Pharm Exec's Emerging Pharma Leaders 2020

June 8, 2020

Pharm Exec presents the diverse stories of 11 rising biopharma managers.

Pharm Exec’s special recognition of rising leaders in the life sciences industry makes its return this year, spotlighting the diverse journeys of 11 biopharma mangers who are poised to help navigate the industry’s march into a challenging future. Each, through their unique talents, styles, and perspectives, is changing the ways leaders direct critical strategic functions such as R&D, market access, business development, commercialization, data operations, legal, and others.

View our 2020 selections below and click on the pages ahead to read their profiles.

A Brand Exceller 

Lauren D’Angelo, Vice President of Marketing, Urovant Sciences

In 2002, at a young age and early in her career, Lauren D’Angelo was just starting out as a sales representative for AstraZeneca when she quickly found a niche in analyzing numbers. “I wish I could say that I had a deliberate plan in joining the industry, but I really didn’t know where it could lead,” says D’Angelo. “I was told by many people that because of my outgoing personality, I should try pharmaceutical sales. Little did I know at the time, I was embarking on this amazing journey in an incredible industry that has challenged me and allowed me to grow in multiple ways.” 

D’Angelo has always been analytical, graduating from Florida State University with degrees in computer science and finance. Her background in sales at AZ, coupled with the available data and tools, allowed her to identify key opportunities for the company and deliver strong sales results. This prompted her to quickly move into the role of business analyst where she helped sales directors identify regional and local opportunities utilizing data, and supported several AZ product launches. Success in that role led to D’Angelo becoming the youngest and one of only two female district sales managers in the company at the time-at just 25 years old.

As a district sales manager, she oversaw 12 sales reps and fell in love with leadership. “I’m passionate about developing and helping others achieve their goals, and I genuinely care about the people I lead and my colleagues that I work with,” says D’Angelo. “Being able to contribute in some way to their success makes the time and effort worthwhile.”

It wasn’t until a few years later when D’Angelo was asked to move to AZ’s headquarters to join the Crestor brand team that she would discover her passion for marketing. “I love building strategy, developing a deep understanding of what our customers really need, and, most importantly, figuring out how to connect with them to create a unique customer experience,” says D’Angelo, who has helped launch 10 products in her career, six of which have become blockbuster brands. 

After a decade with AZ, Genentech called, and she found herself moving to California to lead the launch of a hopeful blockbuster. “After almost three years building the brand and preparing for launch, the drug failed in Phase III trials,” says D’Angelo. “It was at that time I decided that I wanted to do something different. After spending almost 13 years working in big pharma, I really wanted to try something smaller.” 

She ended up joining San Francisco-based startup Medivation as its marketing director, oncology and urology, helping launch Xtandi for prostate cancer. D’Angelo discovered that she thrived in a small company environment (Medivation would later be acquired by Pfizer). “I really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit, the larger scope of roles, and the fewer layers of key decision-making.”

In the fall of 2015, D’Angelo moved to Orange County to join Avanir Pharmaceuticals as its marketing head. She rebuilt the team, hiring eight new people in one year. “I have a real passion for identifying, hiring, and

developing talent.”

Today, as VP of marketing at Urovant Sciences-hired by the former CEO of Avanir as employee number three-D’Angelo says she has enjoyed a true startup experience, watching the company grow to 70 people. “We started with nothing. We had no data, no people, and no knowledge of the market,” she says. “I’ve spent the last two and a half years building out the commercial team, the infrastructure, and collecting key insights to successfully launch our flagship product.” 

D’Angelo considers herself fortunate for the many career opportunities she’s had-experiences that have challenged her and helped her grow as a leader. “No question my goal is to lead a commercial organization one day. But I want it to be with the right company, with the right people, and for the right product,” says D’Angelo. “What matters to me right now is the who and the what, not necessarily the title. It’s about focusing on the now and being really selective about what’s next.” 

The married mother of a two-year-old boy, with a baby girl on the way, D’Angelo credits her work ethic to her father, who was an entrepreneur. “My dad always loved his job; he worked all hours of the day. I think that’s why I’ve been successful,” she says. “When you genuinely love what you do, and you’re passionate about it, how can you not be?” 

- Miranda Schmalfuhs

 

 

Driven By Purpose

Manuel P. Duenas, VP, Global Market Access and Pricing, Atara Biotherapeutics

 

 

Manny Duenas is a dreamer at his core-nicknamed The Reverend by colleagues for his fiery defense of the mission and motivation of the life sciences industry. In conversation, the executive’s orientation often leans toward the philosophical, including thoughtful takes on the human condition, particularly the influence, he believes, every experience-big or small, success or failure-can play in creating and shaping a high-impact career.

“We all have something unique in our backgrounds that will enable us to deliver something unique to the world,” says Duenas, currently vice president, global market access and pricing at Atara Biotherapeutics, a San

Francisco-based biotechnology company focused on leveraging its novel allogeneic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) T-cell platform to develop treatments for patients with serious illnesses, including solid tumors, hematologic cancers, and autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis. 

Not yet 40, Duenas’s career has progressed rapidly, spanning across industry, management consulting, and venture capital. He’s helped spearhead the launch of breakthrough therapies in oncology and HIV, built global access and pricing functions at two large pharmas, and has been a founding commercial leader of two emerging biotechs. At just 25, Duenas was also a founding consultant at PriceSpective, a then-fledgling market access and pricing consultancy, which later would be acquired by the CRO Icon, becoming one of the top pricing/access/commercialization strategy outfits in the biopharma space.

Along the way, Duenas has followed that seemingly simple adage of letting life experience fuel purpose. But, as the married father of one knows all too well, there’s often little control over choosing those experiences-and no one personal journey is the same. A native of Guam, Duenas grew up poor, his family part of the Chamorro community, a proud people known “to live interdependently and interact reciprocally.” After heading to the states and getting a bachelor’s degree in finance and management at the University of Portland, followed by a one-year Fulbright fellowship in Germany, those cultural values aided Duenas in absorbing a series of family health issues and tragedies in the years ahead, culminating in the loss of his 29-year-old brother just last year.

“You can either sit in the corner and say, woe is me, or you can go out and say, hey, we are uniquely positioned as an industry, as biotechnology to address the absolute worst in the world,” says Duenas, who has long dealt with his own chronic, debilitating condition that until recently had him living with what he says was a 30% quality of life. “You talk coronavirus, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, autism, diabetes; all of these things are

still there. That’s the human condition-to be broken. And it’s also the human condition to be fixed.”

To that end, Duenas’s career purpose, he says, has always tied back to one central theme: championing the value of innovative medicines. In recent years, those have included the likes of curative-type specialty drugs, cell and gene therapies, and immunotherapies. Duenas believes the drug pricing debate, when played out for public and political consumption, has been influenced heavily by a misinformed narrative that does not account for the balance of innovation, reduced cost to the healthcare system, and impact on patient lives throughout the lifetime of the patient. 

