Pharm Exec's Emerging Pharma Leaders 2017

Oct 10, 2017
Volume 37, Issue 10

Welcome to Pharm Exec's 10th annual Emerging Pharma Leaders feature! This year, we received many nominations and narrowed them down based on the submission comments, internal review, and input from our Editorial Advisory Board. We chose to highlight 11 individuals to go along with our theme, a play on the movie Ocean’s Eleven.

I encourage you, as you read their stories in the pages ahead, to think of individuals you would nominate for next year’s group. In these 11 executives, you will find their experiences of how they got to be where they are; what challenges they face; as well as advice they can offer to others looking to rise the ranks in the pharma industry. You will also find common themes of wanting to help patients; influencing others to grow; and a knowledge that their mentors greatly impacted their careers by believing in them.

 It is an honor for us to showcase these individuals, the future leaders of pharma. 

— Lisa Henderson, Editor-in-Chief

More EPL Coverage!

 

 

Cooking Up the Right Formula 

Carsten Brunn, Head of Pharmaceuticals, Americas Region, Bayer 

 

Carsten Brunn’s entry into the pharmaceutical industry is somewhat unique—his PhD in chemistry from the University of Hamburg in Germany was funded by a scholarship from Eli Lilly. That connection gave him access to an industry lab at Lilly, but in the end, it wasn’t the lab where Brunn would find his true passion.  

“While I was interested in research from the beginning and was later offered a job in that area, I became very interested in the commercial side of the business,” says Brunn, who is now head of pharmaceuticals for the Americas at Bayer.  “So, I made that transition, and it was my time at Lilly ‘carrying the bag’ and then in a number of sales and marketing management positions in the US, when I really became passionate about meeting the needs of patients and customers. What I think I value most about my career path is the broad range of experiences I gained across different types and sizes of organizations and in different geographies.”

In addition to big pharma, Brunn worked in a startup environment with Basilea Pharma and at Bausch & Lomb during a period when the company had been taken over by private equity firm Warburg Pincus. He’s had the opportunity to work in the US, Europe, and the Asian markets of Singapore, China, and Japan—the latter two with Bayer. The experience has given Brunn an “incredibly helpful perspective” of working across different cultures and market dynamics. It’s also given him an intimate view of how the industry has changed over the years. 

“It’s much more complex than when I came in,” he says. “Back then, the model was a single brand approach; you’d develop a drug in-house, market it, or perhaps do a co-market, and then sell. Now, there are many more factors at play. R&D is much more expensive and developing drugs through partnerships is a norm. The markets are value-driven and market access is an essential and central part of the strategy. And we see smaller, more niche sales forces.” 

Arguably the most noticeable change has been that in the area of innovation—the discovery of the genome, development of biologics, immunotherapies, gene editing. Add to that, emerging dynamics like the increased involvement of patients in the development process, more data, etc., and you need a whole different set of skills than you did 20 years ago. 

“All of these factors now require a different, more holistic view of the market,” says Brunn. “Companies must adopt a more data-driven approach, using the technologies that are now available to do predictive analytics. This lets you be more flexible with strategic decisions, but it also requires different skill sets. The use of such data, though, can help with decision-making across the healthcare ecosystem and actually lower the cost of medicines while at the same time enhancing clinical outcomes. Thinking and working in this way is indicative of the fundamental changes that have taken place in our industry in recent years.”

The ability to adapt and understand these new challenges facing the pharma industry is what helps shape a good leader, as does being authentic with the people you are working with. 

“You have to encourage continued learning, risk-taking, and experimentation,” says Brunn. “I have let the team in the US know that I am a firm believer in challenging yourself and the status quo and doing things differently, but also working hard and playing hard. It may be cliché, but it’s true that our people are our greatest and most important asset. You need to be much more flexible and in touch in leading people in this complex environment.” 

Working and playing hard also comes with balance. 

“I think it’s important for people to really find an outlet that allows you to clear the mind, and to a degree feel relaxed,” says Brunn, adding that for him, that outlet is cooking. “There’s something to be said for cooking a great meal, from the prep work to the final product that can make you feel quite accomplished. I also work out often, and have been passionate about martial arts for many years. That’s an important release.”

Brunn led Bayer’s pharma business in Japan for four years, during which time the company went from 18th in the country to the top 10. 

“That was the first time in many years the company had been ranked that high, and I’m proud of that,” he says. “Also, we built a very diverse management team, including one of the first woman CEOs. We successfully launched several life-saving medicines and successfully set up one of the first open innovation centers in Japan, based in Osaka. As part of the center, we established a comprehensive research collaboration with the prestigious Kyoto University.”

That collaboration played a key role in Bayer’s joint venture with Versant Ventures to launch Blue Rock Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company that plans to develop best-in-class induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) therapies in efforts to cure a range of diseases using an industry-leading platform. The basis for the overall approach is iPSC intellectual property invented by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and licensed from iPS Academia Japan Inc., which manages iPSC IP. This foundational IP will allow the company to create iPSCs, which will be an important cell source.

Brunn has some simple, yet practical advice for future pharma leaders. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he says. “Vulnerability is a strength. Things are a lot easier if you ask for help. Also, on the functional side, it used to be that everyone said you needed sales experience to advance on the commercial side. Now I think it’s imperative to have market access experience.”

 — Michelle Maskaly

 

Hitting the Jackpot

Heather Dean, Head of Specialty Sales & Key Accounts, Takeda Pharmaceuticals

 

The pharmaceutical industry is full of bright, intelligent, successful individuals, but you rarely meet one that has known early on that they wanted to work in pharma. Most take a roundabout route that involves business or medicine, and then an opportunity to work in the industry comes up and turns out to be the winning ticket. And that’s exactly what happened with Heather Dean’s…babysitter. 

Dean, head of specialty sales and key accounts for Takeda Pharmaceuticals, says when she was young, she looked up to her babysitter, a neighbor, who was smart, athletic, and very well-liked. She left their small town of 2,000 people in Illinois to become a brain surgeon. Later, in seventh grade, Dean’s babysitter visited her hometown, not as a surgeon, but as a pharma representative. 

“She talked to me about her job and she loved that she was working in business, but she was also helping patients and was speaking to doctors every day,” remembers Dean. “I wanted to be a nurse, but I wasn’t sure I could detach myself emotionally from patients. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a pharmaceutical rep.” 

Dean wrote a paper about what she wanted to be when she grew up for English class, and hasn’t wavered since.

Dean says she views her career to date in thirds. The first third was traditional, as a pharmaceutical sales rep; the next third, in a home office-based role in marketing, and the last third, which brought all her experiences together for an enterprise view in her current role. Dean joined Takeda in 2004 in that second-third, where she led the pre-launch, launch, and post-launch phases of the metabolic commercial program and eventually, GI Marketing, then onto area sales vice president, leading half of the General Medicine commercial sales organization before taking on the third-third, her current position, in October 2016. 

She is most proud of embracing opportunities that have come her way, and points to two pivotal moments that influenced her 14-year career at Takeda. 

The first, Dean explained that she had started in marketing at the lowest entry-level position and ultimately was one of the few people left on a brand team that had been built and dismantled a few times because of regulatory hurdles. When the brand director left to pursue another opportunity, Dean knew there were two paths for her, and one was brand director. “There was a big part of me that thought ‘it would be really disappointing if I have to teach somebody everything I already know and not get the job,’ and on the other hand, ‘well, clearly they couldn’t give me the job; I’m not ready for this.’” But her management said they had faith in her and that she was ready for it. 

“I jumped in with both feet and loved every second of it,” says Dean. 

