Esprit De Corps — Francoise Berlioz-Seux
As a child in France, Francoise Berlioz-Seux—now vice
president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ global drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK)
group—was fascinated to discover the chemical structures of molecules represented by lines and
shapes on a prescription’s package insert. These symbolic drawings were “mesmerizing;”
mysterious hieroglyphs to decode and decipher.
Francoise Berlioz-Seux, Vice President Drug Metabolism and
Pharmacokinetics, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Berlioz-Seux went to pharmacy school with no desire to become
a pharmacist, but she knew she wanted to work with drugs and patients. In France, pharmacy
school requires one year of training in a hospital, and allows students to spend half of that
year working in a hospital beyond French borders. Berlioz-Seux chose to go to Burkina Faso, a
West African country (formerly known by its French colonial name, Upper Volta), which was a
humbling and life-altering experience. “It made me realize that you can have a lot of
preconceived ideas about the world, and the world is different out there," says Berlioz-Seux.
"You have to learn from others, and realize that sometimes you’re wrong."
Despite a devastating HIV epidemic, pharma was wholly absent
from Burkina Faso. Berlioz-Seux often found herself sorting through old or expired
pharmaceuticals sent from other countries, for treatments to give patients. She was 22 years
old. "You want to change the world, you want to make an impact. For me, the only way to do this
is to be part of the team that can make a drug." Upon returning from Africa and completing a
residency in Paris, Berlioz-Seux remained in school for an additional year, earning a PhD in
pharmacokinetics. Then she interviewed with Warner-Lambert, just as Pfizer was taking over. In
2001, Berlioz-Seux joined Pfizer and waded into drug discovery for the fi rst time.
But the job at Pfi zer was schizophrenic. Berlioz-Seux's
assignment changed three times in four years, and Pfizer closed research facilities in Ann Arbor
and elsewhere. The company's goals weren't clear, and Berlioz-Seux was fed up. "There was no
more focus on science at Pfizer…it was as if they didn’t even care about making drugs." When a
recruiter for Vertex called, in 2007, she took the leap.
Berlioz-Seux joined Vertex as a director, and in four years
was promoted to vice president of the newly established DMPK group, whose reach extends from
early discovery to post-marketing studies. She oversees a team of 86 spanning three countries,
and repeatedly emphasizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration as critical components of
success. Berlioz-Seux is a deft conversationalist, and she’s accessible in the office. (She
answered the phone herself on a cold call about this profi le, an atypical phenomenon in
The key to enabling collaboration and constructive teamwork,
says Berlioz-Seux, is to fi rst, "make sure that it's not about you…I don't have a large ego,
and my goals are about patients and drugs." Second, "you need to be open and to listen to the
team that you put together." It's equally important to "make sure that you have high quality
standards and high scientific standards, because you can't compromise on the quality of the work
you’re doing." It's also important to bring the right people into the room, and when possible,
to know them. "I like to know people…that's why when I go to other sites, I'm very open about
who I am, what I care about, and my values."
Berlioz-Seux keeps open offi ce hours, like a college
professor, so that colleagues will know they can visit or call her in the office at specific
times. "I have open offi ce hours for each site, the UK, San Diego, and Laval
[Quebec]." Belioz- Seux says that once people feel comfortable communicating with one
another, it energizes everyone. "If people know they can reach out to you and that you're
willing to explain something to them again and again, it strengthens our collaboration,"
she says. This is particularly important in drug development, because "breaking silos [in
development] is critical for the pharma industry."
Establishing a goal—the development of new drugs for
patients—and executing on it successfully requires a good strategy, and help from everyone.
Berlioz-Seux has always wanted to make drugs, and that means "working with research,
working with clinical pharmacology, and being aware of what's going on in safety and in
regulatory, because those are all moving parts," she says. "Having good connections across
different departments is critical."