Joseph Campisi:  A Peek into the Day of an In-House Lawyer in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Joseph Campisi is the Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in the Transactional Practice Group of Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies. He is also a 1989 graduate of Hofstra Law School who recently spoke to the current Hofstra Law class.

Though Mr. Campisi has practiced transactional law for more than two decades, he chose to speak about his time as a law student and as a young associate at the onset of his career. Prior to working at Bristol-Myers, he was a Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman.  Before becoming a Partner at the firm, Mr. Campisi started off like many law students — as an associate in the firm’s summer associate program. He told the story of how, despite earning a spot in the prestigious program, he had an overwhelming feeling that he did not fit in when he walked into the firm on his first day. Mr. Campisi then told the students to never feel that way about themselves or to discount who they are or where they come from. He worked hard throughout that summer and, eventually, Mr. Campisi became one of three summer associates in his class to become Partner at the firm.

What Mr. Campisi loves most about working at Bristol-Myers is that he works at, as he describes it, “a place that is making a difference”. He is humbled to be a lawyer for scientists whose mission is to cure life-threatening diseases. He is inspired by the collaboration of lawyers, doctors, and scientists in advancing treatments that can improve the health and lives of many individuals across the globe.

Jean Krebs, a Hofstra law student and fellow for the Gitenstein Institute, had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Campisi one on one, and ask him more about his work as a transactional attorney, his experiences at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and the advice that he would give to law students looking to pursue a career in health law. Below is a summary of his responses.

WHAT KIND OF WORK DO YOU DO AT BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB (“BMS”)?

The largest legal groups at Bristol Myers are the regulatory and commercial department, the patent department, and the transactional department, in which I work. I do entirely merger and acquisition (M&A) and transactional work for the company. This includes acquisitions, investments, licensing transactions, establishing partnerships, and divestitures. The divestiture work that I do involves selling businesses, facilities and products. When I began working for BMS, about 90% of the work that I was doing was divestiture work; now, my work distribution is equal. Every transaction that I work on, regardless of the structure it takes, has one key component: it is either a buy or a sell. 

HOW IS ACTING AS A TRANSACTIONAL ATTORNEY AT BRISTOL-MYERS DIFFERENT FROM YOUR WORK AS A TRANSACTIONAL ATTORNEY AT A LAW FIRM?

When I worked for Bristol-Myers as outside counsel, most of the work I did was for their other divisions. It wasn’t until I arrived at Bristol and began to work for them as one of their internal legal counsels that I realized how many transactional law aspects were deeply integrated with health care.

I distinctly remembered a light bulb going off in my head – drug development and research through pipeline sustainability is completely intertwined with mergers and acquisition! I quickly realized that there would never be a lack of work in the area of healthcare transactions. The biggest difference for me between working as a transactional attorney for a law firm and as an in-house transactional attorney at Bristol Myers Squibb is my level of involvement with the transaction itself. When I worked for the firm, I was a “hired gun” of sorts. I was charged primarily with execution of the transaction, and that was the bulk of my work. As an attorney at BMS, I’ve become more of a trusted advisor and a partner in the transaction process. I am integral to structuring transactions, strategies, and negotiation tactics. In addition to being in charge of the execution of the deal, I become much more of an advisor to the client’s work. My door is constantly rotating with people coming in and discussing transactions on a more general basis. This working collaboration and partnership can only be part of an internal lawyer’s role – it does not really exist in an external lawyer’s role.

WHAT TYPES OF HEALTHCARE ORGANIZATIONS DO YOU ENGAGE WITH MOST FREQUENTLY?

The entities that we, as transactional attorneys at a biopharmaceutical company, engage with most are start-up drug companies. These companies develop new drugs, technologies, and patent portfolios. We interact with them most because we are often purchasing them! Many of these smaller companies can afford pre-clinical drug development, but can’t afford to run the clinical trials required for drug approval. This is where Bristol comes in – we acquire the companies so that we can continue to develop these early stage medicines, including funding the cost of exceedingly expensive trials, and help to get these important medicines to market and accessible to those who need them.

WHAT IS MOST INTERESTING ABOUT WORKING FOR A PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY?

The most interesting thing is literally sitting in a room and watching and listening to scientists talk about the technology and the drugs that they are developing. Scientists are “white-board” thinkers – they sit and attempt to understand, for example, the human genome, the nature of a virus, or whatever unique components of a disease that they are trying to cure. Sitting in a room with people who are trying to cure diseases is both humbling and fascinating.

DO YOU EVER ENCOUNTER BIOETHICAL CONFLICTS WHILE WORKING AT BRISTOL-MYERS, AND IF SO, HOW ARE THEY ADDRESSED?

 One bioethical conflict that is often observed in the pharmaceutical industry is price-raising although this is something not typically observed in the case of innovator companies like BMS.  This issue is one that has arisen primarily in cases of companies that have purchased mature products with limited sources of supply and thereafter immediately raising the price of these medicines – in some cases exponentially.

 For innovators, the total cost to develop any given drug can be in the billions of dollars. If we start developing, for example, 100 compounds, it is likely that only one of these compounds will make it to the market. Each of these compounds must first be tested.  Developing a drug is very unique from the development of other products – if it fails, you have to start over again, from the beginning phases of the chemistry and biology. It’s not a simple fix!

Furthermore, if there is a negative impact of a drug, it means it has the potential to compromise someone’s health. So, a failed drug can, in some cases, result in the loss of billions of dollars. So, how do we develop drugs, but not lose the ability to incentivize future drug development through profit potential, and enable access to the lifesaving medicines? The ethical perspective of Bristol-Myers Squibb is to price drugs fairly, taking into account the costs of development and failure.

DO YOU THINK THAT THERE IS A FUTURE FOR LAW STUDENTS WORKING IN BIOTECHNOLOGY OR PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES? WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT STUDENTS PURSUE THIS FIELD?

Absolutely. This is the most heavily regulated industry in the world – these companies cannot exist without lawyers. If a pharmaceutical company gets sued, it will need litigators! It will need mergers and acquisition lawyers to help sustain their development pipelines. Patent lawyers will be vital to protect inventions and intellectual property rights. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies will be a source of employment for lawyers as long as they exist.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO LAW STUDENTS WHO ARE LOOKING TO ENTER HEALTH LAW?

 It is critical that you define where you want to be in the health space, and then develop yourself as a law student and as a future attorney with that goal in mind. If you want to become an M&A lawyer, get a business background! If you want to become a patent lawyer for a pharmaceutical company, get a background in the sciences! Ultimately, your plan needs to be tailored to your goal. The healthcare spectrum is so broad that you need to narrow down the field you’d like to pursue.

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