“In my opinion, you need to measure the value of innovation over generations,” Duenas told Pharm Exec. “All the people who will benefit and could benefit not only from that specific innovation, but from those innovations that you will enable.”

Duenas joined Gilead Sciences in 2013 to help usher its entrance into oncology, enabling the launch of Zydelig, a first-in-class PI3 kinase inhibitor for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (the drug was named ASCO’s “Advance of the Year” in 2014). Duenas would later help launch Gilead HIV treatments Odefsey and Biktarvy, the latter with anticipated annual peak sales of $7 billion. 

Besides his lens on pricing and value at Gilead, where he was also involved in the company’s 2017 acquisition of Kite Pharma and its CAR-T lymphoma drug Yescarta (priced at $373,000 per dose; one recent study of real-world Medicare claims data suggests that CAR-T therapy may be cost effective by lowering other illness-related expenses), Duenas had stints at Biogen and Genentech in the late 2000s, serving in US commercial operations at each. A few years earlier, before transitioning to industry, Duenas recalls his “baptism-by-consulting fire” at PriceSpective, where, pitching commercialization strategy for targeted therapy blockbusters such as Avastin and Rituxan he presented to Roche executives at the pharma giant’s Basel headquarters. 

Any hopes of boosting the industry’s image, Duenas says, will first require “a real dialogue based on data and facts coming from a place of how best to serve patients and positively impact human life not only now but over time.” Duenas attributes what he considers his proudest career accomplishment to this effort. In 2016,  he sponsored a modeling study with Avenir Health to quantify the societal benefits of antiretroviral therapy for HIV, where prices have long sparked concern, particularly in the US. The results, published in Health Affairs last year, revealed significant value gains during the 1995-2015 period, with 9.5 million deaths and nearly eight million new HIV infections averted and $1 trillion in global economic benefits. The benefit to society across all regions outweighed costs 3.5:1. 

The findings, Duenas says, also identified existing treatment gaps, driving home the importance of Gilead and others continuing to invest in the communities most affected by HIV and boost direct-to-consumer education. Revisiting an earlier theme, Duenas dedicated the article and much of his time with Gilead in honor of his uncle

who passed away from AIDS in 2008 after deciding to stop taking his life-saving antiretroviral therapy. 

Duenas’s interest in the marriage of data and value took root during his first job in the field, a position with @Futures, LLC, a small pharmaceutical marketing agency in Philadelphia. “They were doing some pretty interesting things with advanced analytics and I fell in love with that piece of it,” he says, pointing to methods such as discrete-choice modeling, forecasting, Monte Carlo simulations, and other advanced statistics.

Duenas would soon transition into strategy and eventually building commercial infrastructures for hopeful product launches, but those early skills have served him well at each stop, including his current one. Joining Atara in 2018, Duenas, along with his team, has helped to build the company’s full commercial capabilities, including global marketing, market access, analytics, and operations-to support what could be the launch of the first-ever allogenic T-cell immunotherapy for an ultra-rare cancer.  Atara’s lead pipeline candidate is tabelecleucel, currently in Phase III development for patients with relapsed/refractory Epstein-Barr virus-associated post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (EBV+PTLD). 

Duenas spends much of his time contemplating value drivers for tabelecleucel, a process that he says is vastly different from the targeted treatment models he’s studied in the past. EBV+PTLD is an acutely life-threatening condition, and patients may present shortly after transplantation or years later (Atara estimates there are several hundred patients in the US each year). Even among ultra-rare disorders, EBV+PTLD is unique in that these patients have to be identified and administered the therapy very quickly.

Solving and accounting for these types of complexities is a reminder of the inherent risks involved in developing and commercializing novel drugs. Duenas says he draws motivation from his career setbacks (including a negative FDA decision on VEGF inhibitor tivozanib for kidney cancer while with AVEO Oncology; the drug did win European approval in 2017)-or “the many times I was told no”-as much as the successes when advising people today. He encourages his team members at Atara to embrace risk and push themselves toward ambitious goals. 

“You have to provide opportunities that stretch people into new areas. That funnels down to this philosophy-there’s no such thing as failure as long as you keep moving forward and apply your learnings,” says Duenas, who earned an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management in 2010. He envisions himself involved in entrepreneurship or transitioning to the C-suite in the next five to 10 years. “Not everything that we come up with will be right at the start. In fact, we might need to pivot the idea five, 10, 25 times until we get it right. But it’s that mental model of if you sit on the sidelines, there’s no chance of winning the game; but when you do try, you can succeed.” 

- Michael Christel

 

 

The Holistic View

Sapan Gandhi, Associate Director, Commercial Strategy and Business Development, Cipla

 

 

From an early age, Sapan Gandhi had his journey to the business side of the life sciences industry mapped out pretty clearly. He studied Biotechnology Engineering at Amity University in India, then earned a postgraduate diploma in Brand Management and Marketing. Gandhi moved smoothly into his first roles as a business development executive at iLife Discoveries and territory business manager at Eli Lilly. Encouraged by his boss, Vinod Nair (then National Sales Manager for Eli Lilly India Oncology), he then completed an MBA at the

School of Inspired Leadership in Guragon. Upon joining Cipla as a management trainee in June 2013, however, he was soon faced with a more unexpected path-a chance to move sideways into operations and become the company’s manager of supply chain and logistics in Europe. 

“Being in operations was something I didn’t know I wanted,” says Gandhi. And, initially, he was “a bit scared.” He had some theoretical knowledge of how the supply chain worked, but no practical knowledge. Still, he didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer and moving to Belgium for the role. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was 30, 31 years of age; it was the right time to take a risk, to experiment, to try something new. And I knew it would be helpful in building my career.” 

Gandhi soon got the hang of operations and started to make his mark as supply chain and logistics manager. He quickly set up efficient processes for negotiating objectively with vendors, for capability building, and for knowledge transfer among the operations team. Gandhi established and managed the Central European distribution Center (CDC) for Cipla Europe and incorporated lean methodology into its inbound logistics. And by implementing continuous improvements in the supply chain process, he targeted key cost-saving opportunities. Ultimately, with the support of a cross-functional team, Gandhi helped to make the company “a multi-million-dollar saving.” Of all his career highlights, he says he is probably most proud of what he achieved during this time in operations, in which he effectively set up Cipla’s entire supply chain structure in Europe. 

In 2019, Gandhi moved back to the commercial side of the business, when he was tasked with launching in Europe a value-added generic version of the fixed dose combination of tenofovir/lamivudine for the treatment of HIV. Ironically, given that operations had not been part of his initial career vision, Gandhi would now have to prove that he could be as successful outside of operations. He quickly “developed an advanced level knowledge of the HIV therapy and business,” met with key opinion leaders, and worked with the medical affairs and marketing teams to create a scientific case to get the new product included in the European guidelines. 

