Inspired by Patients. Driven by Science
UCB CEO, Jean-Christophe Tellier speaks to Paul Simms, eyeforpharma Chairman about UCB’s future direction and the significance of culture.
Jean-Christophe Tellier spent 18 years at Novartis before joining UCB in 2011 and becoming Chief Executive Officer of the Brussels-based company on January 1st this year. But the former boss of UCB’s BioBrands and Solutions division remembers his roots. “First of all, I’m a physician,” he tells eyeforpharma. “A rheumatologist, trying to create an impact and deliver value for patients. In a sense, I’ve always been there. The physician and the pharma industry are really partners to create value for patients.”
Focused on two key therapy areas - immunology and the central nervous system – UCB has operations in around 40 countries worldwide and saw revenues of €3.3 billion in 2014.
UCB has recently made some internal adjustments, expanding its executive committee and creating what it calls Patient Value Units. Tellier uses two phrases to describe the philosophy behind the new approach: ‘outside in’ and ‘focused integration’.
As pharma changes from its traditional ‘push’ business model, Tellier sees companies having to become more outward looking. “The environment is changing; it requires some companies to be much more externally focused, much more connected with the different stakeholders in the environment, and try to listen, to learn, and not to apply a scheme from the past to push for a solution of the past,” he says.
“People need to get outside to understand what is changing, who is influencing who, who is making the key decisions, how the value chain is working, and I think it’s a really significant shift.”
The second component of the change is that, rather than having various functions working differently from each other, “organizations will create more value if they are focusing on one value point and are all integrated together”.
Part of his job is to send a message internally that “the value or the success will never be the result of only one function doing exceptionally well but an ability of a cross-functional team to work together”.
But in addition to this structural approach and organizational management, successful companies also create the right culture. “If you don’t have a culture where people feel good and have the motivation and engagement to deliver and go the extra mile then, frankly, you have nothing”, Tellier insists. “As the saying goes, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.”
Indeed, Tellier believes the culture of UCB is the biggest legacy of his illustrious predecessor, Roch Doliveux. “It’s about building a culture where people feel, listen, engage and respect the course that everybody contributes to,” he suggests. “It’s an important part of every senior leader’s work in the organization because by working on the culture and creating an alignment between the culture, the sense of purpose, and the division, you create the space where, in the end, you empower people to create value in a consistent way instead of asking them to do a task.”
Anticipating any excuses from executives at larger companies, Tellier believes that this approach can be replicated at companies far bigger than UCB. “I think it’s possible everywhere,” he says. “We all know in the tech environment of very big companies that have very strong, culturally-aware people. I don’t think size is a unique criteria for success of an engaging culture.”
Engagement as key driver
As a doctor, Tellier specialized in rheumatology. He has since built a distinguished 25-year career in pharma roles, taking on different global leadership responsibilities in different parts of the world. “It starts with the smallest team for each part of an organization,” he goes on. “If you don’t get people engaged, in an environment of trust where people can respect themselves, I don’t think you will get the results you expect”.
He describes the pharma landscape today with great enthusiasm. “The period that we are living in is really extraordinary because of the maturation of technology, and biotechnology in particular,” he explains. “The molecules and targeted therapies provide tremendous hope that we will be able, in future, to better connect the patient with the science.”
No average patient
There is no average patient at the end of the day, Tellier asserts. “There is only patients that want to live independently from disease and want to lead the life they have chosen to live.”
This ability to have an impact is also a personal driver for him: “It’s tremendous as a motivation factor when you think that you can change things by helping people and by being able to have an impact and deliver value,” he goes on. “Making people work well together, be engaged, and aligning them around a common sense of purpose and a common vision, it’s tremendously energizing.”
More than once, Tellier talks about how fortunate he has been in his career. “I have been really lucky to be able, across my professional experience, to have the opportunity to make an impact, launching new products, interfacing with science and working as part of a team”.
