S01 E05

Pharma Startups in Canada During Covid-19

Christine Lennon

General Manager

Incyte Biosciences Canada

In our fifth episode, Peter Brenders, Founder & President of Kontollo Health, talks with Christine Lennon, General Manager of Incyte Biosciences Canada, about starting companies and bringing products to Canada during a pandemic.

LIONA FLOYD-BARBER:

Thank you for downloading the fifth episode of the NPC podcast from the National Pharmaceutical Congress. This program is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process, and people of the pharma industry during the year of Covid. Once again, we're continuing the health care conversation by answering questions sent by listeners like you.

This program is presented in cooperation with Impres, Impres best in class commercial solutions drive top line and bottom line growth with maximum salesforce flexibility, speed, and efficiency. Learn more about their next generation commercial model at www.impres.com.

On today's podcast for August 5th, 2020, our guest is Christine Lennon, General Manager of Incyte Biosciences in Montreal. Your host for today's podcast is Peter Brenders of Kontollo Health.

But first, here's Mitch Shannon of Chronicle companies. Over to you, Mitch.

 

MITCH SHANNON (MS):

Liona, thank you. This podcast is about getting you informed answers to the many questions out there regarding the life sciences business and its post-Covid future.

Last week’s discussion with Lee Ferreira of Ferring Pharmaceuticals inspired some great questions left on our comment line. If you want to leave us a message any time, call 647-875-9011.

Imagine for a moment you were just recruited to launch a startup pharma company in Canada. Normally that would be great news. Now suppose you were asked to launch a startup pharma company in Canada just as the Covid pandemic was shutting down the economy. Ouch. That was the situation Christine Lennon found when she joined Incyte Biosciences Canada at the end of April. Here’s your host Peter Brenders in conversation with Christine.

 

PETER BRENDERS (PB):

Welcome to the NPC podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. Joining me today is Christine Lennon, Canadian General Manager of Incyte Biosciences Canada. Welcome, Christine.

 

CHRISTINE LENNON (CL):

Thanks, Peter.

 

PB:

On the NPC podcast we focused on how Covid has changed the approach for established pharma companies. Today we're going to focus more on new companies. Incyte Biosciences is a new operation in Canada. Christine, you've built out companies before, what's different in the Covid world?

 

CL:

Everything's different in the Covid world. I haven't ever built a company or started a company or a department during a pandemic. The touchpoints of onboarding and your headquarters or you know, meeting physicians or going to conferences, meeting members of patient associations, even interviewing your candidates face to face. That's not in the cards right now.

We're doing what we can do to try to be as efficient as possible to still be bringing life saving medicines to Canadian patients. Everything's different. That's the answer.

 

PB:

You're living in a life with no playbook then. And how do you operate? How do you find the solution to put this in place?

 

CL:

What's the expression? Necessity is the mother of invention. At the end of the day, we all have to rely on our good judgment, goodwill as well. People have been tremendously helpful, both within the organization. Of course, I'm the first employee to start the operations in Canada. But in fact, I'm probably the 1550 employee worldwide because Incyte has operations in the US, as well as the EU and Japan and now in Canada.

So, people have been both internally very generous with their time and help. I think the notion that we're all in this together is a fact. I'd also like to point out that my colleagues in Canada like yourself, and others have been super warm and helpful and trying to put me in touch with other people who, you know, have also started businesses in Canada, not during a pandemic, people have been, you know, super generous with their time, we still have the same number of hours in a day in a week. I guess the difference is people are not all on planes and at conferences and in waiting rooms or on either audio calls or zoom calls, etc. so, But we can only do them kind of one at a time.

We're not having group meetings, and we can do group video calls, etc. At the end of the day, I think when people focus on getting medicines to the patients, and we make sure that that's the vision, everybody can rally behind that.

 

PB:

So, getting medicine to patients, introducing that new product in Canada clearly is juggling a lot of balls. In addition to the fact that you're actually building a company, from advisory boards to discussions with regulators, you talked about various groups that you still have to engage with, tell us some tips that you might have picked up now in these Covid times and how it might have changed your approach the way you have would have done it in the past. Is it an improvement, or is it a bigger challenge?

 

CL:

Every opportunity has its unique challenges and in whatever time we're in, if we think back to things like 9/11 and how we had to all operate during, you know, what was unforeseeable. Still a wonderful opportunity to be given this opportunity and challenge to build the business in Canada. It's doing things a little differently, obviously, and we're all in the same boat of having to manage. Thank God for technology, not sure where we would be without it. I suspect most of us lived through the difficulties in the beginning that we all didn't have enough WebEx licenses and you know, internet bandwidth or zoom licenses, etc. So, we had to learn to adapt there as well.