“This helped Cipla to get access to various markets and provide alternative and affordable anti-HIV medicines to many patients,” says Gandhi. His efforts helped to complete in 10 months a process that usually takes 18 months. 

More responsibility followed. By January this year, Gandhi had become Cipla’s associate director, commercial strategy and business development, based in London. He effectively balances three roles within this remit. He is Cipla’s country manager for Norway, where he is working to strengthen the company’s portfolio. He is also

tasked with building Cipla’s anti-HIV presence in Europe over the next five to 10 years, to increase visibility and grow Cipla “into a very HIV-focused company in Europe.” And Gandhi is looking after the company’s OTC business in the UK. “We’re working on some very interesting projects there,” he says, “such as converting some prescription medicines to OTC medicines, which is a very complex process.” 

Gandhi seems in no way intimidated by juggling the demands of these different roles. “All the projects I’m working on are at a nascent stage,” he says; “this makes them interesting and challenging for me.” Gandhi notes that he was well aware when he joined Cipla as a management trainee that he would be rotated around different functions and exposed to new processes on a regular basis. Indeed, he’s glad that “the company kept its promise on that.” He has always felt well supported at Cipla, noting particularly the help of his current boss, Anchal Sultania, head of business, Cipla Europe, as well as Christos Kartalis, Cipla’s former CEO of Europe and emerging markets, and Anant Atal, former Chief of Staff and Investor relations, in steering his career journey. 

Gandhi continues to thrive on new experiences and opportunities for knowledge, even outside work. He is an enthusiastic quiz-taker, for example. In 2013, his team came in fifth out of 200 teams in the city finals of the Tata Crucible Campus Business Quiz in New Delhi, which was broadcast on TV.

Having racked up an enviable list of accomplishments in just over 10 years in the industry, Gandhi’s goal for the near future is to work in a position “that offers a good combination of both commercial and operations.” 

He’s keen to take responsibility for the numbers and also for the supply chain or production side, “and help the company grow the next level.” 

Given Gandhi’s adaptability and commitment to getting results, he looks like the right candidate for such a holistic role. 

- Julian Upton

 

 

Grace Under Pressure

Anita Gupta, Senior Vice President of Medical Strategy and Government Affairs, Heron Therapeutics

 

 

If there’s a crisis at hand, Dr. Anita Gupta, senior vice president of medical strategy and government affairs at Heron Therapeutics, is someone we can learn from. She continues to play an integral role in battling the nation’s opioid crisis and is currently engaging with leaders on ways to fight COVID-19. Her diverse background in pharmacy, pain medicine, and public policy has placed her in a unique position to bring important ideas to fruition.

After receiving her PharmD from Rutgers University, the New Jersey native briefly worked at Akzo Nobel’s

Organon before attending medical school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She subsequently practiced anesthesiology and pain medicine for more than 10 years, including at the University of Pennsylvania and later Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. She is currently an appointed member of both the National Academies of Sciences’ Global Forum and the National Quality Forum’s Leadership Consortium focusing on health policy initiatives, and served on the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee at FDA.

It was during these experiences that Gupta became an international figure in pain management as a frontline leader of the opioid crisis. When the crisis hit, Gupta’s colleagues turned to her as a champion of, and advocate for, patients. She soon became the go-to expert. “I saw I was having an impact but not impact enough. I had a passion to do more. I began to learn how the work I was doing at the FDA tied together with innovation and could drive global impact.”

At that point, Gupta was recruited by Heron Therapeutics, a company with a focus on the opioid crisis and oncology. Heron’s mission seemed perfectly aligned with her background-making global impact on the opioid crisis, pain, and palliative care. Gupta realized that her earlier work as a PharmD could help drive a successful career in industry.

“Heron has done a lot of work on the opioid crisis and was the first company to develop a non-opioid investigational product that received all accelerated pathway approvals-from fast track to breakthrough designation and priority review. I’m thrilled to work not only on the opioid crisis but [to gain] experience on leading national emergencies.”

Dealing with the opioid crisis from various perspectives along the way has been extremely satisfying for Gupta. “It’s been a phenomenal journey viewing it from the pharmacist’s side when Oxycontin was being developed, to a clinical setting where it was prescribed, then seeing problems turn into serious policy issues, and now coming to the innovation space where we’re working to find a breakthrough therapeutic solution,” she says. “I’ve been grateful to be part of it.”

One of her proudest moments was being one of the first women anesthesiologists to lead the expansion of naloxone as an opioid overdose antidote through the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

As part of her opioid crisis work, Gupta has worked with many senior government officials in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Health and Human Services, FDA, and the White House. Those relationships led to her being asked to work on the current pandemic. “It’s been a great opportunity to help lead and better our understanding of how to handle national emergencies, how to address drug-related issues in governance, in companies, and to be agile when we’re dealing with serious public health issues and drug development,” says Gupta.

The big and small relationships Gupta has made along the way haven’t just provided her with professional advice, guidance, and confidence; they also have yielded benefits to society at large. “I wouldn’t be where I am without personal connections and mentoring,” she says. “I sometimes look at the relationships I’ve made and say, ‘I’m glad we’re friends, because those connections have [contributed to creating] initiatives that have helped.’”

Though people often see her as a leader, Gupta doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight. As a mentor herself, she has learned that people often want to lead; they just need to be given encouragement and opportunity. “People don’t always know they are [leaders], but identifying them as a leader, giving them course, direction, purpose, and guardrails, and letting them take it from there is important,” says Gupta. “Giving people the power to believe in themselves and that the work they’re doing is important. As executive leaders, we need to make sure they have a purpose and patient-centric mission.”

As Gupta advances her career as an executive leader, she plans to continue her dedication to developing global solutions, either in pharmaceuticals or medical devices. In that future, Gupta would love to see increased purpose in the industry. She hopes more people who are public health focused and have scientific know-how will commit their energy to the pharma industry. “We need people on both sides to make a difference and drive change,” she says.

Another way to effect change is listening to patients. Gupta learned this in 2017, when she was diagnosed and later cured of a rare disease. That process inspired her to become an advocate for patients whose voices are often unheard. She works closely with the Milken Institute and FDA on elevating the patient’s voice while working with drug development. She is also on the board of directors of HealthyWomen, serving communities where women’s voices may be minimized.

Gupta is based in California, where she enjoys spending time with family. “I learned a long time ago that work is not everything,” she says. “As much as it’s important, I believe family and service to humanity come first. I’ve tried to combine and align that with my work. I tell my kids what I do, and they try to embody that in their life, too.” 