But commerce is hard-nosed, and it may be that pharma’s place in the world is rather at odds with the tricky business of making a profitable living. Tellier is not so sure, suggesting that, at present, there is in fact a more compelling case than ever for demonstrating the value that is created by pharma to people’s real lives.
“We are facing tremendous change in the environment, change because of advanced technology and the speed at which software is creating and changing models - but also the speed of change due to the empowerment of patients,” he insists. “All of these, to me, are additional elements that mean if you create value for the patient, you will create value for the company - and so, in turn, you will create value for the shareholders.”
For pharma as a whole – and for UCB in particular – innovation is therefore crucial, he says. “The heart of innovation is differentiated solutions for the patient.” This will form one of the key planks of UCB’s strategy going forward, although he admits that it is not exactly clear to anyone how the new business models will evolve. “What we know, I think, is that the patient will become more central,” he says.
Since there is pressure on resources, pharma has to ensure that investment is geared towards really creating a return for the different stakeholders involved.
Alignment not conflict
But, he believes it is possible for the needs of these various stakeholders to be aligned rather than conflicting. “That’s the reason why for me, focusing on the patients is the starting point of any type of business model thinking because, at the end of the day, if we can ensure and demonstrate the value created, then it’s easier to align the other stakeholders towards these objectives.”
Tellier sees one of UCB’s priorities in the next 12-18 months as being in the specialty biopharma environment. “We are far from being in a leading position in immunology but we are progressing,” he adds. “The second key component is the pipeline, because I do think that in this industry and for us in particular, success will come through innovations and new molecules.” As a result, the company puts 25-29% of revenue into R&D.
“We have a good pipeline and we have continued to progress in the early stage pipeline,” Tellier continues. “We currently have several products starting in Phase I and in Phase II, which lays the foundation for UCB long-term future.”
In the short term, Tellier is happy delivering on growth and continuing to invest in the pipeline “in order to continue to deliver value to the patient”.
The ability of patients to have greater influence over the clinical development process is a major shift for pharma. “What is changing is that we are now, more than ever, better able to understand the reality of patients’ experiences,” Tellier says. “And I think we’ll get there increasingly in the future; we will be able to better understand the reality of the value that we create for them versus building hypotheses on clinical trials, which are, in a sense, very specific experimental conditions, somewhat far from reality.”
If, in the end, the model is focusing more on the reality of the value delivered to the patient then there is tremendous success for the company that will truly deliver differentiated solutions.”
Consistency is the key, he believes, and to help ensure this, UCB has defined internally a list of fully-transparent criteria by which decisions are made. “Sometimes it’s a difficult decision because you have to cut resources for one product; you have to reallocate, you have to cease some activities - including some clinical trials,” he says. “So I think that the most important thing is not the decision by itself, it’s the criteria by which you arrive at this decision. And if the criteria are fair, fact-based, transparent – I think that the majority of the decisions are relatively less difficult to take.”
He refutes again the idea that it is not possible to be 100% on the side of the patient if you have a successful business to run. “In the classical ‘push’ model you may have a point,” he concedes. “But I do think that if you are able to improve the element of differentiation of the solution then you can be both successful from a business standpoint and very successful from a patient standpoint. If, in the end, the model is focusing more on the reality of the value delivered to the patient then there is tremendous success for the company that will truly deliver differentiated solutions.”
To this end, he thinks pharma must better understand sub-populations of patients, ensure they can benefit from its products, and help them get that benefit through access, better compliance and adherence.
As we saw at the start, Tellier does not forget where he came from and why he is in pharma. “I do think physicians and pharma are on the same team and we work together for the benefit of the patients, and that’s really what drives me,” he concludes. “There is so much medical need that still needs to be met, and being able to join efforts across the different stakeholders involved - providers, scientists, all together - that level of collaboration really has to be there.”
Since you're here...
... and value our content, you should sign-up to our newsletter. Sign up here