The next pivot ended her marketing tenure. “The leaders at Takeda said we think you need to move over and get sales leadership experience. I hadn’t been a district manager or regional director but our culture here very much embraces diversity of thought and experience, and an enterprise leadership concept,” says Dean. “Initially, I was concerned because I felt that marketing was so dynamic and difficult and interesting that I was worried it wouldn’t be as challenging in sales. But I learned that I could take my experiences about how the home office worked and operated and share those insights with the field. We could align better on the strategy because I could give them that “why” of what the leadership wanted. I was also an earpiece for the field because I could tell the home office that some processes they did were not easy for those in the field, and if they made a few simple changes, it would make a world of difference.”

Dean was selected to participate in Takeda’s elite global development program for high potential leaders in 2013 and is now designated as a Global Enterprise Leader. Takeda has a clear chain for developing talent, and Dean says the company is focused on four principles: Enterprise thinking; focus; elevating capabilities; and inspiring others. These principles carry over into the culture of Takeda, of which she says values diversity, values communication, and allows all employees the opportunity to have their ideas heard. 

For the next thirds of her career, Dean would like to continue expanding her scope of commercial leadership responsibilities either in Europe or the US. “In the long term, I would like to have a business unit leadership role,” she says. “Again, I feel that enterprise leadership is so important and I think I have many good experiences over the years that will give me that big picture view, but I can also give that “why” to people in slightly larger settings such as in a business unit.” Ramona Sequeira, president of Takeda US, is confident of Dean’s skills and says, “I would love to see her in my role.” Sequeira, in charge of the changes to Takeda’s business unit structures, says, “Heather is a unique leader that can lead from the front and behind. People want to work with her, and she gets right in the trenches, connecting with people and their concerns.”

As for Dean, she enjoys time with her husband and two young boys, family, friends, running, and mentoring activities. “I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot, with this industry and the roles I have had, and finding my home here at Takeda. It has been a pretty incredible opportunity.”

 — Lisa Henderson

 

Lessons From the Playing Field

Mohamed Hamada, Country Portfolio Lead, Women’s Health, Pfizer

 

There are a lot of books that executives can read about leadership, how to succeed in business, and how to lead a corporate team through a tough time. But, for Mohamed Hamada, he gains his leadership style from a unique place—horses.

Hamada is the country portfolio lead for women’s health, Egypt and Sudan, for Pfizer Essential Health, Egypt, but he is also a professional polo player who in addition to working in the pharmaceutical industry all over the world, has also competed in the sport of polo all over the world. His experience with horses has helped him learn to stay calm in high-pressure situations—a common occurrence in a volatile industry such as pharma. 

When playing polo, a person has to juggle multiple competing interests at the same time—ride a horse at high speeds with competitors charging at you, while swinging a mallet to get the ball in the goal. But, more importantly, as Hamada explained it, you have to control your emotions and stay even-tempered as to not upset the horse. Focus and fast decision-making is also very important as hesitation will cause you to be left behind during the game or, worse, you or your horse could get a serious injury. 

Not easy skills to master, but definitely positive qualities that transfer to high-pressure business situations. 

Another key element to success in polo, that is just as important in business, is strategic communication. “You have to use emotional intelligence in every situation that you are presented with,” says Hamada. “Have a plan about what you are going to do, and communicate it with people regularly.”  

The pharma industry is changing at a fast pace, and being able to quickly adapt to those changes and welcome them with excitement is something Hamada believes makes a good leader in his field. “A good leader now in the industry is a transformative and a change agile leader,” he says. “Being a transformative leader helps because you’re agile enough to respond and deliver results, and teach others how to do that, too.”

Being a good leader also means cultivating a  positive team spirit and knowing how to work in a team environment, which may sound easier than it is. 

“Like in polo, you have to have a good team spirit and have to learn the team dynamics if you want to win, and it’s the same thing in business,” says Hamada. “A winning team has a good team spirit. You have the best players and the best equipment. You each have clear roles and responsibilities, and a clear strategy of what you are expected to do.” 

While having all of these team elements is important, the team’s execution is also critical; however, it doesn’t always have to be perfect. 

“You have to learn from mistakes,” says Hamada. “You have to let them [your team] make mistakes, because they will learn from them. You cannot be afraid to make mistakes in business.” 

Hamada’s career has allowed him to gain experience in different areas of the pharma industry. A pharmacist by schooling, he tried out a variety of different areas within the industry, but learned he liked the commercial marketing side best. He also has a strong academic background in business, holding a master’s degree in pharmaceutical marketing from the European School of Business in Paris and an executive MBA from the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis, majoring in mergers and acquisitions in the pharma industry.

Hamada has been with Pfizer for 11 years and explained that he enjoys the multitasking his job requires. 

“You get to do a little bit of everything,” he says. “Analysis, planning the execution of a marketing campaign, following up with sales, manufacturing, regulatory—you never get bored.” 

In his current role, Hamada is responsible for all aspects of the company’s women’s health marketing in Egypt. This includes planning the strategic and tactical marketing of the products and overseeing the execution.   

Some products provide more challenges than others, and requires different strategies, which is why being able to adapt to various situations is extremely important in Hamada’s point-of-view. For example, marketing a product that touches hundreds of thousands of patients is different than a personalized medicine that might touch 100 patients. Both have their pros and cons, and knowing how to tackle each one takes time and patience. 

When asked about what he is most proud of during his career, Hamada quickly responds, “a lot of things, one of them is my experience in France. I studied and worked there for more than two years, it was a huge challenge for me—new language, new culture, tough curriculum in one of the top global business schools. I had to stretch my capabilities in different directions at the same time to succeed, which gave me a strong reserve of resilience that helps me a lot since.” 

Maybe what contributes most to Hamada’s success is his answer to this question, “What keeps you up at night?” 

“I don’t ever let anything keep me up at night,” he responds. “I believe everything will be solved in the morning.” 

That calm, level-headed approach to business shouldn’t be underestimated. Hamada’s determination is what has gotten him to where he is today. It’s also something he encourages future pharma leaders to embrace. 

His advice: “Read everything you can, be persistent, and don’t be afraid to take a risk.”

 — Michelle Maskaly

 

Building the Plane While Flying It

Todd Horich, VP of Marketing, Supernus Pharmaceuticals

 

While beginning at the bench as a pharmacologist, earning a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Maryland, Todd Horich always envisioned himself on the business side of the industry. Entrepreneurialism is in his genes, having come from a family of business builders and owners. This industriousness was evident during his days as a graduate student, where Horich completed his MBA in parallel with receiving his PhD. 

Post-graduate, Horich worked for a time at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, before joining Novartis’s neurology group as a market researcher, eventually moving onto the company’s Trileptal brand team. Getting into pharma via market research “allowed me to use the skill set I developed as a scientist, while learning the business of pharmaceutical marketing,” says Horich, noting it was “a perfect blend of science and business.” Nearly every day, he still uses the tools he learned in market research.

As he progressed with Novartis, Horich kept an eye on his bigger goals. Following the advice of one of his mentors, Randi Roberts, he formed his own “mini board of directors, four or five people who I could bounce ideas off.” Under their guidance, he made the leap from Novartis to a small startup of less than 40 employees (Vanda Pharmaceuticals) in 2006; it was a risky move, but, as his advisers told him, “you need to take the risk while you’re young and can still recover from it.” A few years later, this outlook led him to Supernus Pharmaceuticals, a young commercial startup company focused on treating CNS disorders. At the time (2010), he was Supernus’s first commercial employee; by the end of 2013, Supernus had launched Trokendi XR® and Oxtellar XR®. “At first, neurologists couldn’t even spell Supernus,” says Horich, “but of the 10 anti-epileptic drugs launched in the last decade, Trokendi XR and Oxtellar XR have been among the most successful. And this is from a startup, building every department and process from zero, which had budgets (and still do) many magnitudes smaller than most other companies in the field.” 

As Supernus’s vice president of marketing and new products marketing, Horich thrives on being involved in almost every function in the organization. 

