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Interview: Sam Pearce, Celgene

The general manager of Celgene UK and Ireland explains to Liz Wells how her entrepreneurial spirit fits well with this fast-expanding biotech

Same Pearce, general manager, Celgene UK & IrelandSam Pearce has always been attracted by business opportunities that carry more of an entrepreneurial challenge, which even included her first venture after university.

"My first job was running my own business in France. I ran a ski company for a couple of years; it was a passion of mine," she explains.

"It was a good opportunity to work in another country, learn French and also learn about business. I had done a degree in Physiology but was very much attracted to the business world, so it was a good opportunity to find out about that environment. It was something I got a real taste for: risk-taking ventures, having more of an entrepreneurial say in how things work, having the autonomy to shape and make things happen."

Pearce says she left the world of skiing behind because she wanted to use the knowledge gained through her degree. She eventually joined a start-up in the UK, a joint venture between DuPont and MSD, progressing from being a sales rep in South-West London to product management and then into sales management.

During her time at the company she launched a new HIV drug called Sustiva across Europe. Pearce then took on a European business development role, reporting to the global organisation in the US, returning to the UK as director of marketing and business development until the company was bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb, at which time she decided to move on.

Pearce explains: "DuPont had been a small organisation, very entrepreneurial, but I had been there 10 years and was ready to move and interested in experiencing a larger pharma company and very keen to take up the opportunity to join AstraZeneca (AZ). Again that was into a newly created role, which gave me the opportunity to shape something from the beginning once more. I really enjoyed my time there."

Pearce joined AZ as head of strategic planning in the UK and went on to lead the oncology team as it launched Arimidex for early breast cancer. She then took charge of its specialist care business, which included oncology, as well as psychiatry and infection. She left AZ at the end of 2009, after seven years, to join Celgene.

Sam Pearce, Celgene UK & Ireland discusses value-based pricingFor more videos with Sam Pearce,
visit PMLiVE's YouTube page

Massive growth
"The thing that attracted me to Celgene was that it is an organisation that is going through a period of massive growth. It is a very exciting time. The company is a specialist; it knows its patients and customers very well and it has an awful lot to offer."

Celgene celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year and has experienced huge expansion since its launch. The company's UK and Ireland affiliate opened its first office with just five employees five years ago at Stockley Park.

Today, it has 90 staff and sales in excess of $160m and is based in new offices to accommodate the growing team.

It is the company's culture that differentiates it from other pharma companies, according to Pearce. "Everyone that comes to Celgene is attracted by the same ideals. It's the opportunity to make a difference, to feel close to the value that you deliver to the patients. We have a set of values and the patient is at the heart of that. As we have been growing significantly in the past six months, we have been recruiting and interviewing a lot of people and asking them about their reasons for wanting to join Celgene and it is interesting to see the motivations that bind those people together. Quite often, our customers have recommended that they come to us."

The company had performed well globally, as well as in the UK, despite the recession. In 2010, growth was 55 per cent, driven by the success of Revlimid. Pearce believes that the company's secrets to success can be narrowed down to two aspects: its products and its people.

"We have great products, which have been recommended by NICE [National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] to be cost effective. We can develop sound products and we have shown that we are able to translate those products into valuable medicines. Also, we are able to execute well in the markets because of our really great team," she enthuses.

However, Pearce says that the recession has threatened the funding stream for medicines and that the company has to continue to work hard to prove that its drugs are worthy of investment. The biggest threat for pharma companies is whether they can continue to deliver sustainable innovation, she says. "What we have seen in the past is companies growing on the back of a few blockbusters and then having a significant gap where they haven't launched too many new products. That challenge is as relevant to us as it is to any other company. However, what gives me great confidence is that at Celgene we have one of the most exciting and promising biotech pipelines that you will see in the industry."

However, the company's growth has created many challenges, according to Pearce. "We have to ensure that as we grow we do not dilute the things that make Celgene a really special place to work. We are an entrepreneurial company that sees opportunities and grasps them and makes the most of them. We want to ensure that this continues because without that we won't be able to overcome some of the challenges that come with the type of product portfolio that we have in a specialised area."

Pearce believes that the key to success in the biotech industry is having a workforce that is connected, where everyone feels as though they can make a contribution and can shape the future of the business. "When you give people that level of autonomy then they feel engaged and motivated and they feel happy in their jobs and they are productive," she explains.

