Emerging Pharma Leaders: Kaya Pai Panandiker

September 21, 2016
Jonathan Cotto

Vice President, Psychiatry Marketing, Lundbeck US

A Passion for Mental Health

Kaya Pai Panandiker, Vice President, Psychiatry Marketing, Lundbeck US

For Kaya Pai Panandiker, treating mental illness is not just a profession, it’s a mission. Her 16 years of experience have been devoted toward getting treatment to patients living with the effects of mental illness. The journey she took to reach the pharmaceutical landscape started after completing graduate school at the University of Chicago.

While Pai Panandiker quickly realized that life as a strategy consultant (her first job after  graduate school) was not for her, in that role, she received her initial exposure to the pharma industry and knew she had found a calling. “The science, the complexities of our markets, and the ultimate benefit we stand for-helping patients-all inspired me,” says Pai Panandiker, recalling her experience.  “I knew then that this was a passion I wanted to pursue.”

From there, Pai Panandiker landed at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, and an accomplished career commenced. 

Pai Panandiker is currently the vice president of US marketing for psychiatry portfolio at Lundbeck, a global player in the central nervous system (CNS) space. Based at the company’s North America headquarters in suburban Chicago, her position includes addressing mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia. “As a society, despite decades of significant progress, today there is still an unfortunate degree of stigma attached to mental health disorders, leaving millions of people suffering in silence.” While chance may have ushered in Pai Panandiker’s pharmaceutical career, it was her own familial experience that has kept her there.

“My aunt committed suicide when my mom was in her early twenties, before I was born, due to [an] untreated mental health [illness],” says Pai Panandiker, a Minnesota native. “Suicide obviously impacts the individual who takes their life, but it also impacts the people around them because you always wonder, ‘what could I have done more, what didn’t I see, what signs and symptoms didn’t I recognize.’ So that sort of overarching experience in my mom’s life also had some impact on my sister and me.”

The impact of that experience on her mother amplified Pai Panandiker’s awareness of mental illnesses and the importance of recognizing and treating them. “I think that’s very much carried into my professional life, it’s what has prompted me to be in the industry and be aligned strongly with a company like Lundbeck that is highly focused on CNS disorders.” 

Pai Panandiker leads marketing efforts for Lundbeck’s antidepressant Trintellix, which has treated over 400,000 patients to date; for Abilify Maintena, a monthly injectable formulation of the blockbuster Abilify for the treatment of schizophrenia; and for Rexulti, an oral medicine for depression and schizophrenia. Rexulti recently surpassed the milestone of treating 55,000 people. To raise awareness for those suffering from depression, Pai Panandiker directed the company’s first-ever direct-to-consumer TV campaign for Trintellix, a program developed using extensive patient research. Outside of the office, Pai Panandiker is an avid participant in events for local advocacy organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, Lundbeck just celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and has enjoyed vast growth since establishing a US presence in 2009. The organization’s largest shareholder, the Lundbeck Foundation, allows the drugmaker to concentrate its efforts on studying the brain while contributing resources annually to scientific research. Pai Panandiker says this larger commitment is a key reason she chose Lundbeck. 

Pai Panandiker points to technical expertise in business management as having contributed to her career success, noting leadership, accountability and authenticity as chief attributes to her career progression. But among her biggest professional goals is seeing those she works with excel. “My belief is that people are the most important asset of any organization. If people succeed, the organization succeeds, and in our case, that means not only do we achieve our business goals, but most importantly, patients in need receive help,” says Pai Panandiker.

While her passion for her work in mental health has not changed, Pai Panandiker believes that the CNS space is changing. “One of the things that we’re seeing in the industry is a lot of companies have exited therapeutic spaces that have risk associated with it,” she says. “That can cause a  drought for new medicines patients desperately need.”

As for the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, Pai Panandiker believes that change is coming as well in the form of a movement toward personalized medicine. “Everyone has always known that one person’s fingerprint is not the same as another, particularly within CNS,” she notes. “There’s a huge potential to increase the effectiveness of treatments.” 

Pai Panandiker doesn’t have a specific career destination for the future, but hopes to continue challenging herself while advancing the cause of people living with psychiatric and neurological disorders. “Gaining those different combinations of experiences makes me feel like I’m sewing the quintessential quilt that you put on your bed, that you’re able to patch different experiences together and get this great fabric of a career.” 

- Jonathan Cotto