- Elaine Quilici

 

 

From Vision to Action

David K. Lee, CEO, Servier Pharmaceuticals

 

 

David K. Lee was still in high school when his mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. He says he had to grow up fast, help to raise his two younger siblings, and get his driver’s license early so he could take his mother to chemotherapy appointments. The experience fueled his desire to “make a big impact on the world” in life sciences. He went on to study biochemistry at Harvard, where he loved the bench work, but on going into medicine it became evident to Lee that “this wasn’t quite the way to make the impact I wanted.” He was

working in a hospital when he decided to go back to Harvard Business School and study for an MBA. 

Lee then joined a life sciences consulting firm where he worked with some of the top pharma companies on everything from due diligence to mergers and acquisitions. He ended up joining one of his clients, Novartis, which, he says, “was a fast-moving company, especially for people that wanted to move fast.” There, Lee worked in a number of different positions, from clinical development to marketing and market access. 

Looking back, one role stands out in particular. During the H7N9 avian influenza outbreak of 2013, Lee was responsible for a cross-functional Novartis team that went from initial cases of patient diagnosis to patient recruitment, vaccination, and final clinical study results in just eight months. “It was the fastest clinical trial in the history of that of division,” he says. “I had a tracker that showed patients being diagnosed on a daily basis; seeing how people’s lives were being impacted was hugely motivating for the entire team.” While H7N9 was deadlier than COVID-19, Lee’s recollections are ominous. 

“Every day that you delayed, every day you didn’t push forward on the vaccine, people were dying,” he says. He also remembers sharply how difficult it was “to have the conversation with government officials on how important it is to be ready for pandemics.” He explains, “I don’t think you can overprepare. If we had invested the billions that we needed back then, we would not be where we are today.” Unfortunately, Lee is not hopeful that “our mindset will be completely changed when the COVID-19 pandemic is over,” as we often move on and forget to reflect on the lessons learned. 

When his Novartis unit was sold to GSK, Lee followed one of his mentors into the oncology business, where he helped to build a company largely focused on hemophilia and immunology that was spun off as Baxalta. When Baxalta was bought by Shire, Lee remained as global head of oncology and was asked also to take on the global genetic disease franchise, which included most of the Shire rare disease products. Following a strategic review at Shire in 2018, it was determined that oncology was non-core to the company, so it was down to Lee to find a home for Shire’s oncology assets. In 2018, he brokered a $2.4 billion deal to bring Shire’s oncology portfolio to Servier Group and create Servier Pharmaceuticals in the US. Still under 40 years old, Lee was instilled as CEO. 

Servier asked Lee to build a full commercial and development entity in the US (the group, despite being present in 149 other countries, had never had a presence there) and build the global oncology portfolio. Eighteen months in, Servier Pharmaceuticals houses therapies such as Oncaspar, a leading first-line treatment regimen for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and the recently launched Asparlas, which also treats pediatric and young adult patients. Lee found himself in the enviable position of having the freedom to create his own “biotech,” while enjoying full parent company support. 

“I think we have the best of both worlds,” he says. “We’re fully cross-functional, with local R&D, and we can be fast and nimble and flexible as a biotech. But we also have the stability of a larger parent company that is financially very stable, that can reinvest a lot in research, and has a lot of fire power.” 

Lee started Servier Pharmaceuticals “from scratch.” It is headquartered in Boston and now has more than 100 employees. It has been an opportunity to build “something that I could truly own,” he says, and bring in the people he wants. To achieve this, Lee has been helped by the growing industry recognition of his achievements and leadership. 

“I’ve always insisted on the three Rs: results, reputation, relationships,” he says. “With results, you must deliver what you say you’re going to deliver, or, even better, overdeliver. With relationships, most of the people I’ve brought in have worked with me in the past. Relationships are the key that will unlock doors. And reputation-once you start delivering great results, you start to build a reputation that will follow you for the rest of your career. Of those who have come to work with me who didn’t know me previously, many knew of my reputation.”

Lee continues to put the “three Rs” into practice as he pushes Servier Pharmaceuticals forward. He’s busy strengthening the company’s relationships and establishing its reputation in the US. Lee’s forged “a stellar partnership network,” nurturing relationships with academia, venture capitalists, biopharma peers, advocates, and others, and he’s architected a “strong presence” at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference and other industry events.

And, of course, he continues to chase results. Lee wants to establish Servier Pharmaceuticals as an oncology leader, growing the company both organically and inorganically (it has the financial clout to pursue M&As). Moreover, he wants it to be “a new kind of pharma company.” Globally, Servier is governed by a nonprofit foundation; it doesn’t answer to shareholders or a board of directors. 

Lee wants “to instill this humanitarian spirit into everything the US company does, fostering an entrepreneurial, free-thinking environment that allows the company to make meaningful improvements in patient care today and in the future.”

Perhaps the most important result for Lee-who, after his mother’s health battle, wanted to ensure that “no other child, parent, or loved one has to feel that way again”-will be “setting a new bar for patient-centricity.” Early in the company’s history, he helped to create a Patient Expert Council, which consists of patients and caregivers providing insights “that guide every decision the company makes.” Lee observes, “I couldn’t imagine, back when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, the amount of therapeutics, the amount of options that would be available to patients now. I wish she’d had all those opportunities and therapeutics. That whole outlook has hugely changed.” 

As he takes Servier Pharmaceuticals to the next level, Lee will continue to play his part in sustaining and strengthening that change. 

- Julian Upton

 

 

An Authentic Approach

Elizabeth (Liz) McGee, General Counsel, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

 

 

Former litigator Liz McGee can honestly say that becoming a lawyer, or working in pharma, was not what she dreamed of doing growing up. Her father, who trained as a lawyer but never practiced, encouraged her to go to law school for the critical thinking skills it provides. And she did-earning a BA from Cornell University and her JD from Fordham University School of Law. After interning at the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, McGee joined law firm Mayer Brown to work on complex commercial litigations in the areas of product liability, antitrust, and general commercial actions. But after a few years of life in a law firm, coupled with the

abundance of research and writing that goes with being a litigator, McGee wanted to engage with the part of law that she really liked-talking through all parts of a problem to find a resolution. 

So when contacts from Novartis Oncology inquired if she would be interested in joining their legal team, McGee accepted the opportunity to go in-house. At that time, her mother had cancer, and being that it was an oncology business, she felt she could get passionate about her new job. 

“It felt very personal to me,” recounts McGee. 

Early on at Novartis Oncology, she was identified as someone with talent and high potential and was fortunate to be partnered with an exceptional mentor. Steven Baert, who now serves as chief people and organization officer for the Novartis Group, was paired with McGee, and she says that he was instrumental in helping her make good career decisions that influenced her subsequent roles at Novartis. Those roles ranged from supporting the global oncology and Latin America businesses, followed by serving as vice president and head of US legal, to her appointment as general counsel of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation in 2016 and adding the role of US country head of legal in 2019. McGee now sits on the company’s US Pharmaceutical Executive Committee, the US Country Leadership Team, and the Global Pharmaceuticals Legal Leadership Team. 

