Bringing Anti-Cancer Therapies into Canada
Senior VP and Chief Commercial Officer
In the first episode of our fourth season, our host Peter Brenders talks with Josh Neiman, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer for North America and Europe for BeiGene Limited, about bringing oncology drugs to new countries, balancing patient reach and profitability, and Canada as a market for global pharma companies.
LIONA FORD (LF):
From the National Pharmaceutical Congress, this is the NPC podcast for April 28 2021. The NPC Podcast is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process and people of the pharma industry during the Age of Covid. Today, we'll continue the healthcare conversation by answering questions from listeners, like you.
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On today's podcast, our guest is Josh Neiman. He's Senior VP and Chief Commercial Officer for North America and Europe of BeiGene. Your host today from our studio in Toronto is Peter Brenders. But first, here is Mitch Shannon, of Chronicle Companies.
MITCH SHANNON (MS):
Hey Liona, nice to have you back for our fourth season of podcasts. But you don't sound like your old self.
To be honest, my throat is feeling a little rough. I think it's because I got my first vaccination shot yesterday.
Ah, when's the next job scheduled?
The next shot is scheduled in 14 weeks. Well, finally, this summer, we'll be able at least to get together for a drink.
And how I look forward to that. But first we have a bunch of podcasts to do.
We're starting our new series with what John Cleese used to call 'Something Completely Different.' You've probably heard of beige. It's a color many regard as actually kind of boring. But you're going to be hearing a lot more about BeiGene, which is a pharma company operating in the oncology space. And there's nothing at all boring going on there. That's the word from Peters guest today. Josh Neiman of BeiGene.
Here's Josh in conversation with Peter.
PETER BRENDERS (PB):
Welcome to the NPC Podcast. I'm Peter Brenders, your host. In our continuing to look at the purpose, process and people in pharma in Canada. This opening episode for season four takes a look at Canada from the outside. And in particular, we will talk with a senior executive of a global pharmaceutical company that wants to bring their products to Canadians. Joining us today from San Mateo, California is Josh Neiman, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer in North America and Europe for BeiGene Limited. Welcome to the NPC Podcast, Josh.
JOSH NEIMAN (JN):
Thanks, Peter. Really appreciate you having me on.
Okay, before I jump into the obvious question of why Canada? I think our listeners would like a little info on BeiGene, not to be confused with Beijing.
So perhaps you can give us a little insight or background on your company.
Yeah, absolutely. So I imagine that you know, for most of your listening audience, and for Canadians generally, BeiGene is a relatively new company. You know, while we're just now entering Canada, the company has actually been around for about 10 years, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary just last year in 2020. The company's roots actually are in China, it's probably comes as no surprise.
You know, it was founded by John Oyler and Xiaodong Wang, back in 2010. Now, John was a serial entrepreneur, he had started a number of companies. At the time, he had just started a company in China, that was a contract research organization, a CRO, focusing on identifying new molecules for development. And he was introduced to Xiaodong while he was in China.
Now, if you're not familiar with Xiaodong, he's a world renowned scientist and considered one of the fathers of apoptosis, did research here in the US at the University of Texas Southwestern for many, many years. And he had returned to China. And so John and Xiaodong, had both heard about each other from many other folks. And were told, "Hey, you guys really need to meet" and one day, they had the good fortune of actually meeting.
And at the time Xiaodong actually approached John and, you know, laid out this vision for a biotech company, and thought that john would be a phenomenal partner. He wanted John to return with him to the US and start the company. And John said, you know, "I'm excited to do it. It sounds like a great idea, but we're going to do it in China." And the reason for that was John, you know, based on his experience, had looked at all the investment that was flowing into China, to shore up their research opportunities, build these world leading Cancer Institute, etc. And he just saw an opportunity to actually make a real meaningful change in the pace of development for drug discovery.
