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Key traits needed by leaders looking to grow their organizations in the biosimilars market.
The biosimilars market is a new sector emerging from the success of the biologics industry. As of July 2022, there were 36 biosimilars approved for use in the US1 and 73 approved for the European markets2. This number is rapidly expanding, and there are dozens of biosimilars progressing through regulatory pipelines.
The sector offers significant economic opportunities; the biosimilars market reached $13 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $60.8 billion by 2027 with a healthy 26.1% CAGR from 2022–20273. Innovation, competition, and manufacturing efficiencies for biosimilars will reduce the costs of biologics for payers. The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science estimates aggregate savings of $100 billion from 2020–2025 through the prescription of biosimilars4.
With an increasing number of originator molecules coming off patent, investment into the sector is showing no sign of slowing, and many companies are pivoting into this space.
For global pharmaceutical players facing increased shareholder pressure to expand into new markets, biosimilars offer the perfect opportunity to do this while utilizing current R&D skills, manufacturing capabilities, and commercial relationships. Other key players moving into the biosimilars space include contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) and contract research organizations (CROs) starting to develop their own products, as well as small molecule businesses pivoting toward larger molecules.
However, many leaders underestimate the cost, structure, and talent needed to successfully operate in the sector. Organizations entering this space need to be prepared to change their mindset and adopt a specialist approach, and there are some crucial leadership qualities needed to succeed in the biosimilars market.
Leading with agility, pace, and efficiency
Biosimilars operate in a tougher and more competitive commercial environment compared to large pharma. Because the fundamental therapeutic intervention for a biosimilar is highly similar to its originator in terms of structure, biological activity, efficacy, safety, and immunogenicity profile, companies are not leading innovation in the same way as finding scientific breakthroughs. Instead, the innovation is in the business model and finding new ways to get the drug to people. This requires a novel approach from leaders, demanding the ability to drive efficiency, get things at pace, and apply lean thinking in order to navigate a market with lower profit margins.
Leaders need to be agile and leverage internal resources in a different way to promote collaboration. For example, they need to be able to build up the necessary commercial infrastructure by bringing sales and marketing talent onboard and integrating them into the organization. They also need to work more deeply within the supply chain and manufacturing parts of the business.
Building strong relationships
Established organizations will already have strong relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs), specialists, prescribers, and payers. Utilizing these channels is critical to ensure market penetration, especially with speciality products.
Leaders will need good people skills to ensure that their teams can convince regulatory authorities to approve their biosimilars and sway patients to swap from the branded originator drug to a new biosimilar.
Prescribers often aren’t motivated by cost—only benefits—and if they trust their existing treatment, it can be difficult to persuade them to try something new. It’s unlikely that a prescriber or patient will be open to switching mid-treatment, so the opportunity for a biosimilar mainly rests in new patients being diagnosed or preparing to start treatment. Having strong regional and physician-level relationships will be critical to market acceptance.
Empathetic leaders are needed to become the company’s face to the patient market.
It is through these trusted relationships that biosimilars will become more accepted and start to gain—and maybe even control—market share.
As with any industry, diversity of thought is crucial to drive innovation. Leaders shouldn’t forget their other goals while still focusing on the specific needs of the biosimilars market—diversity, inclusion, fair remuneration, and working conditions are all important when attracting and retaining talent. One of the positive things about dynamic companies moving into a new space is that they are more likely to recognize the requirement for different thinking.
Since the pandemic, businesses have been forced to draw talent from a more creative perspective. They have had to open their minds to parallel skills or wider geographical areas in order to fill gaps.
Now that travel is opening up again, we’re seeing a lot of movement of talent between different countries. There is a growing number of biosimilars companies in India, which are providing both a source of talent and employment opportunities. We are seeing lots of people coming from Indian companies to Europe, as well as Indian companies starting to hire people from the US.
Successful biosimilars leaders will need enormous sensitivity to both corporate culture and geographic culture. They also need excellent emotional intelligence to be able to understand the wide range of different motivations and barriers faced by individuals on their teams.
Attracting talent from originator companies
To develop, launch, and commercialize biosimilars, organizations need experts across all channels, from R&D innovators to regulatory experts, sales teams, and KOLs. Companies moving into the biosimilars space are unlikely to have all talent in-house, but thanks to originator companies, this talent pool does exist. Biosimilars developers need to find ways to attract and retain this talent.
Biosimilars companies can offer excellent opportunities for progression and have several advantages compared to large pharma. However, when recruiting, it is important to do one’s homework and target the right people, as the biosimilars market will not suit everyone.
Working in biosimilars is less about scientific novelty and more about expanding access for new patients. The market offers the opportunity for people to apply their skills to a much larger patient set. While employees won’t be working on new, groundbreaking drugs, they will be able to hone their skills to improve existing treatments. They will have the chance to do what they do better and with more impact. There also may be opportunities to learn inside different organizations and to work in different countries.
While biosimilars companies may not be able to offer the security and safety of working for large pharma, there may be better opportunities for talented leaders to make their mark. The opportunity to transform the share price of a biosimilars organization is huge. As such, the biosimilars market is likely to suit people whose motivation is less about security and novelty, and more focused on the opportunity to drive change and improve processes.
Retaining top talent
Recruiting talent is just one step in developing a robust, competitive biosimilars offering. To continue to be successful in this industry, this talent must be nurtured. In this risky industry, the “fail fast, recover fast” model works well. Leaders and wider teams need to know that they can take calculated risks without the blame that might follow a failure. This attitude requires highly creative, educated, experienced, and driven people at the top tiers of leadership. Not all biosimilars will make it to launch, but a strong and diverse pipeline with a nurturing, innovation-focused culture will lead to growth.
Crucially, biosimilars are increasing access to life-changing medicines for patients who wouldn’t otherwise be able to benefit from them. This core sense of purpose is a common thread that unites many talented individuals working in the biosimilars space. Organizations that imbibe this principle and center their culture around doing good through innovation will surely nurture and retain talent.
Creating the leaders of tomorrow
As the biosimilars industry continues its rapid evolution, and as more diverse and complex originator products are released and fall into the biosimilars pipeline, getting the right talent in the right place at the right time is critical. To compete in this exciting, evolving, and shifting market, pharmaceutical organizations will need a core team of highly experienced and educated talent to ensure market growth and a focus on recruiting and nurturing talent to create the leaders of tomorrow.