McGee says that outside of the formal mentorship, she’s received support from many sponsors in the organization, sometimes unknowingly and surprisingly. But, like other Emerging Pharma Leaders in the past have noted, McGee had direct managers who encouraged her to take on additional responsibility and supported her ability to grow in ways she might not have initially volunteered herself to do. 

McGee’s promotions to increasing levels of seniority at Novartis are something of which she is proud. “I haven’t specifically targeted those positions and said, ‘That’s what I have to do next,’” notes McGee. “Rather, I’ve just been very focused on and engaged in whatever role I had at the time,” and the results came through. 

Those results may be attributed to a key skill she possesses, her ability to be authentic. McGee believes that sometimes, when people achieve senior positions, they can no longer ask questions or think they should have all the answers. McGee disagrees. She believes that being candid and forthright is the way to go. “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say I don’t know, but I’ll go find out. Or I’ll check with somebody on my team who knows a lot more about this than I do. Or here’s what I think, but I need to think about it a little more,” says McGee. “It’s not that I’m the smartest lawyer in the room, that I’m the most experienced, that I’ve been exposed to more issues than anybody else; it’s just being authentic.”

That transparency and honesty also helps McGee when thinking about one of her current challenges: how to structure and manage her team. There are 34 people in the US pharma legal department and she has 10 direct

reports and additional responsibilities for the US Novartis entities in her country role. “On the one hand, I don’t like hierarchy, but on the other hand, there’s value in having a leadership team, so I’m not sure what is best,” she admits. But another one of her proudest moments comes when she gets positive feedback on her team members. “When I hear that they have gone from behaving like traditional lawyers to behaving like business partners, and when those people get acknowledged and appreciated in ways that they should, that makes me proud,” says McGee.

A change in the pharmaceutical industry that has benefitted McGee and her legal colleagues is the shift in what is expected from in-house counsel, namely from being a lawyer to being a business partner with a law degree. In the past, McGee believes lawyers existed to rubber stamp commercial plans. But that has changed. “I think industry as a whole is much more mindful of the reputational impacts of everything, and how even the most patient-focused program can be misconstrued by a critic of the industry,” says McGee. “Reputation and how we interact with physicians and patients really has become a focal point for the whole industry.” That expectation shift to business partner, vs. purely a lawyer, is something that McGee likes most about her role. “I find myself commenting in conversations or documents that we need to always ensure that the patient is the focal point of all our work.”

McGee enjoys running and outdoor sports and spending time with her friends and family (she has a son, 13, and daughter, 11), along with balancing her demanding work. In the future, McGee would like to get involved in Novartis’s broader public health-related work in underdeveloped countries. But just as she got to where she is now, McGee doesn’t have that move set in stone. 

- Lisa Henderson

 

 

 Grounded in Science

Andrew Miller, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Karuna Therapeutics

 

 

It’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit of entrepreneurship living in Cambridge, Mass. Whether you’re a student at MIT or establishing your own biotech, the air hangs heavy with scientific innovation and the talent to turn theories into therapies.

Dr. Andrew Miller, founder and chief operating officer of Karuna Therapeutics, has a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT. It was the entrepreneurship exposure he received and the connections he made at the school that ultimately forged his path in biopharma. Bernat Olle, CEO and co-founder of Vedanta Biosciences and a 2018 Pharm Exec Emerging Pharma Leader, was also in chemical engineering at MIT and the two played

intramural soccer together. After joining PureTech himself, Olle introduced Miller to the company. Bob Langer, a co-founder of PureTech and well-known entrepreneur, was a professor of chemical engineering at MIT.

As PureTech focused on venture creation, Miller initially was involved in the scientific aspects of evaluating technologies, IP, speaking with academic investigators, and trying to find interesting opportunities to explore. He also experienced what it meant to turn this process into a business. While working on central nervous system disorders at PureTech, he started focusing on schizophrenia. Miller recognized that the disease had not been moved by many of the new technologies, such as biological and oligonucleotide therapeutics, that were transforming other areas of medicine.

“We’re still in a space where we have small-molecule drugs that in many cases follow the same mechanisms of action as some of the first drugs discovered in 1952,” says Miller. “So that was an area where there was an obvious need.”

Miller cites a lack of understanding about the biological fundamentals of psychiatric disease as part of the problem. Those challenges, combined with more attractive opportunities in other disciplines, such as oncology, caused many pharma companies to discontinue their schizophrenia programs, despite having had successful commercial products in the past. Miller saw that vacuum of activity as a window of opportunity.

The idea for KarXT, Karuna’s lead product and the founding of the company, came to Miller while he was at PureTech. The theory was based on clinical data from the 1990s. Miller’s intention was to harness the same therapeutic benefit that had been demonstrated previously but to eliminate the side effects that prohibited development. To do this, he combined xanomeline, a novel muscarinic agonist, with trospium, a muscarinic antagonist that does not meaningfully cross the blood-brain barrier.

When Miller transitioned to working full-time at Karuna in 2016, it was relatively seamless due to PureTech’s incubation-type business model. As the first and only full-time employee, he had to wear many hats, whether he was prepared or not. Faced with complex scientific, technical, and regulatory issues, he quickly learned how to be an aggregator of expertise and information.

“You become focused on what the organization needs and how to acquire that,” says Miller. “Through that process, you cross paths with a lot of people and those experiences are all opportunities to learn.”

When Steve Paul joined Karuna as chairman and CEO in 2018, Miller was able to enhance his business acumen further, thanks to Paul’s rich industry experience.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from someone who has had success in many aspects of pharma,” says Miller. “It gives me a chance in a small company to be exposed to many different aspects of the business and learn a lot.”

A scientist at heart, Miller measures his success in terms of lab results. It wasn’t until Karuna got successful Phase II clinical trial data last year that his achievement hit home.

“There are many finish lines in biotech, but that data set is something that we were driving toward for so long as the fundamental proof of concept for the idea of KarXT,” he says. “It was a turning point in that it transformed an idea we diligently pursued into something where we have a practical timeline and sightline to getting this in the hands of patients. That’s a powerful experience and something I take a lot of pride in.”

Miller currently spends half his time on external stakeholder management and the other half on operations. He anticipates his role will change though, as the company transitions into a more mature business.

“It will have to be run a different way and will require different skill sets,” he says. “Going forward, everyone’s role is going to change. For me, that will mean more involvement in the direct management side, which is something I look forward to.”

Though Miller organically found his way into a startup, he realizes making the decision to work in an entrepreneurial environment isn’t always an easy choice. There are certainly risks involved, but the way he sees it, there are risks in every career decision.

