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Joanna Breitstein is a contributor to Pharmaceutical Executive.
In hindsight, it seems Catherine Angell Sohn, PharmD, was destined to become vice-president, worldwide business development for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSKCH). Sohn, a former pharmacist, architect of three Rx blockbuster launches, and engineer of innumerable partnerships and licensing agreements, is a pivotal link between GSK's pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare.
n hindsight, it seems Catherine Angell Sohn, PharmD, was destined to become vice-president, worldwide business development for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSKCH). Sohn, a former pharmacist, architect of three Rx blockbuster launches, and engineer of innumerable partnerships and licensing agreements, is a pivotal link between GSK's pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare.
HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year Catherine Sohn helps bridge the gap between GlaxoSmithKline's consumer healthcare and pharmaceuticals businesses.
Given the environment that embraces Rx-to-OTC switches and indulges the "consumerism" of pharmaceuticals that DTC advertising generates, Sohn and her executive team have prepared CH to support the pharma side in its consumer outreach efforts-and enhance its position as a profit driver within GSK.
When Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham merged to form the world's largest pharma company, Sohn helped propel GSKCH's own growth by leading and executing the $1 billion purchase of Block Drug, CH's most significant acquisition to date. Now a $5 billion business, CH represents 16 percent of GSK's overall sales and is one of the industry's most profitable consumer healthcare divisions.
At a Glance
For those achievements, the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) named Sohn its 2003 Woman of the Year. But working tirelessly to advance the health of patients, of her company, and of the industry at large, Sohn contends that the best is yet to come.
Sohn's varied career made her a perfect fit for the role of business development. (See "Career Profile," page 32.) "Business development relies on having worked in a lot of different line functions and both pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare," she says. "The challenge is to identify opportunities that you can see but may not be clear to everyone yet, then show how the new opportunity fits in the business and advocate for that."
Sohn's vision is grounded in her dedication to patients and serves as the impetus that makes her products succeed as well as advance her career. As senior manager of business and new product development, she argued that changing immigration patterns brought hepatitis B from the developing world to the United States and that a vaccine should be marketed there to protect physicians and nurses. Along with GSK's vaccine teams, she shepherded Energix-B through FDA review and then won the crucial approval of the Centers for Disease Control committee that recommends immunizations.
"She mentioned to me that she felt health workers, particularly those in hospitals and clinical laboratories, could benefit from Engerix-B if it were available," writes James Cavanaugh, PhD, former president of SmithKline & French US and current president of HealthCare Ventures, in his HBA Woman of the Year nomination letter. "I was impressed with the data she pulled together, which clearly demonstrated the positive impact an available vaccine would have on public health. After additional review with our medical and marketing teams, largely based on Dr. Sohn's data, the product was developed and launched in the United States."
Brands Your Mother Knew Best
After Engerix-B's success, the company launched Twinrix (a combination hepatitis A and B vaccine), which, along with other products in the hepa-titis franchise, brought in more than $400 million in 2002.
Sohn's commitment to patients also helped Paxil (paroxetine) reach blockbuster status and become the company's leading product, with $2.1 billion in 2002 sales.
"I can still recall her 1994 presentation to the SmithKline Beecham product review board on how to expand Paxil usage," recounts Diana Makie, vice-president of the switch group, CH strategic development. "Her strategy showed Paxil's effectiveness in a series of new, previously undefined indications, such as general anxiety disorder and obsessive/compulsive disorder. She dared to challenge the product strategy through segmenting consumer behaviors into many often unrecognized problems that Paxil could help. That innovative fragmentation strategy drove Paxil to its position as one of the top ten drugs in the world."
GSK CEO Jean-Paul Garnier credits Sohn's "marketing leadership, her education as a PharmD, and her experience in professional drug information as key to ensuring strong positioning and acceptance in a market already dominated by two strong competitors."
Many markets, no patent expirations
Sohn was also responsible for leading the strategic product development, commercial assessment, and worldwide marketing plans for Type 2 diabetes treatment Avandia (rosiglitazone), which generated more than $1 billion in 2002.
When asked about her success, Sohn quickly points out, "Those are important accomplishments, not because of the size of the products for the company, but because they improve patients' lives."
Even with antibiotic Augmentin's (amoxicillin/clavulanate) patent already expired and Paxil's patent under challenge, investment banks report that GSK remains a buy.
Catherine Sohn calls a "team huddle" with (from l to r) Greg Westerbeck, Govind Agrawal, and Kevin Foley, all directors of worldwide business development.
That's because, according to a Lehman Brothers report, "GSK, by virtue of its sheer size, is becoming more like an industrial conglomerate that just happens to operate in the pharma industry. Its product portfolio neutralizes it from a significant hit from any one product, but by the same token, new products also have little influence on growth."
CH is part of that stabilizing portfolio, with well known consumer brands such as Aquafresh, Sensodyne, Nicoderm CQ, Nicorette (nicotine), and Tums (calcium). "Although it can throw off double-digit profit growth, consumer is a single-digit growth industry," says CH president Jack Ziegler. "But it is very different from pharmaceuticals, which has its own set of opportunities and issues, such as the enormous impact of launches and patent expirations. Some of our businesses are more than 100 years old; there aren't any pharmaceuticals like that." (See "Brands Your Mother Knew Best," page 32.)