“From day one, I was at the table in clinical meetings, R&D meetings, and supply meetings, in addition to every commercial function,” he says. “We make decisions very quickly as a unified team; there’s not a lot of red tape.” He highlights his “incredible partnership” of mutual respect with Taylor Raiford (VP of sales) in building the organization together, and notes that Supernus has “some very tenured folks—it’s a misnomer about startups just having junior employees. The mentorship from veterans such as Jack Khattar, Victor Vaughn, and Stefan Antonsson has been invaluable to my continued professional growth.”

Helping to build the commercial organization at Supernus “with no safety net” (“Building the plane as we were flying it!”) was “incredibly scary, but also incredibly empowering,” says Horich. “Employees and their families rely on you to help lead the organization to profitability.” His background helped to ensconce him in the company culture. “Some startups transitioning to commercialization can look at the commercial people like they’re from another planet,” he laughs. “But with my skill set, I could speak the language of everyone here.” Horich has since honed a leadership style focused not just on “getting people to do the things they need to do to be successful, but having them want to do the things they need to do.” He adds: “We try to instill the feeling in all employees that this is their company, not just a company they work for. I have such a great team; never in my career have I seen such a small group accomplish such great things.” 

If Horich has any fear nowadays, it is one of an organization that grows extremely fast on its success, and staying focused on the fundamentals that got them there. The challenge for Supernus is maintaining its ethos as it grows larger. “Deloitte’s 2015 Technology Fast 500 recognized us number one in biotechnology, and number three in 2016,” he says. “We need to make sure we keep that up, but also protect our unique culture at all costs.”

In a way, Horich’s career has come full circle. He’s back in his home state, Maryland, where he studied and began his career. But there’s no danger of him sitting back. He is now looking to take Supernus “from a small- to mid-level organization to a larger organization with multiple business units.” 

With two psychiatry products in late-stage development, the company is “back to 2013, so to speak,”  says Horich. “Psychiatrists don’t know us yet; we need to build up a new franchise. We’re now looking to achieve in psychiatry what we’re achieving in neurology.”

 — Julian Upton

 

Cancer Mission is Personal 

Ashley Kalinauskas, Co-Founder and CEO, Torigen Pharmaceuticals

 

If you asked people who have worked with Ashley Kalinauskas to describe her in one word, they would say, passionate. 

The 27-year-old CEO of Torigen Pharmaceuticals Inc., the makers of VetiVax, a veterinary cancer treatment that uses the patient’s own tumor cells to create a personalized immunotherapy, has made quite a name for herself in the biotech startup community. 

It all started when the Connecticut native was home on fall break from the University of Notre Dame, where she was a graduate student, and a close friend died in a car accident. “Once I got back to campus, I needed something to take my mind off it and get back into the swing of work,” she recalls. “I emailed my professor and said, ‘I think we should create a business to launch this technology. He said, ‘Ashley, if you want to do it, go for it. I will be with you every step of the way.’” 

Kalinauskas decided to name the company Torigen after her friend and dove right in. The technology, which would become known as VetiVax, an experimental treatment regulated under USDA 9 CFR 103.3, was a therapy her graduate professor had been working on for a while.  

Dr. Mark Suckow, former faculty member and associate vice president of research at Notre Dame, had spent his whole research career understanding ways to stimulate the immune system against cancer. Specifically, his research focused on tissue vaccines. Utilizing this approach, Suckow demonstrated that an effective anti-tumor response is associated with the enormous menu of antigens that are part of the tumor and surrounding stromal tissue.

In 2010, his family’s Labrador retriever, Sadie, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and given less than a month to live. Suckow’s daughters convinced their father to use the research he had been working on to develop a personalized cancer treatment to try and save their dog. Sadie survived for more than three years—cancer free—before dying of natural causes.

Inspired by that success, Kalinauskas, who always loved the intersection of business and science, formed a business plan, and entered a startup competition at Notre Dame. They came in second place.

“The day after, we had a line of investors waiting to meet with us,” said Kalinauskas, who has a master’s degree in engineering, science, and technology entrepreneurship. “We went from this really great idea and thesis project to a company.”

Kalinauskas moved the company, which has experienced exponential growth over the past four years, back to her home state of Connecticut, specifically to a business incubator program at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Connecticut, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in veterinary pathology and pathobiology. When asked about her success, Kalinauskas credits having amazing mentors, including the former CEO and president of Cook Biotech, Mark Bleyer. Cook, an early investor in Torigen, offered Kalinauskas to work directly under Bleyer after graduation, to learn how the pharmaceutical industry worked and what it took to run a successful company.  

“I had gone in and presented to their board and the CEO thought there was a lot of potential, but also understood one misstep with a startup company could lead to failure,” says Kalinauskas. “He wanted to guide us and make sure we had everything in place, and were in a position to keep advancing.”

As a young company just getting started, the chance for Kalinauskas to be mentored in a way that helped the organization set up a solid foundation was invaluable. 

“Mark Bleyer and his whole team were really there for me,” she says. “I had the resources, like clinical advisory teams and veterinary pathologists, available to me to ask them different questions every step of the way.”

That experience helps Kalinauskas as she travels around the country meeting with veterinarians, investors, influencers, researchers, regulators, and others to spread the word about VetiVax, and bringing the company to the next level. 

Kalinauskas never planned on being CEO of Torigen. In fact, they interviewed a number of candidates for the position, some who weren’t the right fit and others who decided their talents would be a better fit in different role at the company. One day, Suckow and their new team members finally suggested Kalinauskas should just assume role; after all, it was her persistence and passion that led to the company’s creation. 

Kalinauskas’s ability to straddle the human and animal worlds gives her a unique perspective on the pharma and veterinary industries. “Veterinary is not just a way for pharma to ease the costs of trying to launch a new drug,” she says, before explaining what a difference therapies like this can make.

“I am most proud of how far we have come and looking back and seeing what a difference we have made,” Kalinauskas says. “One of the first animals I treated after grad school was Lula Mae, in South Bend (Indiana). She had an oral tumor we had treated, and I stopped following up with her owners after a year and a half. I knew the dog was getting older and I didn’t want to hear the dog had passed away. Recently, UConn had posted an article about us and under the post in the comments [Lula Mae’s owner] wrote, ‘because of VetiVax, my dog is alive four years later.’ I just cried my eyes out. We changed this dog’s life and their family’s life.”

 

 — Michelle Maskaly

 

The Active Listener 

Michael K. Lyons, US Customer Strategy, Immuno-Oncology, AstraZeneca 

 

Even before he started his pharma career in sales at Eli Lilly, Michael K. Lyons was well versed in the power of story. He had spent his high school and college years interning as a journalist at a New York City paper, “an exciting role,” he says, that taught him at a formative age the importance of communication and information. Later as an intern at Young & Rubicam, he worked as a copywriter for brands such as Sony, Jell-O and Pepperidge Farms; he followed this with a stint in public relations for a boutique agency in Manhattan with equally large clients. Without being aware of it at the time, he says, “these early professional opportunities developed skills, such as learning how to capture a reader in a news report or urge a viewer to buy your product in a television commercial, that have helped me be a more effective communicator, marketer, and leader.” 

When Lyons joined Lilly in 2001, it was a time of great optimism and expansion in pharma, which enabled him to enter at a slightly senior level and work alongside executives who were 10–15 years older. Having always placed great faith in mentors, from his parents to his academic and professional supervisors, Lyons listened carefully to the advice he received from these counselors as he progressed through Lilly from neuroscience sales to global marketing of the company’s oncology portfolio. His mentors encouraged him to take a pause and complete an MBA (at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University); they then suggested “the best way to learn general management was to lead and deliver results in countries that do not have the same resources as the United States.” So, Lyons headed to Thailand as a director for Lilly’s affiliate, the first of three assignments in Asia that would see him handle increasing levels of responsibility. 

