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Alnylam (Cambridge, MA) is a leading RNAi therapeutics company whose pioneering work delivered the world’s first and only approved RNAi therapeutics — ONPATTRO® (patisiran) in 2018, GIVLAARI® (givosiran) in 2019, and OXLUMO® (lumasiran) in 2020. It is advancing a deep pipeline of innovative RNAi-based medicines in four therapeutic areas: genetic medicines, cardio-metabolic diseases, infectious diseases, and central nervous system (CNS) and ocular diseases.
Tolga Tanguler recently joined Alnylam as Chief Commercial Officer to lead the company’s global marketing, sales, market access, new product commercialization and commercial strategy. Tanguler’s history of successfully commercializing rare, specialty and common disease products will be instrumental as Alnylam works towards its recently announced P5x25 strategy of becoming a top 5 biotech company by market capitalization over the next five years. His appointment comes at a pivotal time for Alnylam, as it expands its proven RNAi platform from rare to specialty market diseases.
Tanguler joins Alnylam from Alexion, where he was Senior Vice President, Head of US, and where he launched three new products while building key functions and capabilities and driving over $3 billion in revenue with double digit growth in eight consecutive quarters. Prior to Alexion, he spent the majority of his career in progressively responsible roles at Pfizer.
Pharm Exec caught up with Tanguler to talk about his new role and what he envisions for Alnylam in the coming years.
Pharm Exec: From your early background in economics and marketing, what drew you to the pharma industry?
Tolga Tanguler: Out of business school, I was fortunate enough to evaluate several diverse job offers. The opportunity I had with Merck & Co. was the most compelling for a couple of reasons: it focused on innovation and science-based solutions and was leader in a growth industry.
When I joined Merck, the leadership development program included a year in the field, another year at the HQ and then an opportunity to go overseas in an international post. My father used to say to me, “If you’re going to do something, learn from people on the ground.” This was very exciting for me, and the more I navigated the different facets of the industry, the more I appreciated the ethical and benevolent side of it.
As my career advanced in the pharma industry, I had a full-circle moment. My son was diagnosed with leukemia, a childhood cancer. I realized, at a very personal level for the first time, that my son was alive because of science and the very industry I had joined.
Having joined Alnylam recently, what are your priorities at the company?
Alnylam is a remarkable organization. We hold ourselves accountable to bold goals. My job is to help Alnylam accomplish those goals over the next five years and beyond, as we continue to build our global commercial capabilities and enter new and more prevalent therapeutic areas.
Developing and realizing the promise of RNA interference (RNAi) is our heritage and our future. Alnylam was founded to translate Nobel Prize-winning science into an entirely new class of medicines based on RNAi. Following nearly two decades of R&D efforts, our company has delivered both scientific and commercial innovations in the industry. We have discovered four transformative approved RNAi therapeutics, three of which are wholly owned, that we have commercialized in just over two years.
The vision is for Alnylam to discover and deliver new products to patients on a sustainable basis. Our goal is to have six or more products on the market by 2025. Yet Alnylam measures success by more than approved therapeutics. For patients and society to benefit, RNAi therapeutics must reach people who need them. This commitment was made before Alnylam was a commercial organization, through its Patient Access Philosophy. This philosophy has guided the development of new programs that improve diagnosis for people with rare diseases. It has also enabled us to deliver fair value to patients, payers and providers through enhanced value-based agreements.
My priority is to build on the incredible progress of the last two decades, re-orient the organization, simplify processes as we scale globally, and preserve the culture and core values that have made Alnylam unique and successful as we continue to exceed expectations with our performance to help transform patients’ lives.
So far, how does your experience at Alnylam differ from your time at big pharma companies such as Pfizer and Merck?
Alnylam is at a key inflection point, transitioning to a larger, commercial biopharmaceutical company with multiple medicines on the market. I was attracted to joining a growing company and building something based on a firm “challenge accepted” belief — it’s what makes the company special.
At large pharmaceutical companies you are afforded opportunities based on sheer size and scale, but processes are complex, and there is high risk of misalignment. At Alnylam, I’m empowered to help the company grow as simply as possible as long as it aligns with our core values. This includes a commitment to people. You don’t always feel a connection between values and everyday practice.
Alnylam’s culture and structure also empower all levels in the organization to interact and inspire each other. At Alnylam, you’re not just a small gear; you have the opportunity to impact the organization in a meaningful way. Senior leadership is actively engaged in all key facets of our organization and plans to stay that way. That level of connectivity is challenging as companies grow, but it’s important to preserve.
Broadly, what are the unique challenges of commercializing rare and specialty and disease products and how will your experience in these areas apply to Alnylam?
In many cases, patients spend upwards of seven years before they even get diagnosed. Often, there is no existing standard of care when a patient receives a rare disease diagnosis. Commercializing new options for rare disease patients cannot happen as quickly without systems to scale that support education, diagnosis and then awareness of clinical trials and commercial drug availability.
New digital technologies, such as machine learning, can help us to partner with healthcare systems and delivery networks to help get patients identified. This is something that large pharmaceutical companies do well. Luckily at Alnylam, with a commitment to patients as a core value, we have exceeded expectations. To help those teams as we grow rapidly, we can deploy newer technologies to accelerate patient diagnosis, so that people get the treatments they need.
How would you like to see Alnylam develop in the next five years, and what do you want to bring to that company development?
In early 2021, Alnylam announced its P5 X25 strategy.1 The growth we’ve committed to across patients, products, pipeline, performance and profitability leads to one question: how do we quickly provide medicines for patients that can potentially transform their lives? The challenge ahead of us is to serve half a million patients with RNAi therapeutics in less than five years.
Alnylam has a deep clinical pipeline for future growth and an organic product engine built on a proven technology: RNAi interference.
Importantly, my hope is that I can help deepen our commercial capabilities in our key markets and serve patients in more parts of the world with an ever-growing portfolio from rare conditions to more prevalent ones in the future. In order to achieve this, we need to advance our patient finding and support capabilities through technology to ensure that we are scaling and engaging healthcare providers and payers in the right way to truly understand their patients’ needs. Only then can we repeat the successes we have had with access in even more regions worldwide. Through our partnerships or standing alone, I want us to continue to help transform the lives of half a million patients by 2025.
How did you find the experience of being recruited and joining a new company during the pandemic?
If someone had told me that I would be recruited and ultimately join a company without stepping inside the office, I wouldn’t have believed it. And I don’t think that John Maraganore, Alnylam’s Chief Executive Officer, would have imagined hiring a chief commercial officer over Zoom either.
In the end, I think that it comes down to doing your homework and understanding the company. I had always appreciated Alnylam’s reputation and its promise, both to patients and the industry at large. I spoke with many people during my decision-making process and was able to clearly understand where the company is today, and where it’s going. Legacy of strong science, vision to transform patients’ lives and accountability to results along the way are evidenced by Alnylam’s incredibly strong culture and values.
I don’t believe that I could have joined a company that wasn’t as well known for being innovative as Alnylam is, and, ultimately, it came down to chemistry. John and I finally met face-to-face on a cold day outside of a Starbucks. Not only did we discuss Alnylam’s legacy and future, but we also connected on a human level. In a strange way, once you are able to strip away a lot of typical stimuli and understand a company through reading and speaking to people whom you trust and admire, it is actually a very easy process.
Six months later, I have been able to see first-hand what I had heard during the recruiting process. Alnylam is supported and led by great people, ideas and science. My vision for the future at Alnylam is to build on what’s working great, and to “simplify, focus and grow.”