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Manufacture Business Practice, Advanced Medicine, Trends & Forecasts

Leading by Learning

Did you always want to work in pharma?

My main interest was actually chemistry. I come from a family with a chemistry and pharmacy background, and I always thought that chemistry had a magic touch to it. It seemed amazing that you could be sick, take a drug and then be less sick or even cured. I decided to go to pharmacy school and started working in pharmacy hospitals, but during my studies I became really passionate about the impact a company can have on health. This was reinforced when I started working for Abbott Diagnostics at the time of the launch of an HIV test. The epidemic was just starting to take shape and this test had the incredible ability to reliably/adequately diagnose people. I was determined to stay in industry and learn more of the business side after that.

How did you join Roche?

Roche asked me to run their affiliate in France. The focus was on oncology and it was really exciting because I hadn’t worked in this area before. I had the opportunity to launch many of Roche’s landmark medicines, including Avastin.

Eventually, I moved to Basel to take on my role in Roche Partnering to lead a group of around 80 people based in different sites around the world. Our job is to scout interesting opportunities that complement the Roche pipeline. Around 30 to 40 percent of Roche medicines are externally sourced. Opportunities may include a very early research idea in academia or a large company that already has a product on the market. We focus on specific therapy areas, but we also look at personalized healthcare and healthcare IT, where companies are working on artificial intelligence, big data, or apps that can be applied by patients. Using AI, for example, it should be possible to better understand the impact of a drug on a patient and the results from clinical trials. These are really exciting areas and should lead the industry to a whole new level of discovery and development.

How did you move into business development?

I got an MBA from the University of Chicago and then I joined a management development program at Abbott that included a number of assignments, two of which were key for my development. One was in market research, which was interesting because I learned how to evaluate a physician’s perception of the impact of innovative medicines, and how they often make an immediate yes or no decision. The second was a sales representative visiting psychiatric hospitals. My focus was mainly on manic depression and epilepsy, and I was shocked by the distress that existed in psychiatric hospitals and the lack of effective drugs in this area. But the physicians were very dedicated and had a real hunger for science and new medicines. I loved working so close to physicians and the psychiatric area. I remained in that area for a number of years before going on to run the business unit for neuroscience at Sanofi.

What are the most challenging aspect of your role?

I need to empower my team so that they can find the best opportunities. If I want to empower them I should let them do what they know best and run with it. But at the same time, I have experienced a lot; it can be difficult to share your own experiences while still empowering people to make their own decisions. Sometimes I have to encourage them to be more forceful or to be aware that something is too risky and not worth pursuing. I am so proud when I see my team develop – especially when they are promoted and go on to become leaders in an area. When you are in a senior position you always end up feeling like you have a lot of children. Finally, we all work really hard and it’s rewarding to see the impact it has on the company pipeline.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned over your career?

To continuously work to be a good leader. When you move into a senior role, you think you are ready to lead people – you are motivated and driven; you think that being a good leader will be spontaneous. In reality, you need to roll up your sleeves and work on it. During the first 15 years of my career, I learned how to be a pharma executive, but it took another 15 years to learn how to be a good boss. But if you work on it, it will change your life and have a huge impact on the people around you.

Some say there is a lack of women in the industry. What is your view?

I actually think there are more women in the pharma industry than in many other industries. But it is true that you tend to find less women at the top. Women and men are different; we think differently and express those thoughts differently, I think – that is the value of diversity. Of course, there are challenges – you might be the only woman in a boardroom – but if you stay focused, believe in yourself and get the right training, then you can succeed no matter what. I have tried to develop skills to be comfortable in this situation – and also to be a mentor to women. But sometimes I can’t nominate women for leadership roles in my team because I don’t have the right candidates at the time. I try to be neutral to gender to focus on the right person for the right job, but I’m not neutral to the gender of my interview pool. My interview pool will always have an equal number of men and women.

Why is pharma such a rewarding industry to work in?

As well as the difference you can make to patient lives, I love that I can continuously learn. Recently, I visited a school in Basel to talk to children about what they want to study – I told them that the beauty of the pharmaceutical industry is that you continuously learn. Every day, I come home smarter than when I left – but also more aware of my lack of knowledge; that’s not always a great feeling, but it always helps you to progress.

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