A trained physician with several years of practice under her belt, Katharina Gasser then moved into clinical research as an investigator before joining the pharma industry in 2005. Now head of Biogen’s Swiss affiliate and chair of the executive committee of industry association Interpharma, Gasser cites her diverse background as a key contributory factor to her career success.


“Within pharma I have worked in both large and smaller companies active in several different fields and in a variety of roles, from medical affairs to commercial and back. This broad range of experience gave me a foundational knowledge of the entire value chain – from drug development to medical affairs, commercialisation, and market access – and helped me get to where I am today,” she states.


However, Gasser explains that moving from specific technical roles to her first general management role at Biogen in 2018 was not without its challenges. “When moving into a managing director role, you are faced with so many things at once that it can be overwhelming,” she admits. “As the external face of the organisation, you are expected to deal with both the broad political topics and sometimes you are required to go into details. It is important to prioritise, which has been a challenge.”


The most important thing I look for in our staff is that they think like entrepreneurs and treat Biogen as if it was their own company

Katharina Gasser, Biogen Switzerland


Additionally, this personal journey of transformation has been accompanied by a shift in the priorities and focus of Biogen as a company. “Biogen has moved from being a company focused on multiple sclerosis (MS) to a company delivering and developing molecules in many different disease areas within neuroscience as well as offering a biosimilars portfolio,” notes Gasser. “Setting up the affiliate to ensure that we had the right skills, backgrounds, entrepreneurial mindsets, and curiosity within our team took time. However, the team we now have in place from top to bottom is well equipped to continue this journey, move into new disease areas, and broaden our horizons in neuroscience.”


For Gasser, finding the right people and building a team in Switzerland, home to pharma giants like Novartis and Roche, “is a challenge, as we are not a big company and have limited resources. We have to play it smart and find people with the right mindset. For me, the most important thing I look for in our staff is that they think like entrepreneurs and treat Biogen as if it was their own company; driving it forward, carefully weighing up where investments go, executing all of their activities flawlessly, and bringing passion to everything they do. We need people that are bold enough to try new things, who do not give up when things get challenging, and who always stay curious.”


Looking towards the future and her priorities for the affiliate, Gasser foresees further rapid change in the neuroscience context which will require agile leadership. “We are happy and proud to be pioneers in neuroscience, but our pioneering work also requires us to keep pace with an increasingly ambiguous and changing environment to ensure that patients have access to our breakthrough therapies,” she states. “COVID-19 has hastened our digital transformation and forced us to rethink how we engage with stakeholders, what our go-to-market models look like, and how we meet physicians’ needs. We have a fantastic opportunity to learn more, drive change, and be disruptive, bringing an innovative mindset to all our everyday interactions.”


Read the full interview with Katharina Gasser here