HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year

Catherine Sohn Guides GSK's Consumer Powerhouse
Apr 01, 2003

HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year Catherine Sohn helps bridge the gap between GlaxoSmithKline's consumer healthcare and pharmaceuticals businesses.
n hindsight, it seems Catherine Angell Sohn, PharmD, was destined to become vice-president, worldwide business development for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSKCH). Sohn, a former pharmacist, architect of three Rx blockbuster launches, and engineer of innumerable partnerships and licensing agreements, is a pivotal link between GSK's pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare.

Given the environment that embraces Rx-to-OTC switches and indulges the "consumerism" of pharmaceuticals that DTC advertising generates, Sohn and her executive team have prepared CH to support the pharma side in its consumer outreach efforts-and enhance its position as a profit driver within GSK.

At a Glance
When Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham merged to form the world's largest pharma company, Sohn helped propel GSKCH's own growth by leading and executing the $1 billion purchase of Block Drug, CH's most significant acquisition to date. Now a $5 billion business, CH represents 16 percent of GSK's overall sales and is one of the industry's most profitable consumer healthcare divisions.

For those achievements, the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) named Sohn its 2003 Woman of the Year. But working tirelessly to advance the health of patients, of her company, and of the industry at large, Sohn contends that the best is yet to come.

Career Profile
Winning Record Sohn's varied career made her a perfect fit for the role of business development. (See "Career Profile," page 32.) "Business development relies on having worked in a lot of different line functions and both pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare," she says. "The challenge is to identify opportunities that you can see but may not be clear to everyone yet, then show how the new opportunity fits in the business and advocate for that."

Sohn's vision is grounded in her dedication to patients and serves as the impetus that makes her products succeed as well as advance her career. As senior manager of business and new product development, she argued that changing immigration patterns brought hepatitis B from the developing world to the United States and that a vaccine should be marketed there to protect physicians and nurses. Along with GSK's vaccine teams, she shepherded Energix-B through FDA review and then won the crucial approval of the Centers for Disease Control committee that recommends immunizations.

Brands Your Mother Knew Best
"She mentioned to me that she felt health workers, particularly those in hospitals and clinical laboratories, could benefit from Engerix-B if it were available," writes James Cavanaugh, PhD, former president of SmithKline & French US and current president of HealthCare Ventures, in his HBA Woman of the Year nomination letter. "I was impressed with the data she pulled together, which clearly demonstrated the positive impact an available vaccine would have on public health. After additional review with our medical and marketing teams, largely based on Dr. Sohn's data, the product was developed and launched in the United States."

After Engerix-B's success, the company launched Twinrix (a combination hepatitis A and B vaccine), which, along with other products in the hepa-titis franchise, brought in more than $400 million in 2002.

Sohn's commitment to patients also helped Paxil (paroxetine) reach blockbuster status and become the company's leading product, with $2.1 billion in 2002 sales.

"I can still recall her 1994 presentation to the SmithKline Beecham product review board on how to expand Paxil usage," recounts Diana Makie, vice-president of the switch group, CH strategic development. "Her strategy showed Paxil's effectiveness in a series of new, previously undefined indications, such as general anxiety disorder and obsessive/compulsive disorder. She dared to challenge the product strategy through segmenting consumer behaviors into many often unrecognized problems that Paxil could help. That innovative fragmentation strategy drove Paxil to its position as one of the top ten drugs in the world."

Many markets, no patent expirations
GSK CEO Jean-Paul Garnier credits Sohn's "marketing leadership, her education as a PharmD, and her experience in professional drug information as key to ensuring strong positioning and acceptance in a market already dominated by two strong competitors."

Sohn was also responsible for leading the strategic product development, commercial assessment, and worldwide marketing plans for Type 2 diabetes treatment Avandia (rosiglitazone), which generated more than $1 billion in 2002.

When asked about her success, Sohn quickly points out, "Those are important accomplishments, not because of the size of the products for the company, but because they improve patients' lives."

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