“If you want to work for a startup, then just go do it,” he says. “If you want to get involved in entrepreneurship, look for those opportunities. You could join the largest company or the smallest, and there are risks-there just might be different risks. It’s taking a long-term view.”

As Karuna enters Phase III development and eventually transitions from R&D into a commercial-stage

company, Miller remains centered by the foundation of Karuna, whose name is the Sanskrit word for compassion. “When I look at what we need from a leadership perspective going forward, it continues to be the idea that you do whatever needs to get done,” says Miller. “That sense of commitment is something people can be inspired by. [It says] we’re all in this together. We all feel a tremendous amount of ownership and passion for what we’re doing. It’s hard for me to imagine not working in a company like Karuna.”

Miller’s life outside of work is wrapped up in family activities. He loves spending time with his wife, Michelle, and sons, ages 9 and 7. “It’s about seeing our family grow and kids develop,” he says. “It has its trying moments, but it’s similar to the process of growing our company, with the challenges and new experiences we face. There’s such a rewarding aspect in seeing that growth and development.” 

- Elaine Quilici

 

 

Connections and Culture 

K. Scott Moorefield, Chief Business Officer, Boundless Bio

 

 

In 2019, Scott Moorefield became Boundless Bio’s third employee. Like many-through networks, contacts, and personal relationships-Moorefield was tapped by people he knew and previously worked with; the company’s Chairman and Co-Founder, Dr. Jonathan Lim; and CEO, President, and Director Zach Hornby, all who Moorefield describes as “amazing people.” Boundless Bio itself embodies the core characteristics of what Moorefield has come to believe makes a great organization: great science, people you can trust, and great culture.

But the road to where he is today, his philosophies and dreams for the future, lie in the past, which Moorefield

describes as not linear and dotted with pivotal moments. Moorefield was in the seventh grade when his uncle was diagnosed with glioblastoma and died within six months. “It was a defining moment for me, he says. “I was old enough to understand the emotional impact of losing someone to cancer.” Moorefield’s career path and the choices he has made, though not linear, have oncology as their North Star. This started with his PhD in Molecular Oncology and Genomic Sciences from North Carolina State University, which led to his post-doctorate work in the epigenetics of glioblastomas and cancer stem cell research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). 

It was through his work at UCSF, and taking a class where students pitched company ideas to venutre capitalists, that led to a pivotal moment in his path. He had been on the academic faculty track and now wanted to steer toward business. Moorefield and the team, who he describes as core academics, had an idea to launch a startup. “But we were scientists at heart, and we didn’t know a lot about the business side,” he recalls. “As you can imagine, there were some decisions that, looking back, I would change, and maybe we could have changed the curve or direction.” Even though the company did not succeed, he is proud that he made that jump out of academia and was willing to take on that challenge. “You learn from your successes but you also learn as much from your failures,” says Moorefield, noting that they inspired him into a different career direction. 

Unlike many of his colleagues, he didn’t want to go to business school. It was at this time that Moorefield started his mental checklist of what he’d need for future growth, possibilities, and experiences in business. 

His first stop was a consulting position with Campbell Alliance, where he managed brand management/marketing and business/corporate development teams for pharma and biotech clients. After about two years, Moorefield envisioned his next step would be to get operating experience.

He joined Genentech in the biooncology pipeline market planning group, thinking he’d stay two to four years. Nine years later, his career at Genentech spanned early discovery to commercial in a variety of cancers. Moorefield had a key role in launching Tarceva’s 1L NSCLC EGFR mutation+ indication, which included driving the strategy for the drug’s large salesforce. “It was a rare opportunity to stand in front of 250 people and inspire those people to execute on driving sales for Tarceva and benefitting patients. It was a great experience.” 

From Tarceva marketing, strategy, and key customers, Moorefield moved up to development project team leader and then global business development director focused on oncology. It was during this time while leading the acquisition of Ignyta that Moorefield met Hornby and Lim. When the opportunity arose to work with the duo and join Boundless Bio, an Arch Ventures portfolio company, Moorefield said that decision was easy. He had spent a lot of time rolling his sleeves up and gaining experience, and now he wanted to be a part of building and driving an organization.

Along the way, Moorefield has developed what he thinks are the three key qualities for leadership: authenticity, transparency, and decisiveness. Leadership qualities also feed into a company’s culture, which is very important to Boundless, and Moorefield says he learned a lot about the need for a positive culture at Genentech. “It’s very important to have great science, but science can be unpredictable. However, a strong foundation of culture can get you through tough times,” he says.

Clearly, you can’t have leadership and company culture without staff and employees. That’s where authenticity and transparency came into play. “I have found that most people from whom I’ve sought mentorship advice, from my decision to leave UCSF all the way to leaving Genentech, have come from cultivating relationships,” explains Moorefield. “And that means being authentic and honest.” He also pays those mentorship experiences forward by helping others. And not necessarily just direct reports, though Moorefield says he is quite proud of

people he has mentored that have gone on to do great things. 

Reflecting on going from a large biopharma to a small biotech, Moorefield says there is a certain comfort working for a large company because it can absorb the financial challenges and is therefore not as high-risk as the smaller companies. But the industry right now, notwithstanding the potential impact of COVID-19, has a lot of access to capital. Moorefield sees it as a time of tremendous opportunity. “This access to capital allows companies to fund completely new, cutting-edge science, and the funding gives the companies the ability to be creative and the science to breathe, in hopes of developing curative treatments for patients,” he says. Moorefield looks back to his time with big pharma as foundational to his experiences, but enjoys where he is now. “I see my longer-term future as doing what’s right for Boundless Bio to grow as a company, and then ultimately run an organization myself,” he says.

Moorefield has been a competitive cyclist and now competes in triathlons. “There is some kind of a metaphor in cycling, and endurance is the key. Being able to continue with focus and commitment-to power through.” 

- Lisa Henderson

 

 

Patients at the Fore

Peter O’Neill, Director and Senior Clinical Trial Head, Incyte

 

 

As he had loved biology in school, Peter O’Neill wanted to be a pre-med student. But when he went to get a blood test before college, he passed out. “So I kind of knew I wasn’t going to go to medical school,” says O’Neill. Instead, he took an internship as a nursing assistant while studying for his bachelor’s degree in biology. “It was an incredible time. I think back to it a lot, even when I’m managing clinical trials today,” he says. “Having that patient care experience really helps me with that.”

After college, O’Neill secured his first position in the industry, working in clinical operations for the CRO International Pharmaceutical Research. He then took a role at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and observed clinical trials from the perspective of a large hospital. He moved on to AAI International and gained trial monitoring experience, but he quickly realized that he “wanted to have more input into the development of the therapies, and you can only get so much of that in a CRO.” So, in 2002, O’Neill joined Sanofi-Aventis as clinical project leader. In 2011, he began working for Incyte, a biopharma company whose therapeutic focus spans oncology and inflammation and autoimmunity. Since his move to pharma, O’Neill has played a part in developing and bringing to market several therapeutic agents, most recently ruxolitinib, the first JAK inhibitor approved by FDA.

