Jeffrey Aronin

For a business idea to be viable, tackle a problem that makes a difference in people’s lives that they are willing to pay you to solve.


As Chairman and CEO of Paragon Biosciences, Jeffrey Aronin has invested in and launched several successful portfolio companies, including: Harmony Biosciences, Castle Creek Pharma, Emalex Biosciences, and Skyline Biosciences. Previously, Mr. Aronin served as President and CEO of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, which he founded in 2000 and was acquired by Lundbeck in 2009.

When it comes to earning new drug approvals, Jeffrey Aronin’s companies have been among the most successful in the industry. For example, in neurology focus areas, no one has led the development of more FDA approved drugs than Jeffrey Aronin and his teams over the past 10 years.

Mr. Aronin’s expertise in novel drug development and venture innovation has made him one of the most impactful and successful leaders in the biosciences sector. Mr. Aronin has transformed the lives of people treated for: complex partial seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, mixed seizure patterns, infantile spasms, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Porphyria, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Huntington’s disease.

Insights Care Magazine recently recognized Mr. Aronin as one of the most influential leaders in healthcare for his extraordinary track record at improving the quality of life of patients with severe diseases, by developing breakthrough medicines to treat those conditions. To do so, Mr. Aronin and his team identify debilitating conditions which may be better treated with a promising drug compound — and then form and incubate biopharmaceutical companies to develop those therapies.

Mr. Aronin also devotes extensive energy to civic and philanthropic endeavors. As founder and co-chair of MATTER — a health-technology startup incubator — Mr. Aronin has led one of Chicago’s most remarkable venture innovation successes, with over 200 healthcare companies founded and grown over the past five years.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Paragon Biosciences addresses a gap in drug development. There are over 6,000 diseases with no FDA-approved treatments. Many of those medical conditions are debilitating, rare, or both. Large pharmaceutical companies have tremendous research expertise, but their research and marketing efforts are often focused elsewhere, such as therapies for larger patient populations.

Instead, Paragon Biosciences invests in and launches biopharmaceutical companies dedicated to a core therapeutic area with serious unmet medical need. These companies succeed due to a singular focus, entrepreneurial management, and best-in-class research and regulatory expertise for their therapeutic area.

Paragon’s biopharmaceutical expertise is leveraged by multiple portfolio companies during their early incubation – that gets them off to a great start. Following early stage incubation, the companies run independently.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It all starts with the patient. What are their unmet medical needs?

Next, to address those needs, is there a promising therapy to develop which would be a first-in-class treatment, or a substantial improvement on existing treatments?

The goal is to find a medical problem which needs solving, where our team has exceptional expertise to contribute. When we find the right match, the therapy is either developed by a portfolio company which already focuses on that therapeutic area, or we launch a new portfolio company for a new therapeutic area.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Targeted gene therapies, that could lead to cures. Also, the application of artificial intelligence to healthcare.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’ve built enough businesses and developed enough products to have a good sense of what’s going to work and what won’t. I’ve learned to focus first on the needs of patients rather than get enamored by high science or interesting technologies unless they happen to offer a better solution to a problem. Focusing on the needs of patients – and working with a team of experts – makes a really big difference. That’s what has worked well for me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

For a business idea to be viable, tackle a problem that makes a difference in people’s lives that they are willing to pay you to solve.

To be a great entrepreneur, you need to learn how to make smart decisions quickly without complete information. You must develop the judgement to confidently make your best call with the information available.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Hire good people, trust them to go execute, and require that they take responsibility and accountability.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The teams at Paragon and its portfolio companies have exceptional track records of earning drug approvals from the FDA. Those portfolio company teams are deeply committed to developing treatments for otherwise underserved patient populations.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Drug development is hard. Drug development without a ‘road map’ for rare diseases is especially hard. Failure is commonplace in this work.

To persevere through challenges, you have to believe that you’re doing something that matters. You’ve also got to believe in yourself and your team and their ability to overcome formidable challenges.

How do you motivate your team?

Too often, people underestimate the importance of recognizing and rewarding great work when somebody does something well. I am a firm believer that if someone works hard, their effort should not go unnoticed.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recently re-read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a great reminder that you can overanalyze things. Rely on the experts on your team who quickly focus on the factors which matter.

What is your favorite quote?

I’ll share two.

The first is from Henry David Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Like many others, Winston Churchill is also a favorite of mine. He had a lot of great quotes, but my favorite is: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Key Learnings:

  • For a business idea to be viable, tackle a problem that makes a difference in people’s lives that they are willing to pay you to solve.
  • Product development should be driven by consumer needs; avoid getting enamored by the latest technology unless it happens to be a better solution to a problem.
  • Hire good people who take responsibility and accountability.
  • To persevere through challenges, you must believe that you’re doing something that matters.


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