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Building a business that is lean and specialised

Tuomo Pätsi on Celgene’s approach to access, marketing and the importance of culture
Tuomo Patsi

So spartan was Celgene's first European base when it was set up some eight years ago that it was affectionately known as the dentist's office by more than one employee.

From such humble beginnings in Neuchâtel, Switzerland the New Jersey-headquartered biopharmaceutical company has grown rapidly - so much so that Tuomo Pätsi can comfortably talk of being in a “different phase in the lifecycle” to that currently being experienced by many other companies in the industry.

Tuomo recently re-joined Celgene as president for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, having previously been with the company at the beginning of its European story. From the setting up of its first commercial organisation in 2006 he was one of its first employees as Celgene laid the ground for the forthcoming launch of its multiple myeloma drug Revlimid (lenalidomide).

He first served as its head of marketing for Europe and from there moved into more general management roles. These saw him oversee the establishment of a number of Celgene's local affiliates in Europe before taking on a wider regional position as vice president for North Europe, which included Germany, the UK, Russia, the Nordic countries, Benelux and Eastern Europe.

Having reached this level with Celgene he then made what he candidly admits was “a big mistake”. “I left Celgene to follow an entrepreneurial opportunity to start an organisation for another American biopharma company as head of Europe. And after two years in that job, that company was acquired by a large pharma company based in the UK. I am lucky that I got a chance to return back to Celgene.”

The company was Human Genome Sciences and its acquirer, GlaxoSmithKline, had its eye on gaining full control of Benlysta (belimumab), the lupus product that the two had been co-marketing. It was not Tuomo's first brush with larger companies; Amgen, where he spent eleven years in senior brand management and marketing positions, including as its global marketing director, may have been more big biotech at the time, but his career has also encompassed stints in European product management and clinical research positions at Rhône-Poulenc Rorer (now part of Sanofi) and Eli Lilly.

But it's clear that Tuomo's passion is for the more entrepreneurial side of the industry. “I've been very excited about building new things in the kinds of roles that I have had,” he explains. “They've always been the most energising, motivating roles - where you're able to build new things.”

He adds: “What is fascinating to me at Celgene is that we have the best of both worlds. We have the resources that we need, and we have the pipeline, but we still have that entrepreneurial culture - it's a culture where we can get things done; that, to me, is the essence of Celgene.”

Growth story

The company's current Swiss base, with its views of the Jura Mountains on one side and Lake Neuchâtel on the other, is anything but a 'dentist's office'. The site, which was opened in 2008 and has regularly been expanded, is emblematic of the company's own growth.

In its latest set of quarterly figures Celgene posted profits that leapt by 37%, driven by a double-digit rise in revenues from Revlimid. “We do have a very positive momentum in terms of our growth,” Tuomo says, somewhat understatedly, and the company is gearing up for this trajectory to continue, with multiple new launches. These plans include new indications for the company's key product Revlimid.

The cancer drug is already a significant player in the relapsed-refractory myeloma field, and Celgene is seeking to increase its potential uses with a first-line indication in multiple myeloma, which it submitted to European and US regulators for approval earlier this year. The drug, which was the 17th best-selling pharma product in 2013, according to PMLiVE Top Pharma List figures from GlobalData, will still be a “key new opportunity” going into 2015 for the company, Tuomo says.

A franchise model
Next year will also see a significant change in the way Celgene operates. In order to expand its traditional efforts in haematology and oncology the company is moving into immunology and inflammation with its new INI franchise. This has been in the pipeline for some time and will face its first major sales and marketing test in Europe with the anticipated launch next year of Otezla (apremilast) for psoriasis if it is backed by European regulators.

Underpinning its efforts in immunology and inflammation is a global franchise structure that positions INI as a separate entity within the company, for which Celgene has recruited mainly externally - adding some people from its existing organisation - to find the right mix in expertise for its new area.

In practice the new franchise will be headed up by a local business lead director who will report to the same general manager, just as Celgene's existing franchise leads do. There will be some shared functions across the franchises, “but whatever is disease area-specific will be under the franchise,” explains Tuomo. He says that although Celgene is expanding, by continuing to focus on specialty products the company doesn't need hundreds of sales representatives and can continue to be lean.

Developing a franchise model, expanding into new therapy areas and, though it's early days for this new approach, Tuomo says Celgene is not ruling anything out when it comes to other areas that might prove fruitful for the company. “If we were to find something in Alzheimer's disease, we would not definitely reject it, just because it's not in our [current] franchises - so that might lead to something new.”

Even within Celgene's first two focus areas of haematology and oncology - both potentially very broad areas - there could be a further reshuffle. “It depends where the science takes us,” says Tuomo. “There might be further kinds of separation from the franchise.”

Data-driven marketing

Given that Tuomo's background was in senior marketing roles, and that he trained as a pharmacist, I ask what best practice looks like in pharmaceutical marketing? “There is a lot of misunderstanding about what pharmaceutical marketing is. Good marketing is data-driven - it needs to be credible and cannot be frivolous - and it also depends on the lifecycle of the product,” he says.

“Marketing is more about identifying the areas to go into, identifying our communications, helping find solutions for physicians. It's also about directing our clinical development, to some extent, because of course we have to make trade-offs in where to direct our resources, so marketing can help us identify where there are needs that need to be addressed.

“If you talk about the promotional part of market, specialty care especially is very data-driven. Advertising is a very, very limited part of the marketing mix nowadays. [Instead] it's very much more about sharing information and advice with healthcare professionals,” says Tuomo.

As part of this he takes a broad view of the market activities needed – an very important part of which is market access. “In our company, it's not like we have a team that does market access - it's everyone's role. So I'm engaged in it, the medical team is engaging and we have to consider it when we make decisions on which products to develop. So if we believe that there is a chance to develop a product in an indication where it adds value, those are the indications that we have to go after.”

Market realities can of course not be ignored as Europe continues to struggle with austerity spending. “Whether you call it challenging or reality what's top of the industry's mind is market access pricing. There is a lot of evolution happening with the authorities and that's an area that we're always following and where we want to be part of the dialogue and find solutions,” Tuomo says.

His stated desire is to find innovative solutions to this situation and, since setting up in Europe eight years ago, it's a path that Celgene has had quite a bit of success in following. More than 80% of the population in Europe has reimbursed access to its key medicines in their indications, though Tuomo notes that the market access situation is “constantly changing – there are new requirements and new ways to evaluate value,” he says. “It's a capability that any pharma company has to pay close attention to.”

Retaining your culture

Looking at the challenges Celgene may face in the future, Tuomo says one of these will be to maintain the culture of an expanding company. “This entrepreneurial spirit … that's something that we still have and we want to maintain it.”

He acknowledges that there's no single 'magic bullet' that will enable it to experience rapid growth but still maintain its culture. “It really is a comprehensive approach that you need to take, starting from selection of people and making sure that we have clear values - and when there are signs of bureaucracy hindering people in their work then we address it.”

Article by
Dominic Tyer

is editorial director at PMGroup

2nd December 2014

From: Sales, Marketing, Regulatory

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