As Incyte’s director and senior clinical trial head, O’Neill is involved in several programs for investigational drugs, helping to determine the strategy for developing and implementing the clinical trials. He also recently led the customization and implementation of new software to digitize and streamline the sharing of safety information with sites and ethics committees. Of all the changes he’s seen in the clinical trial space, O’Neill says digital innovations are the most impactful. “There’s a lot more information available to us than there was 20 years ago. The databases are more robust; we can now use them to make things more efficient, make them better for patients, and move our clinical trials quicker.” 

O’Neill welcomes the advance toward remote or decentralized trials. “There are definitely procedures in our protocols that can be done from a patient’s home,” he explains. “Clinical trials are really intensive for a certain period of time, then there’s a long follow-up period. We should be able to allow patients to follow up with telemedicine or have blood draws in their home instead of having to go to the doctor’s office. I’m hopeful that that will be part of the future, for the sake of the patients.”

O’Neill doesn’t drop the word “patient” into his conversation lightly; he remains as passionate about helping patients as he was during his days as a nursing assistant. He doesn’t feel that his career can be judged on “successes and failures” in the typical sense, “because sometimes you can work as hard as anybody and might just not be lucky enough to get that approval you’re hoping for.” 

Instead, for O’Neill, the reward has always been in improving the patient’s lot. And his emotional investment hasn’t lessened with time. A couple of years ago, a patient who was suffering from a disease that O’Neill’s team were working on came and spoke to his group. “He gave a great speech; he really motivated us,” says O’Neill. When the team learned some time later that the patient had passed away, O’Neill was moved to establish a community garden on the roof of the company’s headquarters. 

“We dedicated it to patients everywhere, to all patients in clinical trials. But it was created mainly with this patient in mind,” he says. “We got together a great group of people at my company. We planted the garden, we took pictures, we sang songs. And we cared for the garden all year.” 

Like many in the industry, O’Neill has been obliged to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. He’s filling his spare time constructively, having enrolled in an online course at Harvard Business School, but one reason he’s eager to return to the office is to get back to the community garden. “There were lots of times last year, amid the ups and downs, where many of us went to that community garden and it reminded us of why we do what we do.”

O’Neill is also reminded of this purpose when he looks in the mirror. Five years ago, he became a patient himself when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He was fortunate to catch it early and have surgery, but he was left for some time with a visible facial scar, which O’Neill says, “acted as a reminder of the work left to be done to bring to market therapies for less fortunate patients.” The scar is barely visible now, but it continues to motivate him to make patients the center of the drug development process. 

“Patients are our partners. The whole drug development process needs to have patient input from the very beginning,” he says. “We are all patients at some point in our lives, and yet our industry has sometimes been

guilty of putting profit or timelines ahead of the best interest of patients.” This is an area “in dire need of more leadership,” O’Neill believes. “If we have strong leaders who do the right thing at all costs, then the profits will be an afterthought.” 

For O’Neill, strong leadership is about being clear about what you stand for. “It’s a lot easier to follow somebody if you know what their motivations are, what they’re passionate about,” he says. “I’ve always been even more motivated to help leaders and mentors when I’ve known what’s important to them. And I try to do that in my own management and leadership style. I would hope that anyone I work with knows what I’m willing to fight for.” 

Indeed, you get a strong sense of that after spending just a short time with Peter O’Neill.

- Julian Upton

 

 

A Born Problem-Solver

Craig Serra, Global Head, Strategy and Innovation, Data Operations, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation

 

 

There is something in Craig Serra’s DNA that can look at a pile of misshapen pieces and know that there is a way to fit them into a complete puzzle. It may not be elegant. It may take time and effort. It may take a lot of perseverance. But he has a gnawing sense that it will work. And, usually, Serra is right. 

Serra’s stepfather had many health problems including diabetes, hypertension, a below-the-knee amputation, spinal stenosis, neuropathy, and at one point, was unable to walk. He had back surgery to help, but only regressed thereafter, and still could not walk. Instead, he became accustomed to his wheelchair and continued

that way for several years. 

But Serra had an unrelenting feeling that something was missed. Not that something was done wrong, but that the right people or the right data weren’t connected. He began tying together what he considered loose ends-images from one set of doctors, medical records from another-incessantly keeping his stepfather at the center of it all to always have the perspective of the patient. Fortunate to have a close friend who is a renowned neurosurgeon, a preliminary diagnosis of normal pressure hydrocephalus was made, which was missed by over 10 other doctors. The “a-ha!” moment arrived when a high-volume spinal tap was done and within a half-hour, Serra’s stepfather was walking for the first time in over two years. “It was like an episode of House, without the benefit of Hugh Laurie,” he says. “Seriously, I knew there was something there. I was pulling on enough threads and endlessly getting information to synthesize. We were able to solve the problem and he was able to get the permanent surgery to walk again.”

Serra didn’t consider clinical research as an occupation when he graduated college with a major in psychology and a minor in biology simply because he didn’t know it existed. He had done some basic neuropsychiatric research in college, but it wasn’t for him. Signing on with a temp agency, it matched his science background, along with his computer skills (entrepreneurial, at 16, Serra had a computer business in addition to working in a pharmacy), with a contract position at Schering-Plough doing support work for senior CRAs. Serra was there for only three months, but between learning what clinical research was and wanting to make a difference, he loved what he was doing. 

That mix of passion for learning from others, a natural ability to find solutions, and an inherent knack with

complex scenarios describes almost every position Serra has enjoyed in his career, each with steady and growing responsibility. 

From Schering-Plough, he went to Pfizer, again in contract work. For two years, he did project management with a small team that operated autonomously. The goal was to find a solution to get data from one system to another. “It was really fun, a great learning experience, with a phenomenal group and a leader who taught me a lot,” says Serra. “He is the kind of manager that sees the potential in people and positions them for success.” 

He was then onto Roche, again with numerous problems to solve that required learning on the fly and working across development, medical affairs, and IT. “The data systems were not working the way they should have and our group was majorly impacted. With the integrity of clinical trials at stake, the group head saw potential and she let us run with solutions in concert with a lot of stakeholders,” he says. “We were doing what we could to hold up a portfolio of studies in the face of incredible technological difficulty. It was a tough job, and I feel fortunate to have worked with extraordinary people who I learned so much from-but only in retrospect did I realize how difficult it was.”