Three years in Asia—first in Thailand, then as Lilly’s oncology launch and innovation leader in Japan and latterly as chief marketing officer, ASEAN—made Lyons “a better leader and a better employee,” he says. “Leading teams to drive results in those foreign cultures, fostering relations where locals want to deliver for you, and doing so without much of a budget was a huge undertaking. But with trusted advice, instinct, and a little bit of luck, we exceeded those challenges.” He saw things he would never have seen in the US, such as the vastly different experiences of patients who were just a couple of hundred miles apart. That experience made him “very principled and pragmatic about how we build our business”—and the fundamental lesson he learned was that “it’s not about us.”

This lesson informed his approach when he returned to the US and was offered the chance to create and lead AstraZeneca’s US customer strategy for its immuno-oncology (IO) portfolio. “I believe that it’s about the patients and the healthcare professionals who serve them,” he says. “That belief has allowed us to create a vision, design a strategy, and drive execution to help the IO team compete in a fierce market.” 

A colleague says that, among oncologists, Lyons is known as “a serial listener.” For him, “it starts and ends with understanding that you must always meet the patient and oncologist on their terms.” In just over a year at AZ, Lyons and his team have developed an ongoing dialogue with the top US key opinion leaders (KOLs) across multiple tumor types to inform market strategies; created innovative community initiatives that feature influencers not traditionally leveraged by marketing; and strategically invested in the next generation of oncology KOLs. “The team now runs like a fine-tuned watch,” he says. “People get along very well, the employees are selfless, they understand the goal and don’t stray from it.  With that, it is important to continuously instill the force of listening to our customers’ needs and then strategically acting on those insights.”

Lyons has now spent 13 consecutive years in oncology and in that time has seen personalized therapy change the landscape. “For example, in lung cancer, we have distinguished between histology of squamous and non-squamous, ALK, EGFR, PD1, PDL1, etc. These are tremendous leaps for science and create an exciting challenge to bring respective medicines to the patients who need them,” he says. “And with those advances, the demand for excellence has increased. We need to be better listeners to the needs of our customers and use that information to be able to have the right conversations.” 

In an increasingly complex world with many therapeutic decisions, Lyons says that the craft of narration and navigation is vital. “It is important to help people understand ‘the why’ and not just ‘the what’ of a decision and action. The combination of story, execution excellence, and being close to the customer is a powerful one. It informs, unites, and drives better results.”

 — Julian Upton

 

Facing Outward 

Joshua Ofman, Senior Vice President, Global Value, Access & Policy, Amgen

 

When Joshua Ofman began his work in health policy and economics in the mid-1990s, it was a field still viewed with some uncertainty and skepticism by many in the pharma industry. At the time, Ofman was based in academia; completing his medical training at UCLA, he did post-doctorate work in gastroenterology and health services research, publishing widely in the disciplines of health economics and technology assessment, program evaluation, and health policy. On taking a faculty position at Cedars-Sinai, however, he could apply this research to a more practical setting. He was one of the initial physician leaders of a Cedars-Sinai spinoff company, Zynx Health, which provided evidence-based clinical decision support solutions for provider organizations, and consulting for life sciences companies. 

During this time, Ofman transitioned from a research to a business focus. “I had a lot of corporate training while I was at Zynx Health,” he says. “I was required to present to the board of Zynx and the Cedars-Sinai leadership, and I learned to build and lead an organization, with direct financial accountability.  It was an incredible training ground, so by the time I arrived at Amgen (in 2003) I felt I had good management skills, and I understood how to operate in a complex corporation.”

Joining Amgen provided Ofman with the opportunity “to move inside the industry and think about how we position biotechnology as a key solution to some of healthcare’s problems.” He was hired by Amgen’s head of development in R&D to build the company’s capabilities around access and health economics, but he had some way to go to convince some of the company leaders of the need to demonstrate the value of their products. “There were some parts of the organization that were just not built to do that,” says Ofman. But the changing external environment, with increasing pressure on governments to focus healthcare spending on elements of high value, would soon bring more attention on Ofman’s role. “We needed to do more dramatic things internally. Just adding new groups here and there was not sufficient; we had to dig down into the ways we worked and thought to get better at addressing those external issues.”

Ofman’s endeavors saw his organization become established as part of Amgen’s whole commercialization process; his group “is now at the table at every level.” As senior VP, global value access and policy, Ofman occupies a unique role at the intersection of policy and business, interfacing between R&D, policy, and commercial. “It’s a very externally facing job,” he says. “I’m interacting with governments and thought leaders and policy organizations. I sit on the majority of the company’s large governance boards and I bring the perspective of the payer and pricing and access to all of those decisions.” 

Ofman remains highly motivated in leading Amgen’s efforts as the company moves toward a value-based healthcare system, where both long-term investment in health and patient access to innovative medicine is prioritized. His leadership success was recognized with his 2016 election to chairman of the board of directors for the National Pharmaceutical Council, and he sits on the boards of the California Life Sciences Association and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. In defining his leadership approach, Ofman values having a strong technical base of knowledge and being able to paint a compelling picture of the future. “It’s about looking around two corners, clearly articulating some likely future states, and describing what we need to do differently to be successful in this very dynamic healthcare environment,” he says. “Once you can paint that picture, articulate it clearly, and create a compelling case for change, you can really get people to follow you.” 

It also helps that Ofman possesses a drive that is relentless until a vision has been realized. “Nothing makes me happier,” he says, “than charging up a hill and having my team follow me, and seeing the organization respond effectively to change.” Such relentlessness is vital in an era where the pace of change required to maintain a competitive leadership role in healthcare is more rapid than ever. “We’re really at a revolutionary stage of biotechnology,” Ofman says. “It’s all much more dynamic now. We’re trying to drive the company very hard around innovative approaches to value-based healthcare, innovative uses of technology, innovative contracting and pricing ideas. The challenge is to move fast enough to maintain our edge.”

Ofman sees his task now as bringing to Amgen “a much more holistic and integrated view of how we address the external environment.” To make the move from “a biotech company as a supplier of medicines to a company that is an integral part of the healthcare ecosystem,” he is looking to pursue long-term investments in new partnerships and adopt a more external, customer-centric approach. He adds: “I’m really looking forward to driving this transition over the next decade.”

 — Julian Upton

 

Transferable Willingness 

Corey Padovano, Senior Director, Marketing Operations, Gilead Sciences

 

Corey Padovano is probably the only one of the Pharmaceutical Executive Emerging 11 that could perform an actual Ocean’s Eleven role without a stunt double. In his spare time, when he’s not engrossed in his role as senior director, marketing operations for Gilead Sciences or parenting his one-year-old daughter Grace with his wife Nikki, Padovano trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a form of martial arts. “It’s a great workout that helps keep me in shape and sharpens my mind in the process,” explains Padovano. Jiu-Jitsu is also known for its style of ground-fighting, not dissimilar to wrestling, at which Padovano excelled in high school, earning him a scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia. “Many wrestling techniques are transferable to Jiu-Jitsu and there is definitely a strategic element to the sport, which makes it very challenging,” he  says.  

The road Padovano has taken from college to his current position at Gilead involves many transferable skills, but also intuitiveness to know how to adapt those skills in different environments, and a healthy dose of willingness to stretch outside of his comfort zone.

Padovano also spent his college years as an Army ROTC cadet and, upon graduation, entered active duty as a second lieutenant leading a 30-soldier platoon responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment. When he left the Army as a captain four years later, he had served in multiple capacities from an Air Defense Artillery platoon leader to an operations officer, and he even led a finance unit. While serving as a military officer, he had accumulated a combination of transferable skills—leadership, collaboration, teamwork, and strategic thinking—that the large pharma companies of his native Northeast US were interested in. Padovano began as a sales representative for Bayer and was soon promoted to district manager.  Next, he was able to broaden his base of experience serving in a number of headquarters roles to include marketing, sales training, and operations.  As a result of a series of mergers, Padovano eventually relocated to the West Coast to take a position as director of commercial operations responsible for hospital sales at Merck and Co. Padovano stretched his comfort zone with a move across the country and was responsible for a 10-state geography, which included multiple segments of business to include academic medical centers, integrated delivery networks (IDNs), military accounts, VA institutions, and correctional facilities.

