HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year - Pharmaceutical Executive

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HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year
Catherine Sohn Guides GSK's Consumer Powerhouse


Pharmaceutical Executive


Integrating two companies across functions and geographies is a formidable task, but Sohn's personal philosophy and commitment-exemplified by the plaque on her desk that reads, "It can be done!"-made perseverance the only option.


Role Model
"The most important thing in asking the board for another $1 billion for the next acquisition is making the first one work," says Sohn. "So we focused on the objectives-changing the Block Drug brands to GSK brands-rather than the problems."

Sohn also led the negotiation team for a development and marketing partnership with Taisho Pharmaceutical, which gave the company's smoking cessation franchise a stronghold in Japan. Although GSKCH successfully developed and commercialized Nicoderm, Niquitin, and Niquitin Lozenge in many countries and markets Nicorette gum and Commit Lozenge in the United States, the nature of the Japanese market-populated almost exclusively by local companies-made partnering a logical choice. "When we decided to bring our smoking cessation products to Japan, we knew we needed a Japanese partner that had expertise in development and regulatory and a large existing sales force to go to pharmacies in the country."

The timing was right to begin the long development process. The Japanese government had recently announced Healthy Japan 2010, an initiative aimed at reducing the number of adult smokers by 50 percent. "Smoking cessation in Japan is at its early stages right now, but it will grow into a very large market," says Ziegler, "particularly as government takes further steps to restrict smoking and people realize the health impact."

Given the recent launch of Commit Lozenge, Ziegler expects that franchise to expand. He say: "Cathy accessed that product initially from Theratech, CH developed and enhanced it through clinical trials, it went through FDA, and it went out the door in late 2002. It looks very good."

Consumer Meets Pharma Perhaps the greatest influence on Sohn's career was her father, a pharmacist who worked in the small town of Ukiah, California. Sohn's interest in making healthcare more accessible to patients was ignited by watching him interact with customers.

"I grew up working Saturdays in my father's private pharmacy. He was the type of pharmacist that I thought was everywhere-he was accessible to patients, answered their questions, and recommended when they should go to the doctor. He showed me that I could make a difference in individual people's lives."

But Sohn says that working for the pharma industry allowed her to affect many patients' lives. "One of the reasons people decide to work for big pharmaceutical corporations is because they have the capital to invest in new products that serve important unmet healthcare needs."

The company's size also allowed Sohn to grow, and she is now in a position to funnel her pharma expertise into the increasingly strategic consumer healthcare landscape. "I'm familiar with, and comfortable speaking to, pharmaceutical companies and educating them about how GSKCH can further develop their products and bring benefit to both companies by taking it to consumers."

Sohn speaks confidently about CH's Rx-to-OTC switch capabilities-after all, it's based on experience. GlaxoSmithKline switched gastrointestinal drugs Tagamet (cimetidine) in 1994 and Zantac (ranitidine) in 1995. She says Nicoderm CQ and Nicorette, (switched in 1996) in particular, are testaments to the growth OTC status can bring. When launched as CH's OTC consumer products, Nicoderm CQ and Nicorette became two and four times larger, respectively, than they were as Rx products. In fact, 2002 combined sales for the smoking cessation aids exceeded $500 million.

"When one product in a class goes OTC, there is discussion about the implications of the formulary status for the ones that remain Rx," says Sohn.

"It plays out a little differently in each therapeutic area." (See "New Rx-to-OTC Environment.")

The Kline Group, a consulting company, notes that several GSK Rx products are ripe for switch. But Laura Mahecha, healthcare industry manager for that company, speculates that it is the five prescription dermatology treatments that Sohn recently helped acquire from Elan-Aclovate (alclometasone), Cutivate (fluticasone), Temovate (clobetasol), Oxistat (oxiconazole), and Emgel (erythromycin)-that may switch next. "Usually, GSK would acquire the products and then the consumer group would get involved. That's not the case, so you may see some activity there."

The five products generated revenues of $62 million in 2001, according to Elan, but GSKCH would not speculate about the revenue those products might bring in as OTCs.


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