population looks like.

For a scaling organization, it’s also critically important to understand what drives employee engagement and retention as well as what motivates job candidates. You find this out at the intersection of understanding people and analyzing data.

You’ve been in the life sciences industry for a number of years. What makes an HR role in the life sciences different from other industries that you’ve worked within?

In the life sciences you have the opportunity to work with innovative science and truly brilliant people. This pushes me to be better. You have to understand human capital strategy, but you also need to know the science and the technology, and how that relates to the business.

I enjoy being in the life sciences and working closely with people dedicated to the mission of helping patients. There’s a whole different energy within a business developing novel therapies to help patients that are not benefiting from treatments already on the market. We are all working together, whether you’re on the corporate team or clinical ops or R&D; this is a patient-centered culture, and cross functional collaboration is key. Our mission inspires all of us every single day.

What soft skills and personality traits does NextCure’s talent team look for when hiring?

We look for positive-minded people that think outside of the box. We seek out employees who will roll up their sleeves and work across departments. In a startup environment we need team members that get excited about solving hard problems and who are willing to get out of their comfort zone because we’re a growing, dynamic company.

RELATED: Michael Richman on NextCure’s Cancer Treatment Innovations and the Rise of Biotech in Maryland

We can train technical skills and we know what we need—that’s the easier part. The harder part is marrying those hard, technical skills with the right personalities and then aligning what a candidate needs and wants with what we can provide. We need our talent here for the long-term, and we need to make sure we are hiring the right employees and keeping them engaged so they can see our products through the pipeline.

How does your team and NextCure go about delivering a great candidate experience and why does this matter now more than ever?

The candidate experience is so important. Job seekers have choices. This is a candidate’s job market right now. 

We try to deliver a candidate experience that sets us apart. Unlike other companies, NextCure makes sure an executive is part of our interview process early on. We also feel it’s important for staff development to have access to the executive level and to be able to engage with them no matter what position they hold at NextCure.

Our leadership team is focused on supporting staff from the interview stage through hiring and beyond. NextCure’s executives are personally invested in staff growth and development.

NextCure is a publicly-traded company, but in many ways the company still operates like a startup. Why should this be attractive to job seekers looking for their next life sciences career move?

When you work at NextCure you have an opportunity to contribute across departments and to get in at the ground level at a publicly-traded biotech company. It’s a small company culture with strong resources and capabilities.

For entry-level candidates or mid-career professionals looking to develop their skills and for those seeking promotional opportunities, this is a great place to land and take those next steps. And for more seasoned life sciences directors, senior scientists, and executives there’s a tremendous amount of upside at NextCure including a direct line to impact growth and innovation to change patients’ lives for the better.

We feel that our open, innovative culture, patient-driven mission, exciting growth opportunities, leading-edge science, and highly competitive compensation and benefit packages really make us an employer of choice in the region.

What are NextCure’s hiring plans for the near future and how is being located in Maryland an asset to your hiring efforts?

We are currently focused on building our leadership teams. We’re actively looking for an executive in clinical development as well as a senior director to lead translational research.

The Maryland and regional biohub is a great place to grow a biotech company. There’s a large and robust talent pool across all types of functions and experience levels. We’re able to draw on talent from not only Maryland but also from DC and Virginia. The BioHealth Capital Region biohub is a wonderful life sciences community that’s very supportive. We’re very happy to be here and to be part of this community.