In 2013, Padovano became the director of US commercial learning and development for Gilead. In that role, his team was responsible for all therapeutic areas of training, leadership development, managed markets training, and marketer training. During his almost four-year tenure, he participated in eight product launches, which has been very “exciting as well as challenging.” In fact, on his first day at Gilead, he was involved in training the newly established hepatitis C sales force, which was preparing to launch Sovaldi. “It’s a great feeling when you are part of a product launch that can actually offer a cure for many patients.”

With Padovano’s desire to broaden his experience, stretch himself developmentally, and transfer his leadership skills, he moved to his current position five months ago. “I wanted to do something new and learn about different areas of the organization,” he says. “I also wanted to put myself in a position where I could gain a deeper understanding of our business as a whole. One of my goals is continue to sharpen my leadership skills so I can be more effective in the future.”

Padovano is now leading multiple functions, including: speaker program management, digital marketing operations, vendor management, Promotional Review Committee operations, and event planning. Another goal for Padovano is to identify operational synergies across these teams in order to optimally support stakeholders and drive consistent results. To achieve this, Padovano is examining processes for overall effectiveness. He says, “There will always be opportunities for us to improve. We have certain processes in place that might drive a favorable result, but how are we getting there? Are we working efficiently, are we working smart? I like the idea of exploring different processes in order to improve and streamline so that we can focus more on delivering sustainable results.” 

Working through the processes, he and his team have found some areas that could be improved or may be overly bureaucratic. “Driving change is difficult, there is always going to be a certain degree of pushback,” says Padovano. “It is important to gain people’s buy-in and support. You definitely need champions because you cannot expect to do everything on your own. Picking strategic partners who have skin in the game and want to drive meaningful change is critical. Staying focused on the end goal—beyond execution—to sustain change is important, but you need teamwork and accountability to keep change going for the long term.”

Reflecting on how he began his career, Padovano clearly sees how the role of the pharma representative has changed since he entered the industry. The diminishing access to healthcare professionals (HCPs), along with the consolidation of practices into large IDNs, is top on that list. Challenges from a managed markets perspective have also added to the complexity in most therapeutic areas. “The reps in the field today have to be more sophisticated and better trained than ever before,” says Padovano. “It’s not enough to possess great selling skills. You also have to know your products and the competition inside and out, understand the shifting managed markets landscape and demonstrate a deep understanding of what is most important to customers and their patients.”

Padovano believes that it is much harder to secure a role as a new rep in pharma today for a variety of reasons.  Industry consolidation and increased competition from experienced sales professionals are two major reasons. However, he still believes people entering this industry should be willing to try different things and be flexible and open to new opportunities. “Developmentally, it is important to step out of your comfort zone and not be afraid to ask for help, support, or advice along the way,” Padovano recommends. 

For now, Padovano says he is still learning and enjoying being a part of the engine that is driving the overall US commercial team. But he says there are opportunities as Gilead continues to grow (the company has expanded from 4,000 people when he started to over 9,000 today) to leverage his transferable leadership skills into different functions and challenging roles in the future. “I want to continue to be an influencer into strategic decisions and provide opportunities for my team and others to develop and contribute to the organization.”

 — Lisa Henderson

 

Groomed to Lead, Inspire

Mark Rus, Group Vice President – Head of US Neuroscience, Shire

 

Mark Rus has an impressive leadership track record and resume. Currently based at Shire’s US HQ in Boston, this dual Canadian/EU citizen has an economics and international business master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and a BA (Hons.) in Political Science & International Comparative Studies from Huron University. After graduation, and consulting experience on various pharma projects, he served in several roles in Canadian federal politics and policy. These ranged from the Privy Council Office (support staff to Canada’s prime minister and cabinet), to election campaigns, to serving as speechwriter and policy advisor to Canada’s Minister of State. 

Now, group vice president – head of US neuroscience, Rus oversees more than 650 people, a growing multi-billion dollar P&L, new launches, and future strategy. He has spent the past 12 years holding a variety of positions at Shire in Europe, Canada, and the US, as well as joint venture co-chairmanship of Shire’s Japanese partnership with Shionogi. As Shire has grown from less then 1,000 employees 15 years ago to over 25,000 today, Rus’s journey has paralleled the company’s growth. 

Talk to him about his career, and how he has managed to be so flexible, and the main reason he gives is his family. His wife, 4-year-old daughter, and 17-month-old son have stood next to, supported, and moved with him through each career challenge and opportunity. In fact, spending time with his family is his favorite thing to do outside the office. “Time with family  is important,” says Rus. “Traveling with them, helping them grow up, playing, or hiking with them. I love throwing one of them in a [kid-appropriate backpack carrier], and off we go!” 

It’s that solid, family-inspired foundation that may have contributed to Rus’s authentic relatability and skill to quickly connect with almost anyone, whether it be a patient using one of Shire’s therapies, a new sales or marketing executive he’s coaching, a cross-cultural joint venture partner, or a government official. 

His days of working in politics—running campaigns, meeting with constituents, developing policies, writing speeches, and being on the ground talking to people, seeing and watching government, politics, and business intersect—has also helped groom him to be a forward-thinking pharma leader. “I can’t tell you how many times the lessons I learned from this non-traditional background have been useful/relevant to what I do today.” 

The big difference? “Instead of having several years between elections to get your objectives accomplished, our timelines are much shorter and the instant quarter-by-quarter results orientation significantly higher,” Rus says. “You’ve got to be able to move fast as a team, make decisions with non-complete information, and still have everything connect up to a much broader, longer-term strategic vision that makes sense.” 

And instead of voters, it’s now patients who hold him accountable. At Shire, those patients are a regular and constant voice in the company. Patients who have been touched in some way by a Shire medicine are regularly brought to meetings and events to share their stories, experiences, and unmet needs. “Every month, there is a story of someone coming in to talk to you about what our medicines or teammates in other therapeutic areas are doing and how it’s impacted them,” says Rus. “When you have multi-billion dollar blockbuster brands like Vyvanse that help literally millions of people, or our new launch brand Mydayis, this personal connection to individuals is critical to keep the team focused and grounded. You can’t ignore it, and that’s the whole point.” 

According to Rus, that type of corporate compassion flows straight from Shire’s CEO Flemming Ornskov, into all aspects of the organization, creating an environment that promotes internal and externally sourced creativity and a desire to learn. Being curious about people in general, and about all industries outside of pharma in particular, is one quality every future pharma leader should practice, suggests Rus. “Soak up as much information as you can from people and industries around you and above you,” he says. “It will help you think in new ways, toward new ends, and hopefully one day help us rebuild our industry’s framework for it’s future challenges and the long-term.”

Good leaders should also not only build resilience in their teams, but learn to embrace the unknown. 

“Not being afraid to step outside of your comfort zone is a well-worn but true cliché,” says Rus. “Sometimes you don’t have all the information, sometimes you feel uncomfortable. It’s okay. If you can thrive in, shape, or improve in ambiguity, you can lead teams more effectively, help a lot of people, and accomplish a lot.”

Rus knows a little about change. During his tenure at Shire, he has spent equal proportions of time in high level corporate strategy, global product strategy team leadership, country level or commercial business unit leadership in multiple therapeutic areas, and salesforce roles (as a representative and sales manager, attaining number one national ranks in both). 

