Brian Quigley (CEO, Qnovia, Inc.)

Brian is currently Chief Executive Officer for Qnovia, Inc., a Virginia based health technology company focused on commercializing proprietary inhalation device technologies to improve patient outcomes. Qnovia is currently engaged with FDA CDER to pursue a combination product authorization as the first inhalable prescription smoking cessation therapy. Prior to Qnovia, Brian spent 16 years at Altria Group, with seven years as President & CEO for Altria’s Smokeless and Innovative Products/Vapor Businesses. Brian has also been an active venture investor in both the cannabis and alcohol spaces, and he sits on the boards of Mustgrow Biologics and Belle Isle Craft Spirits. He developed a focus on inhalation devices through his time in tobacco, which gave him an understanding of the risks of tobacco use, the opportunity to reduce risks for smokers, and the current generation of technologies.

Image: Brian Quigley
Image: Brian Quigley

Can you explain your job to a five-year-old? 

One of the biggest unmet needs in medicine, in my view, is the development of new treatments to help smokers who want to quit be more successful. Because there are medicines available, but they haven't really improved in 30 years. And as a result, there are millions of smokers who want to quit today but can't. And what we're focused on is developing a new medicine that can be more effective at helping those millions of smokers achieve their goal, which is to no longer be addicted to nicotine and no longer use cigarettes.

What excites you most about your job?

I think the thing that is most exciting about the work we're doing is, like many early-stage drug development companies, you're arm wrestling science and having to engage with regulators on their terms. Rarely do you have the opportunity to potentially save millions of people's lives by developing something new and different.

We're a very small team, but we've got great people we work with and that's the opportunity that we have in front of us. Every time there's a challenge to overcome or learning we need to address, we're excited to tackle it because we know there's just this massive need. 

When you hear people talk about their addiction and how it feels to be addicted and not be able to quit, it just hits home. Yes, it's hard to develop a new drug and get it approved by a drug regulator, but to know that there is this amazing desire for patients on the back end is what makes everything worthwhile.

When you talk to smokers who want to quit and you hear it in their terms, they use words like “crushing burden” and “that I know if I don't stop, I'm going to die.” And “I tried, but I just can't.” When you hear that, you're like, “How is it that we're the company that's finally decided that this is important enough for us to solve?”

This is also becoming increasingly an issue of health disparity, where marginalized communities are the people who are left behind. 

Which trend will change the future of medicine? 

For early-stage, drug development, and biotechnology companies, it's been a rough couple of years to raise capital and continue to advance. And I think one of the things that kind of struck me from coming back from J.P. Morgan and talking with peers is that we're all up to the task to keep fighting the fight. The innovation community in this industry is not stopped by macroeconomic challenges. Innovation continues.

Looking back, which trends have you missed or underestimated? 

The thing that I underestimated is that what seems obvious to us is not obvious to other people—whether that's regulators or whether it's from the investment community. You're competing against lots of other game-changing ideas and technologies. I often use this analogy: running an early-stage company is like being an actor, where you need to be willing to go on 120 casting calls to find the director who can see the promise. 

I had a conversation with one partner at a large fund who basically said that they have to be so focused. There are tons of amazing ideas and companies that they just have to pass on.

Which MedTech initiative or startup deserves more attention? 

I think what we're seeing from GLP-1s and the impact. It pains me a bit to see people think it’s just about fitting into a bathing suit. I think the untapped potential to treat massive issues like obesity could have a huge impact on our society if harnessed the right way. 

And I think some early data even shows how GLP-1s can be potentially impactful with addiction. I think that's incredibly exciting—even if that is in a space that we're advancing in because those are issues that we are living with as a society. And you have to think of the impact on the health care system, with all of the issues we have with cost and access. If we can make progress in some of those macro areas, we can have huge benefits to the entire healthcare ecosystem. 

Where would you put a million dollars? 

I think that one of the chronic underlying conditions that have a huge need for better support is mental health issues. And again, this is a condition with a high correlation to all kinds of other disparities in our society. But mental health manifests in so many ways in so many people in this country. In some cases, it can affect someone who looks like a perfectly put-together executive, a friend, or a family member. Or when you walk the streets of a city, you see homelessness and the challenges of mental health in those populations with limited treatment access. It's just really heartbreaking to see. And because of the stigma associated with mental health, people have a hard time even raising their hand to acknowledge that they need help. So I guess I would put my million dollars into programs aimed at supporting communities disproportionately affected by mental health issues to provide support and access to treatment. 

What's the best advice you've ever received? 

Be yourself. Be true to what you believe in, and follow your own North Star. And if you do that, you will always find yourself feeling successful and happy and satisfied with what you're doing. You have to answer to yourself first and foremost. 

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