The Consumer Healthcare Executive Management team rendezvous in the UK. Standing (from l to r): Jack Ziegler, John Clarke, Manfred Scheske, Ray DeRise, Keith Bradford, Bill Slivka, George Quesnelle, Rob Harvey, Ken James.Sitting (l to r): Ian McPherson, Ellie Barger, Catherine Sohn, and Tom Borger.
Sohn puts it another way: "We're like the bond part of your portfolio-steady Eddie, over the long term, and not as susceptible to patent expiration."
Sohn's cool description belies the frenetic pace she must maintain to build GSKCH's pipeline, and consequently, its future. "Now that we're a $5 billion company," she admits, "one small, new-technology licensing agreement at a time will not generate the kind of growth that we're looking for. We need additional partnerships, global acquisitions, or external Rx-to-OTC switch assets."
For that reason, business development is more important than ever.
"Although our internal research and development resources are important, we are more likely to harness external creativity than to spend billions of dollars developing it on our own," says Ziegler. "From that point of view, business development is a key engine to grow the business, and that's why Cathy and her team are so essential."
To HBA, With Love
HBA's 1999 Woman of the Year, Tamar Howson, then senior vice-president and director of business development for SmithKline Beecham and now senior vice-president of corporate and business development at Bristol Myers-Squibb, says Sohn has the skills necessary to excel in business development. "Cathy possesses the ability to manage complex projects, has knowledge and understanding of almost every function within the company, and she has the interpersonal skills to bring together diverse groups and align them under the same goal. She possesses all those skills to a significant degree, probably because she came to business development from a marketing background at SmithKline Beecham, where she developed good internal relationships with different functions. She moved from pharma to consumer, and that seems to have been a very successful switch."
But Sohn believes that the secret to her success lies in the relationships she develops: "I help the company, university, or researcher feel comfortable giving their 'baby' to us. GlaxoSmith-Kline Consumer Healthcare is a midsize company and the most important message to convey is that we are big enough to have the research and development, regulatory, sales and marketing infrastructure, yet small enough to treasure each asset that is made part of the business."
To promote its prescription asthma therapy to consumers, the Advair product team uses Consumer Health Care's best marketing practices.
Strategic partnerships are increasingly a means for two companies to complement each other's strengths. Sohn's enthusiasm for working with external partners is evident in the way she continues to build on and champion the relationships even after signing the deal. "Our goal is to bring important new medicines to people while driving our business growth. Working in a cooperative way with external companies benefits everyone."
Sohn says GSKCH's relationship with Block Drug was instrumental to the acquisition. Since it was Block's product distributor in France for ten years, Sohn understood the connections between the companies' products and corporate philosophies. She was able to gain the executive management team's consensus and submit a bid for the company in October 2000, shortly after it became available. Even more important, those relationships established trust that allowed the acquisition to move forward, despite the fact that the Glaxo Wellcome/SmithKline Beecham merger was still in progress. That $1.24 billion purchase grew the business by more than 20 percent, catapulting it to its place among the top three consumer healthcare companies in the world and to number two in oral healthcare.
New Rx-to-OTC Environment
Ziegler appointed Sohn integration co-leader-an unusual responsibility for a negotiator-because she had already gained the trust of Block Drug's owners and senior managers.
"Cathy led her team in developing the proposition, helping me sell it to Jean-Paul Garnier and helping us sell it to the board," says Ziegler. "Once the deal was signed, she headed the team that made the objectives we promised to the board happen in terms of timing, sales, and profits."
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.
"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."
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.
Before acquiring the dermatology products, Sohn conferred with its "internal consultants," GSK's pharma-side R&D and marketing experts in that therapeutic category. In return, CH share best practices in DTC marketing and advertising. There is no shortage of need, with IMS Health pegging GSK as the top DTC spender in the 12 months ending September 2002.
"The core heritage of consumer healthcare is 50 years of experience and excellence in advertising the benefits of the product directly to consumers," says Sohn CH works closely with pharmaceuticals to share its knowledge and capabilities, especially since DTC became an available vehicle."
The Advair (fluticasone and salmeterol) product team, for example, uses branding, packaging, and events to create a "consumerized" Rx therapy. That formula must be successful because, after less than two years, the product is the US market leader, generating $1.32 billion in sales in 2002. Its bright purple packaging is a plastic device with the brand name Diskus that increases convenience by eliminating complicated dosing. After patients activate the device, they inhale two medications simultaneously through the mouthpiece. The company also recently launched an asthma screening initiative, "Racing Against Asthma," to raise awareness of the disease and the product. The company sends a 75-foot double-expandable truck to 25 NASCAR races around the United States to educate motor sports fans about the disease and to test them for it.
CH's consumer targeted communication hinges on the philosophy of science-driven healthcare. Current ads tout Nicoderm CQ as clinically proven to relieve smokers' morning cravings, Commit Lozenges as increasing consumers' chances of quitting smoking, Aquafresh toothpaste as able to fight cavities, whiten teeth, and freshen breath, and Tums to help prevent osteoporosis.
"Each year, we conduct studies to support new claims for next year's communication," says Sohn. "Consumers always want to know what's new, or if someone else is coming out with a product, they want to know, 'How does yours compare?' We have the obligation to demonstrate the value of our products-overall and from a health point of view."
Sohn has delivered on that obligation in one way or another since joining GSK 20 years ago. An Rx-to-OTC switch herself, Sohn was either ahead of her time or just dedicated to making healthcare more accessible to consumers. Regardless, companies have followed suit. But given the ease with which Sohn leverages her two experiences, she may prove to the industry and its observers that pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare aren't so separate after all.