To some extent some things are a bit slower because we can't sort of bump into somebody in the hallway or hope to meet them that way. And certainly, I haven't been able to get back to my company's headquarters, which are based in the US. Yeah, it's different, not going to say otherwise. We're all trying to do the best we can. And again, if we focus on being as expedient as possible, to be able to get medicines to the patients that need them, regardless of what disease area you're in, regardless of what country you're in. That's really something everybody can rally around. And so, if we keep people focused on that, which is what I've been trying to do, we are able to move things forward.

 

PB:

You're listening to an interview with Christine Lennon.

So, you talked about sort of the steps that he had to take the idea to put in place in some of the learnings you've had in these early days in this Covid world. If you were to look back and think about, jeez, you know what, I do this a little bit differently? What would you say that would be? And think about it as advice for those other companies and your other colleagues that are about to either start a company or bring a product to market. What counsel would you offer? Like, try this not that.

 

CL:

Well, being gracious, and respectful, and patient, they're always good virtues to have. I mean, listening is always a good thing to do. But I think particularly since the mode of communication is just intent listening, and being able to work with people through video, and not have that touch point, you know, is really unique.

I mean, I watched the launch yesterday. And you know, you think of people going off into outer space, and they're completely reliant on headquarters, right. They've always been that way. It's always been through videos, zoom, what have you. It's not a world that we've lived in, but it's become kind of the new normal. It's really about, you know, relying on the goodwill, the availability, the sharpness of others. And we don't have time to redo things over and over again, we got to get it right the first time.

So, make sure you're efficient, make sure your colleagues get to know you as well as they can and in this situation, it's not by going and having lunch together necessarily. The other thing that I've learned is while, there are usually people there, you know, in any organization who've worked in the Canadian environment who know the Canadian environment, like any other environment it changes, so it's what I would certainly advise others starting up an affiliate, or even if it was a startup where you had American investors or whatever, is really to try to get everybody on board in terms of what the environment looks like. Who's in power? What the Canadian spends is on medications, you know the timelines for approval? What's the usual? What's the earliest you've ever seen? What's the latest? You know, just to get give people a sense of, Okay, this is these are the parameters. These are the game rules.

And so, I guess over time, I've learned to do that faster. Just don't assume that everyone is on the same page. You know, if you're bringing on board your colleagues, US, Europe, Japan, doesn't matter where, who have an expertise that needs to help you, they need to understand the context and the environment and the faster we can get them up to speed on that, you know, the better for all.

 

PB:

So, I love your analogy that we're taking NASA lessons here. In terms of how do we implement sort of learnings of space exploration to bring a product to Canadians? Relying on others, teamwork and making sure everybody is on board and understanding the environment. Great takeaway messages, but let's talk about the environment a little bit more.

In a previous podcast we heard from Pamela Fralick, the President of Innovative Medicines Canada, and she talked about the challenge or the threat with the new PMPRB guidelines here, and that they're raising with new drug introductions. What are your thoughts on what this new uncertain environment means for new companies and products?

 

CL:

As a general rule, I don't like to comment on what's not landed yet. As we're watching things unfold, as a Canadian citizen, person who, as a patient, as a potential patient, as a potential caregiver and as a business woman, have concerns, you know, wanting to make sure that all Canadians, including my family, your family, everyone's family, has access to the best medicines available as quickly as possible.

I understand the premise. PMPRB was set up a long time ago for good reason. However, things have evolved. There are now you know, Pan-Canadian Purchasing Alliance, drug reviews, we can't keep adding on layers in an environment where, you know, people have rare disorders, they have greater survival benefit with the medicines we're bringing. So, things are being done sequentially. We're adding time components, cost components, every time we go through these different gateways. As you know, we have, you know, less data exclusivity protection time in Canada than in the other G7, G10. Nations. We don't have an Orphan Drug Act in Canada. So, we'll see where it all ends up.

At some point everybody's a patient and everybody's a caregiver. I think we all certainly hope that you know, if there are life-saving medicines, not least of which would be vaccines or treatments for Covid-19, that we would treat all of these potential medicines and medicines once they're approved with expediency so that we can get these drugs to Canadians patients and that we can continue to sustain operations, right? If we can get a couple drugs to a couple patients, that's not a sustainable solution.

Bottom line is, I'm watching, I hope we'll land in a place that's reasonable and equitable for all. We need to sort of integrate some of these things. And as I say, the timelines between getting a drug approved and getting them to patients are getting longer.

 

PB:

So Christine, you said a very insightful and very important piece there. You talked about that everybody's a patient, everybody's involved. They're all interested in these new therapies. And yet we have an environment that wants to add in layer and challenge that.

As a new company coming out with new, exciting therapies to help patients in Canada. Are you hearing or how what are you hearing from either the clinicians or the regulators about your company and your products to come to Canadians. Is there an excitement for this?

