written on 21.09.2009
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Interview with Thomas Trilling, General Manager, Basilea

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You have a wide experience in the pharmaceutical industry having worked for companies such as Amgen and Servier. What attracted you to Basilea?

When I first considered moving to Basilea in June 2007 I was captivated by its plans to implement commercial operations in different countries to what was a pure R&D company. Taking this challenge and building up a country organization from scratch has proved to be a very exciting adventure and was just what I needed after very fruitful and productive years in other pharmaceutical companies.

What were the main challenges you faced in building up Basilea Germany?

I wouldn’t even say it was a challenge, just a great adventure. Some of the key aspects that made this operation successful were, first of all, to get the right people on board in order to build performing teams. For a newly established company it is crucial to get not only real talents but also experienced people, which was our first target for the creation of Basilea Pharmaceutica Deutschland. Another adventure was the build up of different work streams and processes which in turn led to getting the necessary certificates to conduct pharmaceutical activities in Germany.

What would you highlight as the main milestones since the establishment of Basilea in the German market?

The first milestones were to physically establish the company from scratch. The next step was to recruit the right people for our tasks and to form a really good team. Building up business functions and processes was crucial to get the necessary certificates to operate in the country with an approved product – a complex bureaucratic process that is inevitable for any company expanding its businesses.Another milestone was Basilea’s communication campaign for the company as well as for its products. Being new to Germany, Basilea needed to build its brand and company image and communicate its vision to the stakeholders in the healthcare market in Germany.

What is your strategy in terms of image and brand recognition to better position Basilea’s name in the German market?

Basilea itself is a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to bringing innovative drugs to the market – therapies that are demanded by both patients and doctors. All products within Basilea’s portfolio reflect this ideal. Basilea positions itself as a respectful company working with integrity for the benefit of society; communicating this message across the industry was fundamental to successfully establish Basilea in Germany.

When we look at the Basilea group we see that it has established itself in different European countries such as the UK and Denmark. In this regards, what is the importance of Germany for the group as whole?

Due to the size of the population in this country, Germany is currently the most important market for Basilea in Europe. Being the most populated and affluent country in Europe it holds the most important commercial operations for Basilea. The headquarter in Switzerland holds the most important operations regarding R&D.However, each market has its own specificities affecting the way operations ultimately take place in the company. Germany has an early market access enabling patients to have early benefits from innovative products but at the same time it imposes restrictions on prescriptions at the doctors’ level. Therefore, it is crucial to communicate clearly and define ways of reimbursement for these innovative products.

Basilea’s portfolio includes alitretinoin and a promising upcoming pipeline now under clinical trial. How do you expect your product portfolio to evolve in the coming years?

Basilea originally had two main areas of focus: anti-infection and dermatology, with a new establishing line in oncology. In dermatology Toctino is a unique product in the market and it has become very important for the company. Toctino is creating value for patients suffering from chronic severe hand eczema refractory to topical steroids, a condition that causes not only pain but also physical scars often leading to social exclusion. Before Toctino there was no treatment available for severe chronic hand eczema unresponsive to corticosteroids; but today patients have a chance to get clear or almost clear hands after three to six months of treatment. Basilea launched the product eight months ago and has experienced great success in the market: it has been the most successful launch ever in the German dermatological industry. This product was put side by side with products from companies with sales forces sometimes twenty times bigger than ours. Toctino is a great success to Basilea; but the real reward lies with the patients and the doctors that now have a way of treating severe chronic hand eczema. As for anti-infection products Basilea currently has ceftobiprole under regulatory review in the EU and the U.S. This product, which is marketed in Switzerland and Canada, is an antibiotic exerting significant advantages compared with other antibiotic medicines as it covers dangerous bugs such as methicillin-resistant Staphylo-coccus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas. Ceftobiprole is a real innovation in the antibiotic market. In the anti-infectives area there is also a third promising product under way: isavuconazole, a novel broad-spectrum antifungal for the treatment of severe invasive fungal infections.

What is your strategy to repeat the success that you had with alitretinoin with the rest of your pipeline?

The best strategy is to not change a winning team and its winning strategy. Basilea stands out because of its innovation level and the value it brings to patients and doctors. This is why the communication campaign is so important to spread the right message and vision of the company. Although we know the industry is very competitive we are confident that Basilea’s differentiation will make us a success in all areas including the anti-infective market. In order to achieve this goal Basilea is also partnering with Johnson & Johnson in the co-promotion of its antibiotic ceftobiprole.

As partnerships are an important part of your business, how would you portray Basilea as the partner of choice in your niche areas?

Basilea is a very professional company not only in financial terms but also with regards to the people working here and being able to attract talents from other companies. Basilea unites the experience of a big pharmaceutical company with the flexibility of a medium biotech company. But what really differentiates Basilea is its ability to motivate and create an atmosphere where all employees are contributing to the success of our products, our partners and – most of all – the patients.There is a current market trend where big pharmaceutical companies are acquiring large and small cap biotechs in order to boost their shrinking pipelines.

Do you see this trend more as a challenge or an opportunity to a biotech company like Basilea?

Bringing a new drug to market requires a level of financial investment and global infrastructure that might not be available to a small biotech company. It is therefore natural for a small company to collaborate with a big pharmaceutical company. The decision whether it is more economic for a big pharma company to acquire a potential partner rather than license a project depends largely on the market valuation. Therefore, there is always the risk of being taken over as long as the market valuation does not adequately reflect the value and attractiveness of the products and pipeline of a given company.As you highlighted, one of the main points and reasons for Basilea’s success in Germany has been the quality of its human resources.

In such a competitive labor market how do you attract and retain the best talent inside the company?

In order to attract the brightest minds Basilea built a solid history behind it. Our people were attracted to and identify themselves with the company; they share the same culture; and appreciate the working atmosphere. The contributions employees bring to Basilea in creating new products and solutions that will improve people’s lives are a fundamental aspect aside from career opportunities associated with the job.Other than that, Basilea really emphasizes the personal development of our employees. This, combined with the positive atmosphere and the presence of good teams, creates a package which attracts people and guarantees the success of Basilea and those working for it.

Looking towards the future, what are your main expectations and ambitions for Basilea?

We want to expand our activities in the dermatological field to continue giving access of Toctino to as many chronic severe hand eczema patients as possible.Besides, Basilea wishes to expand its portfolio in areas that offer development and commercial synergies with its existing therapeutic focus.

Based on the success Basilea has had in the German market, what would be your advice to the other medium sized pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies that are planning to establish themselves in Germany?

The rewarding aspect of the pharmaceutical industry is the ability to create additional value for patients. This should be the objective of any pharmaceutical company aiming to be successful. In order to do so one must create differentiating products and attract the right people for specific roles. People must be motivated and have autonomy in their jobs to produce results and they must participate in the company to drive it to success. Basilea has done so – no wonder why it has been so successful.

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