“At the end of the day, strong talent is strong talent, no matter where it comes from…and I’ve been very fortunate to have tremendous people and talented  teams that have pushed me and I’ve learned so much from,” says Rus. “But wherever possible in my hiring, I’ve tried to bring in people who were curious and resilient thinkers and didn’t necessarily follow a classic path. For example, marketers with significant outside-of-pharma marketing experience.”

The future of pharma in the US is exciting. There are clear reputational problems that need to be addressed. Rus believes pharma needs to change the conversation that is currently defining the industry if things are going to improve sustainably for the most important audience, patients, in the long-term.

The focus cannot just be on the cost of prescription medicines or other therapies. It cannot be just about the role of government policy in setting incentives (i.e., Orphan Drug Act/Medicaid negotiation mandates), or the role of pharmacy benefit manager rebates. It must be about what kind of society we wish to build, and innovation we seek to nurture, says Rus. He suggests more must be done to take a step back and encourage people to look at the big picture and drive bipartisan thinking and solutions to systemic challenges in the currently fragmented US healthcare landscape. 

“We must of course work every day to serve patients and shareholders,” he says. “Just like we all do as individual people, we must learn from our mistakes and build on our strengths. The industry can and will enhance its reputation—it does too much good every day around the world not to. But part of the problem is that the overall system is so poorly understood, that simple solutions always seem the clearest when they are often not. The good news is that the tremendous quality of talent in our industry, combined with the scientific breakthroughs to come in CNS, and most other therapeutic areas soon, mean our best days are in front of us.” 

 — Michelle Maskaly

 

A Problem Solver at Heart

Richard Scranton, Chief Scientific Officer, Pacira Pharmaceuticals

 

Despite a diverse leadership background, spanning influential roles in patient care, clinical research, and business, Richard Scranton is quick to call himself an epidemiologist before anything else. It’s those roots—and the desire to find answers to complex puzzles that has guided much of his journey. It’s what drove him to be the first in his family to go right to college. It’s what convinced him to eschew the basic research path he was seemingly headed toward and search for solutions in the world of public health. It’s a reason he joined the US Navy after getting his MD, where, as Lt. Commander Medical Corp, he established an anticoagulation clinic that still stands today. And it’s that same passion that gave the New York native, who grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, the courage to take the leap to industry, where, early on, “there were months when I only got half my paycheck.” Joining a then-barebones startup, Scranton believed in the science behind a diabetes medicine derailed for a different indication 10 years earlier. His own investigative research would help the drug gain approval and launch.

“When I got out of college, I was pursuing more of a PhD route,” says Scranton, who received a BA degree in biology from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and his MD at East Tennessee University’s Quillen College of Medicine. “But when I spent about six to eight months with a hamster cheek pouch in very dark rooms, I realized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”

Today, Scranton is chief scientific officer for Pacira Pharmaceuticals, a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing non-opioid products for postsurgical pain control. He joined Pacira in 2011 as executive medical director, and would ascend to vice president, scientific and clinical affairs, and then vice president, medical health sciences, before being named to his current role in June of this year. Scranton joined Pacira from VeroScience, where, as chief medical officer, he led the filing of Cycloset®, approved by the FDA in 2009 for type 2 diabetes. The drug, which represented a novel treatment approach, through boosting levels of dopamine, won approval largely due to the 3,000-patient trial Scranton designed assessing Cycloset’s cardiovascular safety. 

At Pacira, Scranton heads up a 90-person group responsible for medical affairs, health outcomes and value assessment, and market access. He also oversees clinical research and scientific communications. In another nod to his epidemiologist base, Scranton has helped build one of the largest health outcomes teams in a company Pacira’s size (the New Jersey-based firm, with manufacturing operations in San Diego, has 500 employees). Amid today’s focus on value-based medicine and innovations in patient engagement to help stem rising healthcare costs, Scranton is an advocate for closer collaboration with health networks and payers in areas such as health outcomes.

His work behind the scenes helped Pacira strike a recent agreement with Trinity Health, a 93-center hospital system serving communities across 22 states. Trinity and Pacira will work together to develop an alternative approach to opioids for acute pain management and identify patient populations who would most benefit from opioid minimization strategies in hospitals.

The opioid-abuse epidemic in the US and beyond has been well documented—in the lives and families destroyed, and the economic toll. The societal cost of the crisis in the US is estimated at $78.5 billion a year, according to the CDC. Past studies have reportedly found that more than half of postsurgical patients prefer a non-opioid option.

“We’ve been at the forefront of getting the message out that the overuse of opioids in the surgical setting is harming patients, both acutely as well as the potential for chronic consequences,” says Scranton, who, with data from Pacira’s own analyses, has presented to the National Institute on Drug Abuse on this association, and has met with senators and members of Congress on Capitol Hill. 

Scranton says the broader mission of advancing the conversation around ways, in the surgical community, to reduce exposure to opioids is bigger to Pacira than any one product it sells. Pacira’s flagship product is EXPAREL® (bupivacaine liposome injectable suspension), a non-opioid local analgesic that is used in combination with the company’s drug delivery technology DepoFoam®. The platform encapsulates drugs without altering their molecular structure, and releases them over a desired period of time up to 30 days. Pacira has six programs currently in clinical trials targeting pain from surgical procedures such as knee arthroplasty, shoulder surgery, spinal fusion surgery, laparoscopic colectomy, and elective c-section.

“If you think about how many people have surgery every year in the US, at least 25 million can benefit from a low-to-no-opioid treatment strategy,” says Scranton. “And there are 20 million people in this country today that have a history of substance use disorder that need an opioid alternative. There’s still a lot of work to do. We’re trying to figure out if there are other scenarios and situations in which application of our drug could break the cycle of pain and provide an opportunity for a subset of patients to enjoy life without opioids.”

Scranton is a longtime expert in health economics and outcomes research. Earlier in his career, as a consultant to several big pharma companies, he designed pharmacoepidemiology and burden of illness studies, and also consulted on clinical trial design with an emphasis on patient-reported outcomes. In the mid 2000s, Scranton served as VA Boston’s co-director of Harvard’s Clinical Effectiveness Program, where he trained physicians in the principles of clinical research. He started teaching there a year after he completed the fellowship program himself, becoming the youngest VA Clinical Effectiveness Program director at the time to do so, and earning a Masters of Public Health at Harvard. Scranton would go on to work in the Division of Aging at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. 

Scranton credits his time at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia, from 1994-2000, for shaping much of his success as a leader, and the management style he employs today. First as chief of residents and then Lt. Commander, it’s where Scranton’s drive to problem-solve and “address difficult questions” were fostered. Case in point: his creation of the freestanding anticoagulation clinic. Recruiting the help of volunteer administrators, nurses, and pharmacists, Scranton set up a system to keep postoperative patients anticoagulated and then managed and followed in an out-patient setting, enabling the veterans to leave the hospital sooner. He was given two commendation medals for his work at the Naval center.    

“The military taught me about diversity of teams and how the most important thing you need to understand is that the more diverse a team you can create, the better likelihood you’re going to have the right outcome or the better outcome,” says Scranton, a NJ resident and father of two sons in college, his eldest a Navy Reserve corpsman. “That’s the central theme for me. I’ve always wanted to be on the cutting edge, looking at complex problems, and finding solutions.” 

 — Michael Christel

 

Merging Science and Strategy

Yaron Werber, Chief Business and Financial Officer, Secretary, and Treasurer, Ovid Therapeutics

 

Yaron Werber never doubted that his entrepreneurial spirit, formed by the grit and self-reliance instilled in him by his parents, both Holocaust survivors, and his own deep-rooted love of biology and technology, would eventually carry him to his true calling. It just took a little longer to get there—as the saying goes, the path to professional and personal fulfillment is rarely a straight line.

