Rua Bioscience Names Kiwi-Born Global Pharmaceutical Exec As New CEO

New Zealand medicinal cannabis company, Rua Bioscience, has appointed Rob Mitchell as Chief Executive Officer to replace company co-founder Manu Caddie.

Mr Mitchell is a highly experienced senior executive, with over 30 years in leadership roles for pharmaceutical multinationals, spending most of his career with Roche, eventually heading Global Product Strategy for a division of the $88 billion Swiss company.

Mr Caddie will continue to lead the regulatory and research divisions of Rua Bioscience.

“We are delighted that Rob is joining Rua. Rob brings his unique capabilities to the role, but is also the right fit for Rua with our unique vision and kaupapa. This industry is moving at lightning speed and so is Rua Bioscience as we work to climb the value curve of the global medicinal cannabis industry, ” Rua Bioscience Chair, Trevor Burt said.

“The board began a global search for a new CEO in 2019 to ensure we were building the capacity and capability needed to best position the company for a strong start once the regulations allow Rua to manufacture and export cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals. Rob’s ability to build strong relationships from our growers to technical teams, domestic healthcare professionals and across global partnerships was key to his appointment.

“Manu’s leadership and expertise in the regulatory and research areas is recognised domestically and globally. These areas will be critical to Rua’s growth. The board and Manu made the call last year that he needed the bandwidth to focus solely on these priorities.

Mr Mitchell grew up in Auckland and his appointment as CEO of Rua Bioscience underscores the company’s strategy to become a leader in the global industry.

Mitchell has spent 16 years working overseas, but says ‘home keeps calling us back’. “My wife and I always wanted to come home to put our roots down for our three boys. Professionally I saw an opportunity to apply my international learnings to business and community in New Zealand, which only a company like Rua Bioscience could offer.”

Rob Mitchell will take up his role on 3 February. He and his wife are moving to Gisborne, where Rua is headquartered.

“The founders of Rua Bioscience had a vision for the company that is quickly being realised. The company has strong governance and a clear strategy with production facilities in Ruatoria and Gisborne. I am very impressed with what has been achieved in such a short period of time” said Mr Mitchell.

“I believe I have something to offer the next stage of Rua’s growth as we work towards producing for the domestic and international markets. Medicinal cannabis is a fascinating area of medicine. It is an ancient therapeutic plant and we bring modern medical technology and clinical research to validate the efficacy of particular formulations and varieties for specific health conditions.”

Mr Mitchell says he is conscious of the strong social mission of Rua Bioscience which was part of the attraction in joining the company. “I’m confident that the commercial success of this company will enable the founding vision to be realised.”

Mr Mitchell started in various sales and marketing roles in both New Zealand and Australia, then held successive positions as Managing Director of Roche Products (NZ), General Manager, Roche Thailand and Head of Global Product Strategy, Virology for F Hoffman La Roche in California. More recently he was Senior Vice President, Head of Asia Pacific for The Medicines Company, then as Senior Vice President, Global Innovation Group Leader – Infectious Disease, based in New Jersey.

His most recent experience was as CEO of Auckland based Caldera Health which successfully developed a prostate cancer diagnostic and prognostic test.

Rua Bioscience co-founder, Manu Caddie said he’s excited to be handing the CEO reins to someone with Mitchell’s experience at the right time and taking on a new role as Kaihautu.

“Kaihautu is a term used traditionally for the navigator in voyaging waka, not the chief but the person responsible for identifying opportunities and steering the waka towards where we want to go.”

The purpose of the position is to drive the company’s innovation strategy and research agenda for long term success. Mr Caddie will also be leading sector engagement and regulatory affairs to build confidence in the company and ensure strategic objectives of the company are aligned with relevant regulation.

“We started this company in Ruatoria to give patients around the world access to affordable medicinal cannabis products and to create employment opportunities for our region. Now is the right time for a CEO with Rob’s global pharmaceutical experience to lead the organisation and take us to the next stage of commercialisation under the Government’s newly established Medicinal Cannabis Scheme” said Mr Caddie.

Rua Bioscience, formerly Hikurangi Cannabis Company, has been building its pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare expertise including the appointment of board members Anna Stove, the past head of GlaxoSmithKline NZ who has 25 years of global pharmaceutical experience and Martin Smith, who spent 15 years in international executive roles with cosmetics giant L’Oreal.

The company has also recruited an international production team with pharmaceuticals development and manufacturing experience including medicinal cannabis in Israel, obstetrics in Austria, cannabinoid analytical method development at ESR in New Zealand, and pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing for multinationals in China, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Rua Bioscience was the first company in New Zealand to be granted a license to import medicinal cannabis seeds and cultivate plants, forming the basis of a long-term cannabis genetics breeding programme to develop optimal varieties and cultivars. The company is licensed to grow over 10,000 plants and is working towards Medsafe approved medicines manufacturing certification later this year.

In 2019, Rua Bioscience harvested its first crop of cannabis flowers, marking an important milestone in the company’s progress to becoming an exporter of pharmaceutical grade cannabinoid-based medicine.