Pearce does not believe that the industry is male-dominated. She says it is more balanced than it has ever been and she has never experienced anything other than support during her career to date. "To get the best people means being as adaptable as you can be in your approach, whether it be women coming back to work, or men who have just started a family and want some flexibility." 

Biography

Sam Pearce has more than 20 years of industry experience. A graduate of Birmingham University, where she studied Physiology, Pearce did not immediately follow a traditional career path. After leaving university, she took the opportunity to set up and run her own small 'start-up' – a ski company in La Clusaz, France.

This experience gave her a real taste for business. She decided to marry this with her science background and started her career at DuPont Pharmaceuticals in January 1991.

At DuPont she gained experience in numerous marketing and business development roles, in the UK and internationally. Pearce was at DuPont for 10 years, in which time she launched the HIV drug Sustiva in Europe. During this time Pearce studied part-time to gain her MBA from Cranfield University.

Following DuPont's acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pearce joined AstraZeneca in a newly formed role with the remit to develop a new strategic planning function.

She then took responsibility for the oncology division, launching Arimidex for early breast cancer before progressing to lead the specialist care division.

Pearce was at AstraZeneca for seven years before moving to Celgene in March 2010 as general manager for UK and Ireland and currently has regional general management responsibility for Northern Europe.

Patient benefits
Pearce says that her experience at Celgene has been different from what she has experienced elsewhere in the industry because it is a firm that does not see the competition as its primary focus. "When you operate in disease areas that are life threatening and where there are inadequate treatment options available, your focus is different. These patients need new innovative treatments and when you are as committed to this as we are you will celebrate treatment advances whether they come from your pipeline or someone else's."

Pearce believes that the fact that regulatory authorities encourage pharma companies to develop orphan drugs underlines the significant unmet need within these therapy areas. However, she says that the challenge is, having got regulatory approval to market the products in the UK, to ensure that pharma companies achieve reimbursement so that these products get into the hands of patients.

"There is a contradiction there, and I think it is recognised by the reimbursement authorities and the Department of Health, that it is often more difficult for an orphan drug to meet the stringent cost-effectiveness requirements. Certainly the introduction of end-of-life criteria has helped in certain situations, but when you consider that these disease areas have the most significant unmet medical need, it does not sit well with companies like ours, or with clinicians, patients and patients' groups, when medicines are denied to those who are in most need of them. I am pleased to see there is recognition of that and I am optimistic that we will find a way to ensure that the differences between an orphan drug and other medicines are accounted for in reimbursement evaluations, going forward."

The company works closely with relevant patient groups, particularly Myeloma UK, to ensure that patients have access to their treatments, and to ensure that clinicians and nurses understand how to use these medicines appropriately.

The company has a number of ongoing initiatives, such as its recently launched accredited learning programme for nurses. There are currently 350 nurses taking part in the programme and, according to Pearce, the feedback has been very positive. "We are always looking at ways to progress the awareness of multiple myeloma and MDS [Myelodasplastic Syndromes] and also the expertise and training that nurses need in order to effectively support patients," she asserts.

Pearce says that the future of the company is bright. It is currently hiring for key positions to ensure its growth can be maintained and there are plans to continue launches in new therapy areas. It is currently a leading company in haematology and, through the acquisition of Abraxis BioScience at the end of 2010, it is set to establish itself as a top name in solid tumours and oncology.

"The specialist therapy areas offer attractive opportunities. The requirements are unique and to be successful you have to have deep insight into the needs of the customers and patients. This gives companies such as Celgene the chance to thrive. We can compete in these areas to satisfy the needs of the patient. Even though we aren't the biggest company, we can be the best partner for clinicians in these areas."

Pearce hints that the company will also consider making further acquisitions if necessary. Celgene has been prepared to invest significantly in other companies, she says.

"This has been the most exciting and rewarding year of my career. It has been very fast-paced, with the acquisition [Abraxis BioScience] and the growth of the business, there has been much to celebrate. I have a great team so it has been immensely enjoyable and it's been great to be part of a business that has such an optimistic outlook," she concludes.

The interviewer
Liz Wells
is a freelance journalist and former deputy editor of PME.

19th September 2011

From: Sales

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