RARE feat. Petra Molan
In this episode of RARE, I welcomed Petra Molan to speak about her journey to leadership within the pharmaceutical industry. Petra is an executive leader with many years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, either in big pharma (like Eli Lilly, Bayer, Shire and Takeda) as a business strategist, big P&L leader, or more recently, she has been very successful in scaling up business operations for biotech start-up companies.
In her career, she has led innovative product launches either in speciality care or in rare diseases, across a variety of therapeutic areas (like Oncology, Hematology or CNS) and has worked with teams across the globe.
Initially, Petra had wanted to study art and painting but having completed her PharmD, she started in pharma as a Sales Rep at Eli Lilly. Petra then decided to utilize her creativity by moving into a marketing role.
Petra goes on to identify three key milestones in her career.
Her first key career milestone was when she was appointed as a General Manager at Bayer. This was her first experience as a leader with P&L responsibility. This was a massive achievement for Petra as she was the first female General Manager within the company in 150 years.
Her second milestone was international relocation with her family to Basel when she moved into a VP regional role. It was challenging moving countries with her family and starting a new role but she felt she had a great career with Bayer, over 14 years across different commercial roles.
Her third milestone was when she was asked by Bayer's CEO to work alongside him and the board of managers at a corporate level. Petra talks about how this opportunity gave her a different perspective, one she describes as “the 30,000 ft view” and provided a steep learning curve for her.
She went on to progress through Shire and Takeda in global strategic roles, and running big franchises with broad oversight of how the pharmaceutical business is led. This broad experience served her well and when the opportunity arose to work with American investors of the first biotech she joined – Arvelle Therapeutics – she took on the challenge to build out the business from scratch. Moving into a business without structure was exciting, which she then went on to repeat in her career.
When questioned about how Petra manages her work/life balance, she talks about how it is never simple but it is important to be consciously aware that you have to balance. She maintained her personal belief that it is possible to have it all by creating a supportive environment and being able to rely not just on herself but those around her.
She has faced a number of business challenges, as she has always embraced those roles that brought with them their own challenges whether that be building a business, downsizing (which is a leadership challenge), or optimizing a business. She sees this as an opportunity to become a better, more versatile leader so that she can learn to adapt her style and approach to different situations. Finally, being a female leader in what was at the time a male-dominated environment, brought its own challenges. The increase in diversity and inclusion means it is more accessible for females to step into leadership roles.
Petra goes on to talk about the rise in biotech companies in the last decade. The length and cost of R&D processes are high whilst the viability of the products and success of getting them to market is limited. There was a period of time when this happened in-house in big pharma companies and there was a realization that it made sense to focus investments in partnerships with smaller companies in a sort of de-risking strategy. Hence, the rise in clinical development biotechs.
Petra was a part of the international expansion of Horizon Therapeutics, which has recently been acquired by Amgen. She talks of how it was exciting to be a part of the team developing the strategy for access into the EMEA market but she also learned a lot. It is important to know that, yes, the US is the biggest market however her experience is that the European market is underestimated in regards to its complexity and the cost it takes to successfully launch in Europe. You cannot just apply the US strategy. Although centralized registration from a regulatory perspective might result in a one-time approval when it comes to launching the product, there are 28 different markets to consider with different languages and the business models must be adapted.
Thank you once again to Petra Molan for sharing her experience. If you have any questions for Petra, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org