Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Pharm Exec's 2013 Emerging Pharma Leaders

Pharmaceutical Executive


The Science in Marketing


Josh Schafer, Vice President, Global Oncology Strategy, Astellas Pharma, Inc.
At the risk of sounding like an advertorial for Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Josh Schafer is another of our Emerging Pharma Leaders to have turned to that venerable institution after an early career hiatus—only to emerge with more confidence in applying his science background to business use.

Schafer began his career (first at Accenture, then at Searle, before it was bought by Pfizer) in roles ranging from clinical development, to commercialization, to business development and licensing, winding up at bioinformatics start-up Cognia where, he says, "the highs were really high and the lows were really low." When the bottom fell out of that market, he moved back to Chicago and headed for the MBA at Kellogg. He'd already decided what interested him most was "translating scientific concepts into value for patients and shareholders." The consulting gave him some perspective on that process; the MBA strengthened it.

On completing the MBA, Schafer was hired by Takeda to help build the company's North American organization. The main focus of that was to push Takeda's type 2 diabetes drug Actos, but Schafer was asked to think beyond Actos. This he did, bringing in several products and launching them into new therapeutic areas for Takeda, including gastroenterology, renal care, and oncology; for the latter, he was central to Takeda's assessment and acquisition of oncology biotech Millennium Pharmaceuticals in 2008.

The focus on oncology proved fruitful; during his eight and a half years at the company, Schafer worked hard to establish Takeda as a "player" in the field. Such was his success, another Japanese company with its sights on oncology came calling, and Schafer decamped to Astellas four years ago. Since then, he has been doing for Astellas's oncology efforts—through late-stage in-licensing, advancement of the pipeline and acquisition (in this case OSI Pharmaceuticals)—what he did for Takeda.

Schafer remains passionate about oncology. "It's the intersection of science, business, public policy, and patient care," he says. He's also developed an expertise in marketing, an area where he originally thought his skills were "pretty rudimentary." As he became more immersed in the discipline, however, he realized that "there really is a science to marketing. Many of the analytical skills that scientists are trained in are applicable to it."

Indeed, Schafer believes that today it is more important than ever that a marketer is "conversant in the science (and vice versa)," especially as marketing is now involved in the discourse with the scientists at a much earlier stage. One of Schafer's great strengths, explains his former Takeda colleague and mentor Rich Daly, is bringing together these disciplines "to gain great depth in the science of an issue and to tackle the subsequent challenges."

Schafer has risen to the challenge Astellas set him. When he joined, the company declared its ambitions to become a global category leader (GCL) in oncology. It is now well on the way to achieving this. But Schafer says modestly that he will see himself as a success only if Astellas is considered "objectively as a GCL in oncology by providing life-changing medicines to patients living with cancer care."

That's a confident prediction, however. One skill that working for Takeda and Astellas has honed in Schafer is the ability to look ahead. He says Japanese companies differ from their Western counterparts by, among other things, "their time and planning horizons," which are much longer than you'd find in American or European companies. "Their planning process is much more rigorous and structured, much more stringent," he adds. "The things we say today need to hold true in five, 10 years."

We can take Josh Schafer on his word, then, that his vision for his (and Astellas's) future is likely to become a reality.

—Julian Upton


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