Protecting Public Health: Lorna Meldrum, Seqirus

Seqirus was created when bioCSL and the influenza vaccines business formerly owned by Novartis joined forces in 2015; it is now the second largest influenza vaccine company in the world, with facilities in the US, UK, Germany and Australia, and a workforce of over 3,000 employees.

Lorna Meldrum, Ph.D., Vice President, Commercial Operations, International Markets & Pandemic at Seqirus, first joined the CSL Group in 2013. Her career in pharma has encompassed clinical research, business development, and marketing and sales, across a wide variety of therapeutic areas. She immigrated to Australia in 2002 and prior to bioCSL/Seqirus, held roles at GSK and Ikaria Australia Pty Ltd.

Here, she talks to Pharm Exec about the dynamic challenges of the influenza vaccine market and how COVID-19 has highlighted that preventing influenza is crucial for public health.

Pharm Exec: Can you talk about your journey into the pharma industry and outline your career development after relocating to Australia?

Lorna Meldrum: Prior to moving to Australia in 2002, I completed my Ph.D in Neuropharmacology at University College London and spent some post-doctoral years in the UK. However, I quickly discovered that the lab wasn’t the right fit for my career, with helping patients in a more direct way being my number one passion in working in health. This was really the driving factor behind my shift from academia to industry, which led to 15 years spent with GSK.

I relocated to Australia to serve as GSK’s VP, Commercial Director. In my new role, I worked across a broad portfolio of pharmaceutical products, ranging from highly specialized therapeutics to more commonly prescriptions, as well as both pediatric and adult vaccines. In 2008, I joined Ikaria — a small biotherapeutics company that had no presence in Australia, and this gave me the exciting challenge of starting an organization from scratch.

My combined experience at that time had really come full circle when I oversaw the commercialization of a product that I had studied in the lab as a postdoctoral student. The references on that product included my own name, which was a result of my work researching it as a student. It was a true affirmation of my career shift from academia to industry and both experiences have helped me get to where I am today.

What were the challenges and opportunities of moving to Seqirus after your long stint at GSK?

When I joined Seqirus in 2013, our leadership team was facing a business-critical decision of determining which projects we needed to focus on and where we could differentiate ourselves. These weren’t easy decisions — it was about an honest and accountable assessment of how we would shape the future of our business. As a result, we dedicated the business to focus on seasonal and pandemic influenza, with the bold move to commit 100 percent of our attention and resources to influenza.

Governments across the world are a critical stakeholder across both the seasonal and pandemic influenza portfolios. This is where relationships are the most critical — my team and I have the opportunity to build relationships with governing authorities and earn the position of Seqirus as a dependable, trusted partner. Delivering on a seasonal influenza vaccination campaign is the proof point that we are a trusted partner in the event of an influenza pandemic — that’s why the two businesses must work hand in hand. At the end of the day that is what this business is all about — trust, reliability and consistent delivery that translates to being a respected partner to protect populations from influenza.

What is distinctive about Seqirus as a company?

While there are so many things that differentiate us, there’s two things in particular that stand out to me — our sole focus on influenza, and our people.

Each year the strains change in influenza vaccines and it is a race to produce, register and distribute millions of doses across the world — for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This makes for a unique and dynamic business; things simply don’t stand still. We have to be nimble and connected, the relationships with supply chain are crucial to deal with the wide variety of issues that can be thrown at you — for example, volcanos erupting and preventing flights with precious cargo, and our recent experience during the pandemic putting strain on consumables and freight.

At Seqirus, we are incredibly connected across the business, and our dedication and expertise in influenza keeps us highly focused and responsive to whatever challenges may arise. Every day, I’m inspired by our people — it’s their ingenuity and dedication that sustains our customer-focused culture. And having that singular mission — protecting the world from influenza — unites us in the one focus, to protect the world from influenza.

You were appointed VP, Commercial Operations, International Markets & Pandemic Response in late 2019, which seems very timely. How did you adapt to that responsibility?

In a prior role, I was responsible for pandemic preparedness efforts, so this was a natural progression. This role is a great sweet spot at the intersection of business and science. Drawing from my experience from various sides of the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve been fortunate to see all the pieces of the puzzle come together over the years and have taken learnings from my career and adapted them to help shape how we work at Seqirus.

What have been the challenges and opportunities of your current role during the COVID pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the fact that preventing influenza, both pandemic and seasonal, is crucial for public health. Concerns around influenza were heightened because governing authorities didn’t want to risk a “twindemic,” which is the risk of a severe influenza season happening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are currently working with governments across the board — listening to their needs and partnering with them to prepare their public health systems against influenza. Early in the pandemic, we heard our customers when they asked for more ‘flu vaccines, and I’m proud to say Seqirus was able to deliver. It was a huge lift for our operations and commercial teams, but we exceeded even our own expectations by delivering 20 percent more volume than the previous year, and we are in a position to do it again.

What do you think have been the key learnings for biopharma industry from the pandemic?

It’s fair to say the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way companies operate both internally and externally — and our industry is a great example. The transition to a remote working environment solidified the importance of connection building, especially within our organization. For us and many others, meetings that would typically be face-to-face happened over Zoom. Planning meetings that would have normally lasted two days were instead spread out over two weeks.

But ultimately the pandemic has shown the power of relationships above all else — that whether it’s in the same room or via teleconference, the ability to build trust, relationships and communicate is more important than ever. I’m incredibly proud of the way our organization has adapted to not only keep the business tracking in the right direction — but to excel despite the challenges. I’m very much looking forward to gathering my global team in the same room, but at the same time, the industry has shown what is possible even in the most challenging of circumstances, and I think a lot of the practices we use now will continue into the future.