Starting in 2000, Werber, fresh off earning a combined MD and MBA degree in healthcare administration from Tufts University School of Medicine (he collected his undergrad in biology at Tufts six years earlier), would spend the next decade and a half working in the topsy-turvy world of Wall Street. Eleven of those years were at Citigroup, where Werber served as managing director, heading up the healthcare and biotech equity research arms, and building a name for himself in the investment community as a leading biotech analyst, sizing up life sciences companies—public and private—at all stages of development.

“I became very fascinated by Wall Street,” says Werber, 45, a native of Israel, who immigrated to the US (New Jersey) with his parents when he was 13. “You can have access to amazing people—entrepreneurs, management teams, scientists—and get involved in companies literally from when they are founded to when they get their first drug approved to when they are acquired. But that’s not the reason I went to medical school. I always knew that the future for me was being an entrepreneur and helping to start a company that’s going to be very patient-focused and do something innovative. … There was no question in my mind that I wanted to be a C-suite manager at some point.” 

That time would come in 2015, when Werber joined rare disease startup Ovid Therapeutics as a founding member. Today, he is Ovid’s chief business and financial officer, secretary, and treasurer. The company focuses on developing drugs for rare, debilitating pediatric brain disorders, with few, if any, treatment options. 

Despite a strong reputation in the banking arena—Werber was ranked among the top five biotech analysts in The Wall Street Journal’s “Best on the Street” survey and was a runner-up, Biotechnology Research Team, in Institutional Investor magazine—and an appreciation, himself, of the skills he would not have learned elsewhere, the physician at heart wanted a chance to directly impact patients from the inside. Werber began his career in academic research at the New England Medical Center—and also in his earlier days, was director of business development at NotifyMD, an e-health company that connects patients and healthcare providers, and spent time as a consultant to Pfizer. His switch to Wall Street began as a senior biotech analyst with Cowen and Company.

Werber credits his talks with a longtime mentor from his days on the Street, former CEO and co-founder of Celgene, Sol Barer, for ultimately giving him the conviction to make the jump to industry. Another mentor, Ovid CEO and Chairman Jeremy Levin, formerly the CEO of Teva, recruited Werber to the fledgling biotech, in need of more than just a financial wizard. Werber recounts, with a laugh, that on his first day at Ovid, his laptop crashed. When he asked the four others in the new company’s then-crammed New York City office if there was someone he could call to fix it, they told him they figured he would handle IT duties. Still not a stretch two years later, Werber’s core responsibilities today are leading Ovid’s finance, business development, IR/PR (investor relations/public relations), IT, and operations.

Drawing from his experience and unique vantage point on the Street, Werber, as a first-time CFO, orchestrated Ovid’s $75 million Series B round of financing in August 2015 and, more recently, the closing of the company’s $75 million IPO in May. Now a public company with a staff of approximately 40, Ovid’s long-term goal is to become an industry pacesetter in the niche area of orphan brain disorders in children. Trailing such a path in CNS, overall, a traditionally painstaking road for R&D, has “unique challenges,” admits Werber, noting as well that investors have become increasingly interested in the field of rare neurological disease. For developers, any chance at success requires constant engagement with key opinion leaders, regulators, clinicians, patient foundations, and patients and their caregivers, Werber stresses. Ovid’s pipeline includes two programs for its drug candidate OV101: one in Phase II trials targeting Angelman syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder that occurs in one in 15,000 live births and is characterized by seizures, motor deficiencies, and lack of speech; and the other in Phase I for Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes mild-to-severe intellectual disability and behavioral and learning challenges. 

Ovid is also collaborating with Takeda on OV935/TAK-935, currently in Phase Ib/IIa studies for pediatric epilepsies, including Dravet syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex. The drug targets a novel pathway—the enzyme responsible for breaking down cholesterol in the brain. Werber led the negotiations that resulted in Ovid’s collaboration with the Japanese drug giant, which was chosen as a finalist for the 2017 Scrip Awards for Best Partnership Alliance. The structure of the deal, announced in January, could usher in a new approach to partnering, where the molecule originates and is licensed out of the pharma company—in this case, Takeda—not the biotech. Ovid is leading the clinical development and will lead future commercialization of OV935 in the US and Europe. Expenses are shared 50/50, as would be the profits, if the drug is successful in treating rare epilepsies. OV935 was once Takeda’s lead neurology asset, with eyes on developing it for broad neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease before the two companies jointly decided that it is better suited as a treatment for epilepsy.

In guiding his team at Ovid, Werber emphasizes the importance of being bold and what he calls “optimistically tenacious” in taking on largely uncharted waters in rare and pediatric disease, at least from a therapeutic perspective. He says a near-term mindset and making objective, dispassionate decisions, backed by rigorous scientific and clinical data, is critical for small innovator companies such as Ovid. The underlying cultural thread, however, is humor, he believes.

“It has to be fun,” says Werber, a father of two young children, who, in his spare time, competes in Olympic-distance triathlons, and also half-marathons, including a recent one in support of the Angelman syndrome community. “But it’s much more than that. You need to get to an environment where there’s an egoless system and people feel empowered to voice their opinions. Culture and process don’t just happen; it’s something that you need to actively work on.”

Much like the company’s broader strategic planning, which it hopes will involve continued business development, hiring, and pipeline expansion, at the appropriate pace. Werber says he’s excited about working together on new ways to execute Ovid’s long-term strategy, and the job of motivating teams in the face of the tough decisions and calculated risks still to come.

 “As an analyst, biotech executives would call me and want to know what’s going on with their stock price,” says Werber. “The answer would be don’t worry about your stock price, you need to execute and the value will follow. The last thing you should be thinking of is your stock price.” 

 — Michael Christel

 

  Next page: Ones To Watch   

 

Emerging Pharma Leaders: Ones To Watch

 

Jennifer English

Director, Market Access – Pricing, Contracting, and Government Programs, Insmed Inc.

With drug pricing, government contracts, and market access making headlines on a daily basis, the next generation of pharma leaders will be entering territory not seen by their predecessors. These issues have become a vital part of the healthcare industry. As a result, they will need people like Jennifer English in their corner. 

English, who after being laid off from her paralegal job took a temporary job in the pharma industry, is now the director, market access – pricing, contracting, and government programs at New Jersey-based Insmed Inc. She eats, breaths, and sleeps pharmaceutical pricing.  In 1996, English started out as a temporary assistant in the human resources department at Bristol-Myers Squibb. She was first to see the types of positions and the skills needed for them. It peaked her interest, and launched her career in a section of the pharma industry that until recently hasn’t gotten much attention, despite it being such an important role. 

It wasn’t a total surprise to English that she found this type of work interesting—she holds an undergraduate degree in history/political science with a minor in American studies, as well as an MBA in marketing, both from Rutgers University. 

“My path was one that I carved myself, because I was always open to learning new things,” she says. 

As a result, English has been involved in everything from marketing and business development to supporting a global team for the launch of a cholesterol-lowering drug. She’s worked for large branded drug companies, mid-size generic manufacturers, and small startups. She’s led commercial contracting and government pricing, among other positions. 

She has no fear when it comes to a challenge. Like when English, who seven weeks prior had just given birth to her second daughter, took a job with a two-and-a-half-hour commute each way so she could help a company launch a new product in just three weeks. Or, like when English took on a role where she was leading her team remotely from New Jersey, and traveling to Alabama once a month to meet with them.  

English has managed commercial and federal (TriCare, Part D, Medicaid) rebate and chargeback payments and processing, led all government pricing calculation policies and procedures including day-to-day operations, and monthly and quarterly price submissions, and served as lead negotiator of customer contract terms and conditions. She has organized and managed the pricing committee agenda at several companies, in addition to often being the key presenter of recommendations for pricing committee discussion and approval. Because of her unique line of sight to many of the categories impacting gross-to-net, English has been the lead forecaster of GTN for many of her small pharma roles. She admits her current role is not easy, and even some people inside industry have a difficult time keeping up to date on all the regulations and changing market dynamics. 

