Q&A With Anastasiia Kamenska, director of corporate strategy, Novartis

As director of corporate strategy for Novartis, Anastasiia Kamenska defines direction for the company’s overall enterprise. Here, she discusses how the pandemic and recent market events are shaping these strategies.

Pharm Exec: How have recent events, including COVID-19, impacted your strategies?

Kamenska: We approach development of strategy from both short- to mid- as well as long-term perspectives. Strategic planning for the long-term view typically requires taking into consideration inherent uncertainty of the market’s performance and complexity of industry dynamics. The scale of change and disruption that we have observed in the last few years has served as a great reminder of the importance of assessing multiple scenarios, including those seemingly with only limited likelihood of occurrence. We strive to be constantly looking around the corner, taking the broader perspective, and ensuring that our strategies are future-proofed.

Pharm Exec: How do acquisitions like Gyroscope Tx help drive Novartis forward?

Kamenska: Novartis is continuously looking for opportunities in the areas of high unmet patient need and highly innovative science. The acquisition of Gyroscope Tx fits well with this philosophy. Gyroscope Tx's team has been developing a potentially transformative gene therapy for an advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration (geographic atrophy).

The disease leads to progressive and irreversible vision loss and is one of the leading causes of permanent vision loss in people over the age of 55. It can also severely impact a patient’s daily life, including their ability to see faces or drive.

Currently, there are no treatments approved to influence the progression of the disease despite millions of impacted patients. The leading program is an investigational, AAV2-based, one-time gene therapy currently in Phase II that is delivered under the retina. The goal of the therapy is to restore balance to an overactive complement system, a part of the immune system, by increasing production of the CFI protein. It is believed that elevation of CFI production could reduce inflammation, with the aim of preserving a person’s eyesight.

[The Gyroscope Tx] deal is yet another example of our ongoing strategy of focusing on value-creating bolt-on opportunities to strengthen our pipeline of innovative medicines. As a pioneer of gene therapies, Novartis is committed to advancing this field further.

Pharm Exec: RNA technologies have gained significant traction in the context of the global pandemic, what is your perspective on this field?

Kamenska: Novartis has the broadest coverage across therapeutic areas and advanced technology platforms in the industry, which also includes our xRNA platform. RNA-based medicines can potentially tackle the therapeutic targets that are considered “undruggable” by other modalities. To date, only a small proportion of therapeutic targets’ universe is accessible by well-established modalities like small molecules, and there are hopes that RNA may be able to revolutionize this. We are also excited about the great potential of RNA not only in rare genetic conditions, but in chronic diseases affecting broad populations worldwide.

Finally, in the next couple of years, Novartis is expected to be one of the largest producers of siRNA globally. The current chemical manufacturing process for making siRNAs or ASOs has been well established over decades and is highly efficient for producing smaller quantities of product. However, the higher the scale, the more drawbacks and inefficiencies the process has, especially for a very large scale. We have a highly committed RNA manufacturing group that is working on new methods to produce siRNAs and ASOs, including a UK collaboration between Novartis, CPI, and other companies. The collaboration is focused on developing a scalable, sustainable, and more cost-effective manufacturing process for oligonucleotides.

Pharm Exec: How has the relationship between business development and research and development changed over the past three years?

Kamenska: The speed of innovation in biotechnology in the past few years has been unprecedented. Given there are many external opportunities constantly emerging, the efficiency and effectiveness of business development processes, as well as the ability to quickly define strategic views on various scientific approaches, are critical. Our business development, research and development, and strategy teams have been working closely together to ensure strategic alignment and collaboration.

Going forward, the teamwork is expected to be enhanced further. The new strategy and growth function recently created by Novartis will bring corporate strategy, research and development portfolio strategy, and business development closer together to further strengthen our pipeline with high-value medicines.

Pharm Exec: How has your experience with entrepreneurship and management consulting helped you in your current role?

Kamenska: I started my career in academia within the RNA biology field at the University of Cambridge. The scientific background equipped me with endless curiosity and a problem-solving toolkit. The experience in entrepreneurship showed me how important the strong intrinsic motivation of team members and collaboration across the team are for pursuing ventures with inherently low probabilities of success.

It also helped me to fully appreciate the breadth of capabilities beyond pure research work and the lengths of time needed for bringing great scientific ideas to the hands of patients. The management consulting experience enabled me to expand my skillset and knowledge into the diverse areas of business.

I became particularly excited about the area of business strategy due to its power of dealing with uncertainty, providing a holistic view across multiple functional areas, as well as identifying implications of key external and internal trends and events. The combination of scientific curiosity and a problem-solving approach, collaborative ways of working, and the ability to develop strategic perspectives are instrumental in my current role at Novartis within the corporate strategy team.