 

CL:

Absolutely. I've started in Canada at the end of April. So, it's all very fresh and new. Physicians, you know, who are seeing the pipeline that we have, the innovations that we have, drugs that are getting priority review, accelerated approval in the US. They're first in class drugs for, you know, rare disorders. Of course, there's excitement.

They are bit worried, of course, to make sure that there would be reimbursement for such drugs. In some cases, you know, there are biomarkers to help identify the patients, which certainly should help to make sure to get the right drug to the right patient. But absolutely, you know, from patient associations to the physicians themselves.

I can't speak as to whether regulators are excited or not, we'll have to see. I would hope so. But certainly, there's a lot of excitement for new innovations, new drugs, the kind of pipeline that Incyte has.

 

PB:

I'm Peter Brenders, and you're listening to the NPC podcast.

So, if I can sort of summarize and come with one question that I'm going to ask of your crystal ball, so what I'm hearing is Incyte is and as new companies are bringing exciting new therapies or trying to bring exciting new therapies to Canadians, in the space. There are challenges in doing this in the Covid world, although you're learning new ways and new approaches.

So, let's take a look into the future post-Covid. Are there some things that have that you've developed new ways of learning, new ways of operating, that you think will and should continue in the post-Covid world?

 

CL:

Incyte is actually a company that is about 18 years old and actually, their first discovery and even their second discovery is already available in Canada, but they've licensed them to other companies as they learn to grow. So Ruxolitinib, which is Jakavi is an Incyte discovery and was licensed to Novartis outside of the US. Baricitinib is also an Incyte discovery.

So, the Incyte innovations have been in Canada. What's being inaugurated is an inflection point in Incyte growth is that Incyte will be now bringing their own drugs forward or drugs that they've licensed in forward in Canada.

In terms of your question: continue to listen, continue to be able to adapt. Where there's a will largely there's a way I mean, sure the economy and I don't mean this lightly at all: it's taken a big hit. Absolutely. And you know, managing to keep a job, educate your kids if you have children, take care of your elders if you have elders, or just manage when you no longer have a job. And you know, and that's where relying on others and the goodwill of others it's always important. And in situations like this, you know, the expression, it takes a village, it absolutely takes a village.

We really need to be gracious, take the help people are offering so I would continue to do that. I would say also within the community in Canada, people have been supremely helpful. The number of people that wrote to me out of the blue just to say "hey, you know, we're really happy to see this expansion, you know, another company investing in Canada. So, anything we can do to help like, let us know" and you know, that's very much appreciated.

So, I think it's great to see companies investing in Canada and by investment that includes clinical trials and in making sure that hospitals and teaching university hospitals etc. and our patients, not only hopefully have access to our approved medicines, but would also be eligible for, you know, the many clinical trials that we're doing. And this is also a very important part of coming into any country, not least, which is Canada, which has excellent academic institutions, and is a great environment for doing clinical trials, works very well and very closely with not only the physicians and the caregivers, but also with patient associations who are so important everywhere in the world, but are very, very important part of the equation and our treatment solutions here in Canada as well.

 

PB:

We've been listening to Christine Lennon, Canadian General Manager of Incyte Biosciences Canada.

We've had such terrific insights from Christine today. It's been fabulous to hear about sort of the excitement and the opportunity we have with companies like Incyte, coming to Canada to bring new treatments and new therapies to Canadians.

I'm your host, Peter Brenders. Thank you for listening.

 

MS:

Thanks to Christine and Peter for letting us listen in. Christine spelled it out: relying on others is important, we’re all patients or we’re going to be, we have to continue to adapt and continue to listen. Well, we hope you’ll continue to listen to this podcast. Remember to get your current and past episodes at Google Podcasts, Apple iTunes, Stitcher, and everywhere you look for podcasts. Subscribe at pharmacongress.info and that way you’ll never miss an episode.

This year the 14th National Pharmaceutical Congress will be a series of weekly hour plus webinars, featuring compelling speakers and subjects of vital interest. The meeting begins on Wednesday, October 21st. Register at www.pharmacongress.info.

And send your questions and comments by email at health@chronicle.org or call our comment line leaving your name, a callback number and the question you’d like to ask. The best questions will get used on a future NPC podcast. Call 647-875-9011.

Next week we have a twofer for you. Peter’s guests will be Mike Egli, GM of Aspen Pharma and Patrick Massad, Commissioner of PAAB.

The NPC podcast was presented in co-operation with Impres. Canada’s next generation commercial partner. Find out more at www.impres.com.

This is Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies. Your producer is Jeremy Visser. The announcer is Liona Floyd-Barber. Have a great week and stay safe.

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