You know, what he was quite familiar with was, you know, it takes over 10 years for drugs to typically meet a patient, you know, from initial lead identification. The cost is exorbitant. Running clinical trials is incredibly challenging. And what he saw in China was an opportunity to accelerate the development of drugs, not just for Chinese patients, but really for global patients. And so from the very beginning, you know, BeiGene's inception, if you will, was founded around this principle of, can they leverage China to excel breakneck pace of drugs for patients all around the world.
And so that was the initial vision that led to the founding of the company. And at the time, you know, they went after it, you know, not necessarily first-in-class molecules, but but molecules that will lead to best-in-class outcomes. So can they improve on existing classes? Now, today, the company is moving into first-in-class as well, our focus is on oncology. You know, we're in a number of countries around the world, you know, China, the US, now Canada, going into Europe, Australia. Australia was actually the second country that BeiGene moved into. So while our roots are in China, it really is a global biotech, doing what we can't accelerate the development of drugs for patients globally. And perhaps most importantly, trying to get them to patients as quickly as we can, regardless of where they are, and really, with a keen focus on developing drugs that are meaningful advances and are able to be more accessible.
So that's BeiGene in a nutshell.
So what I'm hearing, though, it's not your usual startup company story. So China first and I get the rationale behind that is, you know, where the money can make the most difference quickly in the space. But then you talked about going to Australia, and then the US, and Canada and the world. And so help us understand sequencing.
What do you look at when you're thinking about which country next, like, what criteria are you using to look at places and invest in and bring that care to patients?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Australia, if you're not familiar with it is actually a country that works very closely with biotech and pharma to open up clinical trials very, very rapidly. And so there was an opportunity in the Australian environment to actually get our trials opening and enrolled. And so with this idea that we're going to accelerate the development of drugs and take advantage of every opportunity that we can, Australia actually is a phenomenal environment for early stage companies looking to get their clinical trial programs off and running. And they've been a tremendous partner, for BeiGene generally, and continues to be so today. And so you know, that was really how Australia became a key component of BeijGene's initial outreach.
And then, of course, you know, as you look at sort of building a global biotech, the US is home to a number of researchers, there's a lot of key talent on the research and development side here as well. And so the next logical place for the company to come from an R&D standpoint was the US.
But there, I think our path begins to diverge, perhaps a bit more from the traditional model, which is as we look to other countries to sort of commercialize our drugs, most big pharma companies, right, they take a step back, and they say, "okay, where can we go that will maximize market opportunity, you know, where can we go has the best opportunity for profitability." And while certainly profitability is important to us, as a company, revenue is important for a business, what's equally important to us, is getting our medicines to as many patients as we can, as quickly as we can. And so we'd like to talk about the fact that BeiGene is trying to get not just the typical 2 billion patients that are addressed, you know, through the US, Europe, Canada, and perhaps, you know, if you include China as well, but to go to 4 billion patients now, globally, right.
And so BeiGene is really, really focused on ensuring that we can reach 4 billion patients with our medicines. And what that requires us to do is not pursue the typical path. But to figure out how can we get to all of these patients as quickly as we can, because patients are waiting. I mean, there are countries around the world, that don't even have access to a PARP inhibitor today, despite the fact that many are approved and have broad access in other countries, because companies are just been loath to go there, you know, because they can't make the numbers work. And for us, we start with the patient. And that's led us now to take some moves, that I think other companies may not have pursued themselves.
You're listening to the NPC Podcast, I'm Peter Brenders, your host.
Okay, so let's bring it back to Canada then. So I hear the story of Australia, great partner, not something I often hear about with Canada. So that's not the reason to come here. I hear the US story, from the great research, great market and size and interest in patients. Not always sort of the story behind Canada.
So how does Canada fit at the top of that list in terms of your first ex-China market to launch your product for a rare cancer for Waldenstrom's? Like, help me understand that.
