17th annual eyeforpharma Philadelphia (Commercial, Digital and Patients)

Apr 16, 2019 - Apr 17, 2019, Philadelphia

800+ pharma leaders join together to discuss how to revolutionize the patient experience – and, accordingly, their commercial performance.

The Art Of Leadership

AstraZeneca’s Regina Fritsche Danielson shares some practical wisdom on manning the tiller

Leaders in pharma tend to be interesting people, with their often diverse career journeys typified by a lifelong interest in basic science, coupled with an innate desire to help people.

AstraZeneca’s Regina Fritsche Danielson certainly fits that bill. With a strong background in scientific research, her time working in industry has been characterized by many firsts.

Academia to industry
Fritsche obtained her PhD in her native Sweden before travelling to the US to study embryonic cardiovascular development with leaders in the field. An independent research grant brought about her return to an academic position in Sweden, from where she was headhunted by AstraZeneca a few years later. This was in fact the second time the company had tried to recruit Fritsche from her laboratory; “This time I felt ready to leave academia and to apply my scientific knowledge to developing new medicines”. Her leadership credentials were evident from early on; starting as a scientist in the cardiovascular group working on novel atherosclerosis targets, after just three months Fritsche was appointed team leader for one of AstraZeneca’s vascular biology teams.

Having worked her way up the organization, Fritsche now heads up early Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism (CVRM), R&D BioPharmaceuticals at AstraZeneca. She was responsible for bringing the first mRNA therapy from preclinical to Phase II, as well as being instrumental in bringing AstraZeneca’s first stem cell therapy into the pipeline.

Unsurprisingly, as with most professionals of her caliber, her ambition is matched only by her enthusiasm for her work.

“My ambition has always been to work in areas and with people where I feel I can make a difference and where I am learning something new. I am inspired by new challenges, working in a fast-paced environment with talented scientists to make a difference to our business and to patients by working together – something I definitely get in my current role,” she says.

True diversity in pharma
The paucity of women in the upper echelons of pharma continues to be a talking point and Fritsche appreciates that many companies, including AstraZeneca, have needed to make a focused effort to attract more women to leadership positions.

Fritsche is also a big believer in ensuring diversity of opinions within an organization. “For me it's really about diversity in personality, bringing different types of individuals with different perspectives into leadership teams and, most importantly, making everyone feel included.”

She says some people approach the recruitment process with a view to bringing in likeminded people – when they should in fact be seeking the opposite.

“You need to be aware of the different types of people you have in a team and you need to think about these proactively when you’re recruiting. That's something I'm doing very consciously now with my leadership team. I’ve learnt to be aware of where the blind spots are from a team perspective, and think which areas or kinds of personalities I am missing so that the team takes information in the right way, analyzes things in the right way and makes decisions in the best way.

“Awareness of team composition, different people’s personalities and how they approach things are important. If you have a lot of outspoken people, maybe you need someone who more carefully thinks through things before they speak. So rather than looking for someone like yourself, which is very easy to do, it's important to consciously take that decision to hire people or bring people in who think differently and have different perspectives from yourself and from the rest of the team.”

The path to leadership
An accomplished scientist and researcher, Fritsche was able to leverage her experience and knowledge to climb the ladder in AstraZeneca. Yet the best scientists don’t necessarily make the next leaders – and vice versa. Does Fritsche feel that all scientists working within pharma should ultimately be striving for a leadership role?

She is pragmatic in her answer, cautioning that the “groundwork” must be accomplished before moving upwards. “I think it's more about working hard, gaining experience and really knowing your science. Then when opportunities come you are ready to embrace them and become successful in your role. Gaining experience and taking advantage of learning as much as you can in every role you hold will increase your confidence. Moving upwards with confidence enables you to be a more authentic leader and be true to yourself and act with honesty. But I have seen people struggle if they miss the groundwork as it can become harder and more challenging to gain trust from their team.   

Building that groundwork ideally would begin very early, by fostering an interest in science from a young age, believes Fritsche. She says her advice would be to know the details to understand the bigger picture. Learn by doing. “I have held many different roles in AstraZeneca – everything from doing experimental work in the lab to leading large groups and leading projects in clinical development.”

“Certainly, for me it all starts me with a genuine interest in science and a desire to develop and learn. I think that if you're a young scientist, regardless of gender, you should be curious and learn as much as you can, make sure you know your stuff, grasp opportunities and don't be afraid of taking on new tasks. Knowledge is always going to be appreciated. There are no shortcuts, in science the devil is often in the details. I have always been very curious and interested in other people and their work, and I know this motivates and engages my teams. The impact of scientific discoveries can only come to fruition by collaborating internally in the company and externally with all the science that is ongoing in the world.”

What the future holds
From her vantage position, it is prudent to ask Fritsche where she sees the industry heading as we enter a time of global flux. She highlights a number of factors that she is passionate about in life sciences: the rapid evolution of stem cell therapies that could help us cure degenerative diseases in the future, gene-editing that has the potential to cure life threatening genetic diseases, and personalised medicines with diagnostic tools which will enable us to identify which patients will respond to a specific therapy.

In addition, today we have access to a vast number of therapeutic modalities such as antisense oligonucleotides, mRNA and Protacs which enables us to drug almost any target. This is very important as the diseases we focus on today are complex, multifactorial and sometimes involve targeting pathways that are not amendable by a small molecule or an antibody.

Her belief is that researchers must be convinced the target they are investigating is truly a disease driver and can ultimately stop disease progression or cure disease. “It has to have the potential to address unmet treatment needs and make a substantial difference to the quality of life for patients,” she says.

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17th annual eyeforpharma Philadelphia (Commercial, Digital and Patients)

Apr 16, 2019 - Apr 17, 2019, Philadelphia

800+ pharma leaders join together to discuss how to revolutionize the patient experience – and, accordingly, their commercial performance.