Marina Vasiliou took the reins as managing director of Biogen Canada in November 2017 after a long and varied career at MSD in a wide variety of geographies.
Canada’s biggest strengths are its diversity and openness—whether that is in health sciences or the culture itself
Marina Vasiliou, Biogen
Vasiliou feels that this experience has left her in good stead to negotiate and capitalize upon the high level of diversity in the Canadian market, noting that “After having worked in the USA, the Middle East and Western Europe, and having a Greek and French family background, being in such a diverse country as Canada is a great opportunity. Indeed, I think that Canada’s biggest strengths are its diversity and openness—whether that is in health sciences or the culture itself—two of the first things that were very evident upon my arrival. This unparalleled diversity means strong Canadian talent, and this is the kind of talent we want to attract in Biogen.”
With a 100 percent focus on neuroscience – an area of significant unmet medical need – Biogen stands alone among the various biotech behemoths present in Canada and is ready to cement its leadership position in the field. As Vasiliou explains, “We are ready to take our history in neuroscience and pair it with great transformation in order to be flawless executers in bringing molecules to market and to patients. In Canada we have a broad portfolio and we are leaders in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) but our introduction of the first treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and what lies ahead in our pipeline are rapidly transforming us to a leader in neuroscience.”
One therapeutic area in which Biogen has already made great progress is Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which Vasiliou notes is “a rare and debilitating disease. In its gravest form, infants do not reach their second birthday.” To combat this disease, Biogen has developed Spinraza®, which although approved by Health Canada and recommended for certain patient groups by CADTH (Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health), has not yet been included on any Canadian province’s reimbursement list. Vasiliou is optimistic that the situation will change soon, noting that “the data from all our studies clearly demonstrates significant and clinically meaningful improvement in children with SMA of all types compared to untreated children and support not only the efficacy but also the safety of Spinraza®.” She continues, “the Canadian provinces have a great opportunity to review the available evidence and acknowledge the value Spinraza® can bring forward for all the children and their families that need it.”
In terms of changing how Biogen Canada is perceived by stakeholders, Vasiliou wants to build up trust and position her affiliate as a true partner in bringing innovative therapies and solutions that have a real impact on patients’ lives. She concludes, “we want to show to Canadian governments, healthcare professionals and patients that Biogen is here as an innovative leader dedicated to working with them to find solutions in this complex system.”