PharmaBoardroom highlights three of the most enterprising and dynamic pharma affiliate country managers working in Switzerland today and their strategies for success in one of the world’s most innovative nations.
Henrik Asmussen, General Manager, Amgen Switzerland
Danish national Henrik Asmussen, head of Amgen Switzerland since 2017, outlined the company culture of Amgen, how it has consistently engaged its employees in Switzerland, and how he dealt with the leadership challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
[COVID-19] has also been a challenge for leaders, because there is no recipe for how to manage a situation like this
One of the things that makes us stand out from other companies is our biotechnology spirit and culture. This has been there from the beginning and continues to be so, despite our company’s growth. The goal is to stay independent because this has led us to where we are today, along with the fact that it would be difficult for anyone else to acquire a company of Amgen’s current size. The focus from senior leadership has been on continuing our growth based on our pipeline, along with striking business development agreements along the way.
It is down to several factors. One is clearly that for the people that work at Amgen, it is more than a job. Our mission to serve patients really resonates and there is a feeling that we make a difference in everything we do. There is also a sense of inclusion and belonging. Our staff feel well here and work in a friendly environment with a lot of focus on teamwork and celebrating success. A final element, that goes back to the concept of still being a biotech is that we know innovation often leads to failure. Mistakes are fully accepted by management as long as it is learned from so that better solutions can be developed in the future.
We are also engaging a lot with our employees, something that has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether just brief conversations or video chats, we have worked hard to keep our staff engaged virtually. Amgen has also been offering a lot of support in terms of strategies on working from home, also with children or dogs running around the house!
We put our people’s safety as our first priority all along, making sure that they feel comfortable to come to work or otherwise allowing them to work from home, giving them the protective equipment they need, and financially supporting the equipment of home offices. The company has also been providing flu vaccinations, virtual fitness classes, resilience trainings and employee assistance programs – all for free.
Leadership During COVID-19
[COVID-19] has also been a challenge for leaders, because there is no recipe for how to manage a situation like this. A lot of things had to be developed quite fast. One of the successes at Amgen was building a cross-functional incidence management team which meets frequently to ensure that we are fully updated on what is happening in Switzerland and in Amgen globally to inform and give advice to our staff on how best to act.
COVID-19 has also created a lot of exchange among senior leaders. We have country leader forums, where all the Europe GMs are connected virtually, quite frequently and these have proved to be an excellent source of best practice sharing and alignment on meeting and overcoming the challenges we all face. It is impossible to navigate a situation like this alone, this teamwork and information sharing is crucial.
Through this response in spring, we have been able to build up our resilience as a leadership team and as an entire affiliate that gives us confidence to take on whatever comes next.
Katharina Gasser, Managing Director, Biogen Switzerland & Chair of the Executive Committee, Interpharma
Dr Katharina Gasser highlighted how her diverse experience as both a physician and a clinical research investigator stands her in good stead to lead Biogen Switzerland, why being a 100 percent neuroscience-focused company is beneficial in stakeholder relationship building, and her hopes for the future of the affiliate.
The competition that exists in the Swiss neuroscience market is good for patients, who have a broader range of molecules to treat their disease. From a patient perspective, this situation should occur in all disease areas
Coming from Medical Affairs to a General Management role
I am a trained physician and spent several years working in hospitals before moving into clinical research as an investigator, where my love for clinical trials was awakened. At that point I then decided to move into the pharmaceutical industry, working 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.
When moving into a managing director role, you are faced with so many things at once that it can be overwhelming. 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.
Being a 100% Neuroscience-Focused Company
Biogen has been a pioneer in the treatment of MS and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and, in both of these disease areas, was the first company to introduce molecules that change the course of the disease and therefore the life of patients. This has also led to the possibility of liaising with medical KOLs, bringing science to them, having a long-standing exchange, and becoming a trusted partner. Any exchange comes down to trust and Biogen, as a company that came into neuroscience, decided to stay, and will continue to be there, has gained a lot of trust over the years.
The competition that exists in the Swiss neuroscience market is good for patients, who have a broader range of molecules to treat their disease. From a patient perspective, this situation should occur in all disease areas. Competition also pushes us to offer a more holistic range of solutions and services beyond the pill, such as our ‘Cleo’ app, which allows patients to get more information on their disease, track it, and interact with their healthcare practitioner (HCP).
Hopes for Biogen Switzerland
Biogen is, and will remain, committed to unmet medical need in neuroscience. We will not rest until we can bring innovative treatments for neuroscience to patients. This has been in our DNA since our foundation – two of the company founders were Nobel Prize winners 40 years ago.
Our state-of-the-art Swiss manufacturing site will provide good manufacturing capacity for innovation and help us to remain at the forefront of innovative treatments. We will continue to fight for a good, healthy environment where we can drive research, innovation and attract talent to Switzerland, foster an attractive way of working, and find ways to bring innovation to patients as early as possible after marketing authorisation.
Pierre Morneau, General Manager, Takeda Switzerland
Pierre Morneau, GM for Japanese giant Takeda’s Swiss branch, noted the strategic complexities of bringing a diverse portfolio of treatments to market, why equitable access is a vital and challenging goal in Switzerland, especially for rare diseases, and the key competencies needed in his leadership team.
The environment is shifting at a more rapid speed than ever before. Past paradigms are obsolete, like an innovative drug enjoying ten years without competition in the market, as rapid innovation is creating more competition at an earlier stage
Adapting to a Diverse Portfolio
We need to adapt to individual models within therapeutic areas. It is impossible to manage GI, which requires many resources and a broad spectrum, in the same way as Rare Diseases, for which there may only be a few patients across Switzerland. Different business models are needed within the organisation to cope with the needs of patients and customers.
Equitable access is very important, and we are investing many resources in getting treatments to patients. Switzerland still has a pricing and reimbursement system geared to giving access to drugs that have gone through large-scale randomised trials, like our mature GI portfolio. This is not the case in Rare Diseases where only limited data exist. Thankfully the Article 71 system allows for early access for individual patients to some rare disease treatments. However, Article 71 also has the potential for inequality built into it as cases are decided on a case-by-case basis and the health insurance that the individual holds determines whether or not to grant access to the treatment.
In the US, once a product received FDA approval, it can be accessed immediately. In Germany, the situation is similar, where access is granted following EMA approval, while France also guarantees early, universal access via its ATU system for innovative drugs. The pricing negotiations in all three countries are then discussed, but the patients do not face access delays during this period.
However, although Article 71 does grant some access, it is not universal and creates discrepancies and inequalities as the decision lies in the hands of the health insurance companies.
Competencies needed to engage in complex science earlier
The key word is ‘agile’. The environment is shifting at a more rapid speed than ever before. Past paradigms are obsolete, like an innovative drug enjoying ten years without competition in the market, as rapid innovation is creating more competition at an earlier stage.
Leadership teams need to constantly adapt to the situation, look at the way they are working, and engage with other parts of the business and also external partners. They need to examine the market response and understand this new, demanding market requires constant progress and innovation.