After Roche, Serra continued to work in pharma, then at a niche CRO to become head of data and strategic operations. It was here that he learned the challenges of a service provider, which broadened his perspective immensely. Always looking for growth and to be of service, Serra concurrently pursued an MS/MBA dual degree in New York City and became a member of the board for a pediatric brain cancer organization (Cristian Rivera Foundation).

In 2013, Serra returned to Pfizer and was a business process owner (BPO) for clinical data management. While it was a senior role with high accountability, the BPO construct also came without a budget, resources, or direct authority. BPOs had to influence and persuade others, but they also had organizational power to make decisions that could affect thousands and be impactful to senior executives. Admittedly, Serra says it was a very challenging role. “Can’t deny it...definitely the most difficult job I’ve had, by far. I did a halfway decent job with it, but others were much better in that role. My true fun was in leading some transformative and innovative things that are still ongoing there today.”

As Pfizer began another restructuring, Serra finished a third graduate degree, this time in pharmacology and toxicology. He departed to another CRO until his next dream job opened up in late 2018 at Novartis. In this current role as global head of innovation for data operations, Serra is accountable for bringing ideas to life and supporting an innovation framework and culture. In furthering his service to the industry, Serra is also on the advisory board of the data and digital company Castor EDC.

His success here, and reflected along his career, can be summed up by one of his nominees: “In 2019, projects were consolidated to focus on those that have transformative potential. He was able to take a take a “too-good-to-be-true” solution, evangelize and socialize it across the organization and ultimately get buy-in across 10-15 verticals, and obtain funding in a very competitive environment. It took him three months to do what it takes other large organizations two to three years.”

In the future, Serra sees himself integrating what he has learned and achieved in 18-plus years in drug development to head up enterprise digital strategy, applying it to other large problem areas, and continuing his work to ultimately help people in need. “I don’t fit into a neat little box so I tend to be attracted to roles that require a lot of different interests and skills,” he says. “And now we have the COVID-19 pandemic as the ultimate catalyst for sustainable change in the way we bring medicine to those in need. We owe it to patients everywhere to deliver that change and I’ll be privileged to help do that.” 

Even though Serra’s stepfather passed away five years ago, the example of intuition around his illness influences Serra’s career view and advice. “There is no MD after my name, but I was able to figure things out through action, perseverance, and connecting the right people together,” he says. “It’s a reminder that no matter what anyone’s experience, we can all make a positive impact. We just have to decide to do it.”

- Lisa Henderson

 

 

The ‘Rare’ Educator 

Rogerio Silva, VP and General Manager, PTC Therapeutics

 

 

Working in rare disease can present many challenges. Working in rare disease in a developing country like Brazil adds another layer of difficulty. But Rogerio Silva, vice president and general manager of PTC Therapeutics, has been focused on bringing attention to rare, or orphan, diseases in his home country for the past 13 years. And he’s making his mark on the community. 

According to the nonprofit Global Genes, 400 million people live with one of 7,000 types of rare and genetic

diseases around the world. Half of rare disease patients are diagnosed as children, and 30% of those children don’t live past age 5. In a country such as Brazil, where patients don’t always have money or access to healthcare, the need to educate and act fast is evident.

Silva began his pharma career at the Brazilian national lab Aché in 1993. He worked there for two years, then moved to Bristol-Myers Squibb. After 12 years, he moved to Shire.

“In 2008, Shire was one of three companies in the rare disease market in Brazil,” says Silva. “I remember when I moved, people asked me if I was crazy, because at that time almost nobody knew about rare disease in Brazil.”

Nevertheless, he accepted the challenge. Seven years later, the person who interviewed Silva at Shire invited him to join PTC as sales director-and PTC Brazil’s first employee. In 2017, Silva became vice president and general manager.

“Some global companies have global projects, but usually the general manager doesn’t manage the situation,” says Silva. “At PTC, I am part of the business. I make decisions, share goals with my team, and discuss with them what we will do. This is something that makes me very proud of working at PTC.”

When it comes to communication, Silva believes it’s important to be clear about goals. He prides himself in his leadership style, which he says is based on communication, trust, and knowledge. Once employees have a picture of what they want to achieve, he says it’s easier to get there.

“Everybody is important to us, and all opinions count,” says Silva. “PTC explains goals to everybody, regardless of position, and that has contributed to PTC’s growth over the years. Twenty years ago, [CEO Stuart Peltz] developed a product for DMD (Duchenne muscular dystrophy), Translarna. He is responsible for the environment that we have at PTC. People like to work together, people take care of others, and the company works to take care of its employees.”

To illustrate this, Silva points out that PTC was one of the first companies in Brazil to allow employees to work from home during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The importance of the individual is just as valuable when it comes to treating patients. “When I started at PTC, the DMD community was completely different,” says Silva. “Some physicians didn’t know about this disease.

We had no patient advocacy groups supporting patients with this disease. Nowadays, we have thousands of patients identified because of PTC, we have a lot of physicians that know more about the disease because of PTC, and PTC has helped many patients with DMD.”

Over the past 27 years, Silva has seen the pharma landscape change dramatically. He cites the impact of technology on treatments as a huge factor. For example, in rare disease, gene therapy has turned conversation from how to treat patients to talking about cures.

Silva also has seen positive changes come from educating people about rare disease.

“Physicians and patient advocacy groups that work with rare disease teach us a lot about how to do something better to help patients,” he says. “Physicians who treat rare disease are there truly just to help people, honestly, because they do not receive a lot of money to do that.”

PTC also works with patient advocacy groups that support patients. And in a poor country such as Brazil, there are many patients who could use assistance.

“We learn every single day when we talk to patient advocacy groups how difficult it is to have a rare disease in a country that is poor and, unfortunately, doesn’t [provide much support to] patients with rare disease,” says Silva. “For example, I was talking to someone from a patient advocacy group who said that one patient [delayed] their physician appointment because the father had to choose between eating or paying for the trip to get there.”

Finally, given that Brazilians spend an average of three hours and 31 minutes on social media each day-third in the world, according to a January 2020 stat from Hootsuite-the company also uses that as a channel to raise awareness for everybody.

Silva says continuous improvement from within is also necessary. Last year, he attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School, a business program for senior executives.

“[The program proves] we never know everything,” he says. “We have to always improve ourselves. Today I am general manager in Brazil. As a next step, [I’d like to be] general manager in the region in maybe three years, and work at PTC headquarters in five years.”

Despite his ambition, Silva still carves out time for his wife, Isabela, and three children, Ana Beatriz, 20; Lucas, 18; and Maria Eduarda, 3. “I love to be with them,” he says. “It is completely different when I am with my oldest-I talk about politics, the economy-than when I play with my little girl. I watch movies with my wife, and when I have some time to myself, I like to play and watch soccer. And I love to read-romance, like Shakespeare and Brazilian writer Machado de Assis.”

Maybe that is where Silva gets his big heart to help people in need.

- Elaine Quilici

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