Kurt Graves, Vertex

June 1, 2008

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

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Kurt Graves

EVP, CCO, Head, Strategic Development, Vertex

MENTOR: David Brennan, former boss at Astra Merck, told him: "Find what's interesting and challenging and make a difference in the company."

LAUNCH STREAK: A record nine drugs in 18 months at Novartis

The rollout of Astra Merck came a full year earlier than planned. "We asked, 'How will we do this?'" remembers Kurt Graves. "Because it literally was a white sheet of paper." The only instructions from Merck CEO Roy Vagelos? "Go build America's 21st century pharma company."

Kurt Graves

Since those days, Graves hasn't stopped building—although the definition of a US pharma has evolved. At Astra Merck, he used blockbuster marketing to grow the flagship drug Prilosec, moving the company's sales from $150 million to $4 billion. As marketing chief of Novartis, he focused more on strategy. "Novartis was growing 4 percent—and 3.9 percent of it was price," says Graves. "Within a year, we completely changed the portfolio strategy, and repositioned and launched a lot of brands." From 2000–2004, Novartis was one of the fastest growing pharmas, with a 20 percent compound annual growth rate.

When Graves joined Vertex in July 2007, the model had yet again changed—and he was handed another blank slate on which to build a new model for a promising hep C drug. Graves seems up for the challenge: "To me, it's important to be part of a company that redefines what the industry will look like. We don't have a commercial model we have to fundamentally change. The beauty is that we get to build from scratch."