PharmaBoardroom recently spoke to CNS-focused Danish biopharma company Lundbeck’s EVP and Head of North America Peter Anastasiou, who highlighted the long-term damage COVID-19 is causing to the general mental health of society, and how Lundbeck is well-positioned to address this in North America.


As the global pandemic rages on, nearly nine months in, pharma companies are having to reassess how to optimize operations in the ‘new normal’ in the longer-term while maintaining the necessary precautions against COVID-19. For Anastasiou, head of North America, one of the current virus epicenters, the task is monumental. As he succinctly puts it, “whether there is a pandemic or not, brain diseases don’t stop. For Lundbeck, our most important consideration has been ensuring the supply of our medicines to patients who need them, which we continue to do.”


Whether there is a pandemic or not, brain diseases don’t stop

Peter Anastasiou, Lundbeck

Looking towards the future, Anastasiou also warns, “the effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long time to come, even when things begin to return to normal,” highlighting “the significant mental health impact [of the virus] in our patient communities, and in society as a whole.” Stress, for instance, can exacerbate symptoms of mental illness and migraines. He reveals, “we know that many people who had no previous mental health disorders are now struggling with anxiety, depression and PTSD. The mental health crisis caused by the pandemic will be significant and long-lasting.”


As the largest biopharma company in the world exclusively dedicated to CNS, Anastasiou is adamant that Lundbeck has a responsibility and fundamental role to play in addressing these concerns. “with our long history in brain diseases and our commitment to supporting people impacted by mental health disorders, we are uniquely positioned to lend our expertise and energy to addressing this crisis. Our colleagues across North America are ready to support our patient communities and bring our unique Lundbeck commitment to this unprecedented time.”


This historical expertise and focus are surely instrumental in tackling such an intractable therapeutic area as CNS diseases. As Anastasiou points out, “CNS is an extremely difficult space to work in. Firstly, these diseases are characterized by significant heterogeneity”, citing depression as a prime example: “Imagine a disease where both sleeping too much and sleeping too little can be symptoms. Eating too much, but also eating too little are symptoms. No two people experience depression in exactly the same way!”


He continues, “secondly, there are no biomarkers for these diseases. We cannot simply take a blood sample and look for biomarkers to diagnose the condition or gauge treatment efficacy, the same way you can for diabetes or heart disease. There are no objective endpoints defining disease onset and progression.” Taken together, CNS diseases are very challenging to diagnose and treat, as well as to develop drugs for.


Having joined Lundbeck in 2009, Anastasiou helped establish the Danish company’s North American operations and has headed up operations in the region, which contributes 58 percent of Lundbeck’s global revenues, and joined Lundbeck’s global executive leadership team in 2017. He attributes the affiliate’s success over the past decade to their intimate and fruitful collaborations with patient advocacy groups on the continent, particularly in the US, where the North American HQ sits.


Anastasiou enthuses, “we have been ranked top amongst pharmaceutical companies in terms of corporate reputation according to the PatientView Corporate Reputation of Pharma (USA Edition) for five of [the past] ten years. That is a great achievement for our team and testament to the efforts we have invested in building these stakeholder relationships.” For instance, he underlines, “we invest resources in engaging with these groups at the grassroots level, in addition to at the HQ level. Much of the work gets done at the grassroots level so this is very important. We sponsor local walks, our employees sit on the boards of local chapters, and we volunteer our time with them.”


Ultimately, he suggests, “patient groups see and value our commitment. They appreciate us because we approach issues and collaborations in a very authentic way”, aphorizing “for us, it is always more of a handshake than a hand-out.”


Read the full interview with Peter Anastasiou here