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Manufacture Biosimilars, Profession

From Start-Up Biotech to the Boardroom

Credit: Interviewee supplied

What is it about your current role that you love?

My career has progressed in unpredictable ways. I’ve worked in prescription pharma, OTC medicines, innovator biotech, and now I’m focused on biosimilars and generics, which I find very rewarding. You may know that Sandoz pioneered the launch of the world’s first biosimilar in 2006. And the drive for me is enabling more patients to access medicines by doing things smarter and more efficiently, so that we can offer the same products at more affordable prices.

I manage a couple of factories and the company has made substantial investments to ensure the future of our biosimilar business. We have 10 biosimilars on the market, and 24 biosimilars in our pipeline. We continuously scout the reference medicines market to select suitable candidates for biosimilars that we can develop and offer to patients at affordable prices. It’s not easy to make a biosimilar, especially when you want to be the first to market, and there is always a lot of pressure to do it better, and faster – but that’s also fun and rewarding too.

How did you come to work with the Swiss Biotech Association?

I previously worked for Sobi (Swedish Orphan Biovitrum), which acquired various small biotech companies. I became very interested in start-ups, followed some courses, and began doing some start-up coaching and advisory work. Through networking, I met Michael Altdorfer, CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association. The association is all about networking, sharing knowledge, and helping biotech companies be stronger together. I really liked the spirit of the association, so I was super happy when they asked me to join their board last year. Both small companies and big companies are members, and it has a very nice culture of connection and community. As an example of some of the work the association does, in January there was a startup CEO day, which enabled CEOs to get together and share notes. How did you get funding? How do you manage recruitment? Which CRO did you work with? What kind of labs do you have? These types of exchanges are incredibly valuable.

Why is Switzerland’s biopharma climate so favorable?

Switzerland has a very long biopharma tradition and many cantons in the country have some kind of Bio Innovation or Start-Up park. Due to the favourable legal and economic framework (including tax conditions), it is well suited to biotechs. It’s also very easy and quick to launch a new start up. Moreover, there are good incubators and networks – and, of course, the Swiss Biotech Association aims to help too!

For talent in the biopharma industry, there are many different opportunities in Switzerland because there are so many companies here. There is a lot of cross-fertilization as talent moves between different companies too.

What is your advice for others in industry who want to move into leadership? 

It’s very difficult to plan a career. There are many things that you can do to influence things, but there are also special moments that are not entirely in your hands, where you depend on the trust of others and your network.

I have three daughters – two of them are already in university – and I always tell them to find something you do with passion and something that is difficult; show the world that you challenge yourself, and that you can do difficult things. People who challenge themselves over and over again will be able to make their dreams come true.

And do you have additional career aspirations or even dreams?

In recent years, I’ve been involved in Biotech board work. I enjoy what I do, and I especially like the combination of working with the association and with industry.

I’m also interested in what comes next for biosimilars. We have found a way to bring microbial and mammalian products to larger patient populations – perhaps next there will be more complex biosimilars, such as ADCs. And then further in the future, what about cell therapies?

You’ve worked for start ups and big pharma – what are the main differences?

I started out in big pharma, which gave me a lot of opportunities. In big pharma, it’s quite typical for people to move to different departments and there will usually be specialists in each area. The smaller the company becomes, the more you need to know about other aspects. A start up may only have five people, so you need to be able to cover a lot of ground – which can be really interesting. And because there are so many biopharma companies in Switzerland there is a lot of opportunity to move around. Companies will come and go, and other companies will spin off into new companies. Even if you just want to stay with one company, you’ll still find that things change so you’ll have a dynamic environment.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?

I think it's important to be close to your purpose and what you believe in – and also to realize that you are not just somebody who's working; you're also a private person with a family and friends. Being in biopharma allows you to bring that all nicely together. When you have a career where you can connect your purpose and be yourself, you will be able to give so much more.

When you were younger, did you ever imagine working in the (bio)pharma industry?

The motivation to make the world a better place certainly always resonated strongly with me; I studied environment and environmental sciences as a master and PhD, specializing in the life sciences industry for the latter. When I got started in biopharma, it was for an environmental role, but then I moved to health, safety, and environment (HSE), before taking up roles in quality, manufacturing, and the supply chain. By now, I know a lot about different functions in the industry!

I may not have predicted it – but it’s great to work in an industry that makes medicines. My mother died young from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and, for a time, I worked for Biogen, which is very focused on MS. Now, I’m at Sandoz, we bring a more affordable biosimilar version of an originator MS therapy to the market… Sometimes things in your life come together in an unexpected way.

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