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Applying a love for numbers in tackling drug-access delays around the world.
Back as a teenager in Poland, Lukasz Jarzyna wanted to be a doctor and work on a cure for HIV. His parents were involved with an AIDS foundation and Jarzyna encountered a lot of people with HIV who, at that time, didn’t have many treatment options. But Jarzyna also had a passion for numbers and this instead led him to study economics. On graduating university, he started working in Vienna, Austria, as a tax and accounting consultant. The company he worked for, however, had biopharma clients and Jarzyna began working closely with some of them, such as Amgen. Before long, he had the opportunity to join Amgen in Vienna in the company’s business planning and analysis department.
From this point, Jarzyna “felt connected again” to what he wanted to do growing up, even though he was now on the commercial side of the industry. He moved with Amgen to Zug, Switzerland, in 2013, and in 2015 joined the Zug office of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, working in strategic planning. Four years later, he came to Alexion’s Boston, Mass., headquarters as the company’s head of global value, access, and pricing, the position he occupies today.
Access and the speed of access to medicines is an area of strong personal interest for Jarzyna. “Last year, EFPIA (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations) published a report saying it takes 500 days on average for patients to get access to medicines in Europe after regulatory approval,” he says. “I’m a European; I grew up in Poland. And Poland is way below this average.”
While Jarzyna appreciates that all the processes and reviews that follow regulatory approval are important to bring medicines safely to patients, he feels a responsibility to tackle these delays. He asks himself, “What can I do? What can my team do? What can Alexion do as a leader in the biotech industry, and specifically in rare diseases, to work with stakeholders, to engage them early, so that we can reduce that 500 days—maybe not to zero but to a much smaller number? In rare diseases, patients don’t always have that kind of time.”
Jarzyna is already doing a great deal, however, to address access for patients around the world. He might have harbored early dreams to be a doctor, but applying his passion for numbers to pricing and access has been a calling. In just a few years at Alexion, he redefined the company’s pricing ethos and framework for rare diseases, leading to the development of a globally sustainable pricing strategy for Ultomiris (ravulizumab) for the treatment of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) in adults. Thanks to Jarzyna’s work on this, Alexion has been able to launch ravulizumab in multiple geographies. He has also helped to design innovative access agreements across various countries and he works with global teams to expand access to rare disease treatments in a sustainable way.
Drug pricing, of course, remains a topic high on the political agenda. But Jarzyna says, “It brings up good questions. Why do we arrive at a certain price? How do we calculate value? As long as we all have the same goal at the end of the day, which is to provide access to patients and to provide that access early, then I welcome the dialogue.”
Jarzyna is very much a “citizen of the world,” working in a global capacity in the US and with a background in Europe. He already has the international outlook of a well-traveled pharma leader. He has no fixed idea, however, on where the role will take him next geographically. He says, “The question for me really is, What more can I do to change the trajectory of providing access and substantiate the value of medicines? What can I do as a leader? Whether it’s here in the US, or it’s in Germany, Poland, Japan, or anywhere else in the world, that’s the mission I’m focused on.”
Whatever lies ahead for Jarzyna, he says he is very fortunate that his family always backs his career choices. And they are as passionate as he is in the desire to make the world a healthier place. “My wife is always teaching me and the kids on aspects of well-being, about the importance of nutrition, sports, and activities, and also about taking care of our environment. We really try as a family to do things like reduce our carbon footprint.”
Even in the short periods he is away from both work and family, Jarzyna has social responsibility in mind. “I’m preparing for my next marathon; hopefully that will be in New York later this year. I love marathons. Not just because I love running, but also because marathons provide an opportunity to raise money.” He adds, “I can’t wait for the COVID pandemic to be over so that I can start running for good causes again.”
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Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.