“Pharmaceutical pricing is a hot button issue right now,” she says. “The way the complexities of the pricing and reimbursement landscape have grown has created a lot of grey areas that need to be fully explored.” 

 

Karthikeyan Chidambaram

Associate Director, Data Strategy and Acquisitions, Genentech

There is heavy data utilization in the pharma industry, supporting strategic decision-making. But, as government requirements for serialization come to fruition, mobile health devices become more popular, and as people worry more about their personal information, data management takes a more significant role.

That’s where Karthikeyan Chidambaram comes in. 

As associate director of data strategy and acquisitions at Genentech, his job is to worry about all those things. Currently, he manages the acquisition of all the data assets for the commercial function and setting the strategy to manage, maintain, and govern the data assets, thereby unlocking the potential behind the data. Chidambaram has truly worked his way up the corporate ladder, and crafted a role that is unique to not just the company, but himself. He first spent two years in IT programming, followed by 10 years of pharma analytics consulting. He started as SAS administrator and built analytics teams that supported projects with 18 of the top 20 pharma companies. Then he built the SAS center of excellence from the ground up, from zero to 65 people, globally. 

Chidambaram has been with Genentech for eight years, growing to lead analytics teams for two business units.

“Considering the advancements in machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) and the data explosion in the industry, my team has the most crucial role on the data, analytics, and insights front,” says Chidambaram. “Our team plays a crucial role in providing the pros and cons of the data assets, helping bring in the right data assets to support the business decision-making. We also play a key role in ensuring that the data assets are managed and maintained within IT systems, while balancing the regulations with the ease of use and access, with appropriate governance mechanisms.”

Chidambaram strongly believes in mentorship and creating personal connections when it comes to business and advancement.  “My mentors have provided me with some crucial advice and support that has helped me grow in the right direction,” he says. “ I am providing the same support that I received to my mentees, helping them develop in their career.”

Chidambaram’s volunteer position as president on the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association Board not only helps him network professionally, but keeps him in the loop on the latest developments in the field. Like everyone in pharma, Chidambaram is seeing it change. 

“There is simultaneous data explosion as well in the industry with several entities attempting to commercialize their data [e.g., doctor networks, mid-level suppliers], creating a variety of data assets,” he explains. “This has made my job more interesting and challenging at the same time. We are on a constant race to keep up with the new data assets and learning and evaluating them for our business needs..”

So what’s next for Chidambaram? “I would like to continue help the industry to better unlock the potential behind the data assets, with linkage, supporting enhanced data collection, statistical techniques,” he says. “I would like to serve as an official ‘Commercial Data Officer’ at some point in my career.”

— Michelle Maskaly

 

  Ahead: Catching Up With Past EPLs  

 

An EPL Rewind

 

Now a decade old, Pharm Exec’s Emerging Pharma Leaders annual series is comprised of 205 alumni. As we celebrate this year’s class, the Emerging Eleven, we catch up with two members of the 2008 induction—then called Pharm Exec’s 45 Under 45—to find out how being selected has impacted their careers in the pharma space almost 10 years later. 

 

Mary Szela 

Now: CEO, Novelion Therapeutics

Then: SVP, Global Strategic Marketing and Services, Abbott

PE: What has been your career trajectory since being selected as a Pharm Exec EPL?

When I took over the US pharmaceutical business at Abbott, the country went into an economic crisis, which affected healthcare in a way it never had before. That experience of navigating through an incredibly difficult year as well as addressing a personal health crisis, focused me on defining what I wanted to do next in my career. After careful thought and reflection, I focused on two major objectives as I contemplated my next role: 1) work alongside outstanding people; and 2) do something meaningful for patients. 

I left Abbott in 2012, then became CEO of Melinta Therapeutics, focusing on anti-infective development. My sister was recovering from a severe MRSA infection and the lack of antibiotics was staggering. I wanted to be part of a team to bring new antibiotic options to the market, particularly since there had not been a new antibiotic developed for severe infections in more than 10 years. I am so gratified to see the lead asset (Baxdela) from Melinta recently received FDA approval for complicated skin and skin structure infections. Patients and physicians now have another powerful option to address drug resistant/complicated infections. 

In 2016, I was approached about Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, a company that had encountered numerous challenges, but had incredible opportunity to advance science on behalf of patients. Always loving a challenge, I became CEO of a company that is now part of the Novelion Therapeutics group, focused on serving rare disease patients with metabolic and endocrine diseases. At Novelion, we have the opportunity to profoundly impact metabolic rare disease patients through treatment, education, and awareness of the effects of leptin deficiency. Leptin was discovered in 1994 but was largely misunderstood until recently. We now understand the pleotropic effects of this essential hormone and its devastating effects when absent from the body.

PE: How did being selected as an EPL affect your career?

I love this industry and feel so privileged to be acknowledged as an Emerging Pharma Leader. I personally know many great pharma leaders, and I know our shared commitment to serve the needs of patients has never wavered, even as the environment for access and support has become more challenging. Yet, the way we are collaborating with our patients, regulators, physicians, and payers has improved greatly from what was done 10 years ago. All our stakeholders are seeking “value for money.” Providing patients, payers, and physicians with robust, real-world clinical data is one of the most important ways we can ensure patients have access to therapy and are receiving optimal treatment.

PE: Do you have advice for future aspiring leaders in the pharma industry?

I interact with patients regularly. To hear what they endure and the daily challenges they face in gaining access to their treatments inspires me to do everything I can to make a difference for them. There is nothing more gratifying than advancing a drug that has potential to change a patient’s life. It’s truly rewarding. 

 

Dagmar Rosa-Bjorkeson 

Now: SVP, Portfolio Strategy, Mallinckrodt 

Then: VP, Respiratory Franchise, Novartis

PE: Tell us about your career path since 2008?

Over the past 10 years, my career has been exciting and diverse. Most recently, I joined Mallinckrodt, just a few months ago, and I look to make an impact in this exciting organization. Mallinckrodt is a global business that develops, manufactures, markets, and distributes specialty pharmaceutical products and therapies. Areas of focus include autoimmune and rare diseases in specialty areas like neurology, rheumatology, nephrology, pulmonology, and ophthalmology; immunotherapy and neonatal respiratory critical care therapies; and analgesics and hemostasis products.

In 2007, I had returned from Sweden, having completed two years as a country head, and I took on a large US franchise leadership role, still at Novartis. My interest in specialty pharmaceuticals and rare diseases expanded. For the following six years, I led businesses that served patients across therapeutic areas such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, and multiple sclerosis, and also led the US business development and licensing organization at Novartis. My interest in continuing leadership development and seeking challenge brought me to the executive leadership at Baxalta, at that time an emerging spinoff biotech from Baxter. After two exciting years, the organization was acquired. I moved off to look for another leadership challenge in the mid-size pharma space, which I have come to enjoy and am finding my center in. 

I’ve been able to work in areas that have engaged me completely. The experiences outside the U.S. as well as in the U.S. where I’m able to connect my work to furthering access to treatments that improve people’s lives are very rewarding. Working with patients living with serious diseases is very impactful for me, and helping lead an organization toward realizing a strong patient value has become a personal mission.

PE: How did being selected as an EPL affect your career?

The recognition was a confidence boost, which was important at that certain time in my career when I was taking on changes, new roles, and the risks that go with them. It gave me an external lens as to how I was viewed in the market and what my value had become.

PE: Do you have advice for upcoming aspiring leaders in the pharma industry?

The advice I give most emerging leaders is to take chances and choose challenging roles; those are typically the most rewarding and growth producing. We often focus too much on taking on roles where we are sure to succeed; this is a safe path, but usually not the one that results in most personal growth. I believe that the most personal and professional impact comes from working in the unclear, competitive areas and creating value there—those are the ones we later feel the most proud of.

 — Christen Harm

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