The US heads for three leading international mid-cap innovators – Japanese firms Eisai and Kyowa Kirin and Danish outfit Lundbeck – explain their vital role leading operations in the world’s most innovative and lucrative pharma market, translating global cultures to a US reality, and the challenges of attracting and retaining talent.
Ivan Cheung, Eisai
Ivan Cheung has been chairman of Eisai’s US affiliate, Eisai Inc., since April 2016 and also serves as president of the company’s global neurology business group. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheung split his time between US headquarters in New Jersey and global HQ in Tokyo, Japan.
We have learned that to perform well in the US, we need to have a consistently robust pipeline instead of relying on just one or two blockbusters
He outlines the company’s historic presence in the US, noting that “Eisai’s pharma business first entered the US in the 1980s. During that time, most international pharma companies … entered the US because of its positioning as the largest pharma market in the world. The idea was that, if you wanted to launch a blockbuster, you have to go to the US. However, that was decidedly not the reason Eisai entered the US.”
Cheung continues, “When Eisai made that decision to enter the US, the company did not have any assets remotely close to commercialization in the US market. Our CEO, Haruo Naito, had the foresight to recognize the immense innovation potential and activity present in the US market, and he decided to build a drug discovery and research laboratory in Massachusetts. This was very visionary, especially considering that the Cambridge biotech cluster did not exist back then in the 1980s. In fact, Eisai did not launch its first product in the US until 1997, with ARICEPT® (donepezil), which continues to be prescribed throughout the world.”
The USA continues to play a vital role in Eisai’s R&D activities, with four major R&D hubs working on breakthrough medicines in oncology and neuroscience. Additionally, the company has two major collaborations in place with US companies Merck & Co. (MSD outside of the US and Canada) and Biogen.
Currently, the American market accounts for 18 percent of Eisai’s global revenues, with projections for that to increase to 40 percent by 2025, overtaking Japan as the company’s largest affiliate. With the business model in the US relying more on new patented drugs rather than a balanced and diversified portfolio of both new and legacy products seen in Asia, Cheung and his team have had to adapt their strategy.
“We have learned that to perform well in the US, we need to have a consistently robust pipeline instead of relying on just one or two blockbusters,” he proclaims. “Since the launch of ARICEPT®, Eisai has therefore worked extremely hard to build a rich pipeline that would allow us to have multiple large-potential assets in play at any one moment.”
Quizzed on whether the corporate culture of a historic Japanese firm like Eisai is a good fit for the fast-paced and competitive US market, especially given the aforementioned commercial differences between the two regions, Cheung is rather sanguine.
He asserts that “Decision-making is rather quick in Eisai. At the global executive level, we actually have a pretty flat structure. If different affiliate leaders or business heads need to make an important decision, they can simply speak to our CEO and have a dialogue with other relevant stakeholders across the company. The Japanese culture is in general very thoughtful and contemplative; we want to look at different scenarios and perspectives, but this is a good thing. Subsequently, when it comes to making decisions, especially around innovative ideas, our flat organization allows us to do so quickly.”
Gary Zieziula, Kyowa Kirin
Gary Zieziula is relatively new to rare-disease specialist Kyowa Kirin, having been appointed non-executive director on the company’s board in summer 2019 and then president and region head of North America less than a year later. However, he boasts over 40 years of pharma industry experience with Merck & Co. (MSD outside of the US and Canada), BMS, Roche, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, and EMD Serono (Merck KGaA globally).
Three years ago, our revenues were USD 25 million. This year, we expect to contribute over half a billion dollars in revenue to the global organization!
Zieziula cites Kyowa Kirin’s significant potential for growth and success in the US market as a motivating factor to join the team. He outlines, “the company had seen three new products launched within the past three years – POTELIGEO®; CRYSVITA®, which is currently being marketed in the US by our partner, Ultragenyx; and NOURIANZ®, – all performing quite well.”
“I saw a great opportunity to join a company experiencing tremendous growth. To illustrate, three years ago, our revenues were USD 25 million. This year, we expect to contribute over half a billion dollars in revenue to the global organization! And within the next five years, we are looking to represent 50 percent of global revenues outside of Japan. We currently stand at around 29-30 percent. In addition to our three existing products, we also have an exciting pipeline with several new investigational products we hope to bring to the market in the 2025-2030 timeframe.”
He adds, “I have a lot of energy and optimism about the future for Kyowa Kirin. Across research, development, and commercialization, our team is focused on advancing innovations that can address unmet needs, and we expect to see huge growth despite the ongoing global pandemic.”
Despite these successes in recent years, Kyowa Kirin is still not a household name in the US, meaning that talent attraction and retention is potentially challenging. Zieziula admits that “Certainly, we want to increase awareness of Kyowa Kirin as a specialty care company working to meet the unmet patient needs in the core areas of CNS, haematology, immunology and rare diseases. We are actively engaging with patients and advocacy groups, as well as participating in conferences and congresses, to grow our role in the community.”
However, he is optimistic of the ability of the Kyowa Kirin story to attract talent. “When it comes to talent, we are hearing from Big Pharma executives, who tell us that our growth story is fantastic and really appealing. The ability to be part of a company growing as rapidly as Kyowa Kirin is incredibly attractive to talented people. Many people working in Big Pharma companies recognize that it can be hard to make a tangible difference within such large organizations. At Kyowa Kirin, people can make an impact immediately.”
Peter Anastasiou, Lundbeck
Danish CNS specialist Lundbeck has a 105-year history but has only been in the US since 2009, a journey intrinsically linked with 28-year industry veteran Peter Anastasiou. Having worked in roles overseeing CNS products at Eli Lilly and BMS as well as start-up Neuronetics, Anastasiou joined Lundbeck US at its inception, helping set up the firm’s psychiatry business unit before becoming chief commercial officer in 2014, president for North America in 2016, and EVP and head of North America in 2017, a role that also meant joining Lundbeck’s global executive leadership team.
Our leadership team came from a number of different companies, many of them well-established Big Pharma players. We came to Lundbeck understanding how things were done traditionally, but we also had the opportunity to put our own touches on operations
Anastasiou’s passion and expertise for CNS goes some way to explaining the success of Lundbeck’s US affiliate. He explains that “CNS conditions are highly symptomatic diseases that have a huge impact on patients, they are associated with significant morbidity, and they often have high rates of mortality, too. I think most people have a loved one or two suffering from a psychiatric or neurological disorder. The broad societal impact and the highly personal connection so many of us have are what fuel my passion for this therapeutic area.”
He continues, “Lundbeck’s journey over the past decade has been truly fantastic. We launched seven drugs in about eight years, so we were in growth mode constantly, building infrastructure and capabilities along the way. We also expanded our presence and investment strategically. For instance, we acquired Abide Therapeutics in 2019 and established the Lundbeck La Jolla Research Center in Southern California, which gave us access to an entire platform of promising earlier-stage molecules. The same year, we also acquired Alder BioPharmaceuticals, that gave us access to VYEPTI™, which was launched earlier this year, as well as another investigational migraine asset, Lu AG09222. This acquisition also gave us new capabilities in the biologics space, which will allow us to advance the existing antibody programs in our pipeline, as well as any that we may acquire or develop in the future.”
For a mid-cap like Lundbeck, drawing on executive expertise from larger companies has been a key element in this growth trajectory. Anastasiou outlines that “Our leadership team came from a number of different companies, many of them well-established Big Pharma players. We came to Lundbeck understanding how things were done traditionally, but we also had the opportunity to put our own touches on operations. The team and I really focused on building a more agile and nimble organization here at Lundbeck North America. We have the results to show for it – and I can honestly say it has also been a lot of fun!”