Dr. Steve Harr: Investing in Success

reprinted from Issue 14, Spring 2012 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)

“Follow your passion, and go do what you think you will love over 10 or 20 years,” said Steve Harr, MD.

Health care is 18 percent of our economy, it’s extraordinarily complex, and it’s very difficult for most people to understand,” says former UCSF resident Steve Harr, MD, who is a managing director and now leads Morgan Stanley’s global biotech investment banking business. “When you have the opportunity to train at UCSF, you gain a really unique skill set that can be beneficial to whatever area you go into, whether it’s treating patients, basic science, public health, policy, developing drugs or investing.”

Harr says he thoroughly enjoyed his medicine residency, which he completed in 2000. He was interviewing for cardiology fellowships, and was particularly interested in translating laboratory discoveries into new treatments to help patients. Through talking with friends, he found that investment banking could provide an unorthodox but perhaps accelerated way to pursue this interest. He became a research analyst, first at the investment banking firm of Robertson Stephens, then at Morgan Stanley.

“Medical school and residency were a great training ground for what I did as an analyst,” says Harr. “I used and learned an incredible amount of knowledge about basic sciences, clinical trials, current standards of care, and impediments to delivery every day. Also, just as in clinical medicine, you’re forced to make decisions with imperfect information, and to continue to pressure that decision as new information becomes available. I looked at things with a critical, scientific eye, made a decision, and then communicated that to a general audience. That’s what you do in a patient interaction. One needs to be able to distill a complex set of facts into a relatively simple action plan or the impact to the patient is minimal.”

He credits many UCSF faculty for teaching him these skills, including Hal Barron, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine and epidemiology/ biostatistics who also serves as executive vice president and chief medical officer of Genentech. “His knowledge, facility and ability to apply clinical data directly to patient decisionmaking was extraordinary,” says Harr.

“As a resident, Steve was an extremely bright individual who delved deep into the literature to convince himself that the conventional wisdom being taught was indeed supported by solid evidence,” says Barron. “It is this passion for seeking truth that has made him so successful in his various roles since leaving UCSF.”

‘Chasing Down the Truth’

In 2007, Harr was featured in the Wall Street Journal for warning that high drug prices were unsustainable and could trigger government regulation, dampening innovation. “What I enjoyed most about being an analyst is that there was incredible intellectual freedom to chase down the truth around the relevant controversies of the time, whether that was around a drug’s likelihood of having a clinical benefit, or how companies are likely to evolve in an extraordinarily complex and challenging environment,” says Harr. “By working at Morgan Stanley, I’ve had the privilege to interact with and to impact the way others think about issues – including policy makers, investors and CEOs.”

Since 2010, Harr has led biotechnology investment banking at Morgan Stanley, helping drug companies worldwide map out and execute strategic decisions. “I work with senior management and boards, helping them think through how the landscape is likely to evolve over the next three to 10 years, and how they should maximize these opportunities,” says Harr. “The industry is facing tremendous pressure and undergoing significant change, with no single business model looking to be the answer yet.”

His advice to current residents? “Medicine is such a rapidly evolving field, and your role in 20 or 30 years is almost impossible to predict,” he says. “Learn how to analyze new scientific discoveries. Exploit all the resources around you, because there’s no other place in the world where you have access to the patient, scientific and entrepreneurial diversity that UCSF offers. Follow your passion, and go do what you think you will love over 10 or 20 years.”

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