You know, some of the credit goes to Canada, a lot of it, if you will. We've filed Waldenstrom's in a number of countries to date, Health Canada was the first country to actually get through the assessment and lead to the approval. And if you're not familiar with the study that led to this initial approval in Canada, it's based off the Aspen trial, which was a phase three head to head study of our BTK inhibitor, zanubrutinib, versus standard care BTK inhibitor, ibrutinib. And you know, the study was one of the largest ever conducted in Waldenstrom's, if not the largest. And when we filed, you know, we felt really confident about the data. The outcomes were a clear win for patients with Waldenstrom's.
And what we found in working with Health Canada, was you know, they were very thoughtful in their assessment of the data, but ultimately, I think that they saw what we saw. And that this is an option that needs to be made available for patients and fortunately, filing was fast tracked and lead to a very speedy approval. And so we're in this interesting situation now where we were committed to commercializing and kind of as quickly as we can, and lo and behold, we're in a very fortunate spot where Canadian patients, you know, are now able to hopefully access zanubrutinib now. Of course, there's a lot more to do to ensure that there's broad access within the country, but you know, Health Canada did their part now that the drug is available.
Okay, so let's talk about sort of Canada compared to some other countries. So I hear your thoughts on Health Canada, but how would you say, you know, in the view of the senior team at BeiGene, how do you think Canada compares to other countries like those in Europe, for example?
Yeah, thanks. It's a great question.
I think, certainly Canada is much more similar to Europe than it is to the US, both in terms of the way it operates in terms of the valuation of drugs that are filed there and ultimately, reimbursement and even with the role that the various provinces play in ultimately deciding whether or not patients get access to initial therapy.
Yeah, I think one of the open questions for us and one of the things that was a debate is "okay, we can give a really strong clinical profile, there's a clear outcome here that will stand to benefit patients, but what's the probability that it's actually going to get covered and reimbursed?" Now there have been examples where drugs that appear to have meaningful advances for patients ultimately don't get reimbursed, or companies that are thinking about going to Canada decide not to for fear that that's not going to happen.
And so I do think that there's a bit of a difference when you look at the way that Canada evaluates medicines and ultimately decides whether or not they should be paid for, that is a bit slower, I'd say, than what you'd encounter in a country like Germany, right. Germany has a very rigorous assessment in terms of how they reimburse and for how much but they're very focused on taking an approval and making that lead to immediate access for patients. I mean, if the Health Authority has decided that it's a clinical advance that warrants access for patients in Germany, you know, it's available the very next day.
I think, in contrast to a place like Canada, is that there are private markets that offer the opportunity. There are a minority of patients who can access those. And so really, the open question for us is just how long is it going to take for us to get reimbursement and be able to provide a drug that we think is a meaningful advance and Health Canada agrees is a meaningful advance for patients. Just how long is it going to take for us to be able to really maximize the number of patients who will be able to access it?
So that must really challenge sort of your the philosophy of the company, then? I mean, I look at the tagline, Cancer has no borders, neither do we.' But as you just mentioned, like different countries, different borders, present different challenges. It must be quite the discussion, I appreciate understanding a little bit more sort of that senior level discussion, understanding that in some markets, where the systems will pick up their patients to look after him quickly and in some markets, they won't like, does that affect your priority setting?
Yeah, just going back to the earlier point, we do start with how can we get our medicines to patients as quickly as we can? Now certainly, the priority setting comes into play with how complex is that going to be? And so you know, we need to start earlier in places that are going to be more complex. But if we can get our medicine to patients quicker in one country, not because of the profitability associated with it, but just because the government is going to move more and more quickly to provide access, that might certainly affect that prioritization.
But you know, if you ask anyone that that works at BeiGene today, what you're gonna find is we're trying to get our medicines to all patients as fast as we can. You've seen it in our public disclosures for where we filed, there are other filings underway. And so it is it is a constant source of discussion. But we have an employee base executive team that is committed, you know, not just to having these be words, but words that are followed by action. And so today, we are really focused on getting our medicines everywhere as fast as we can. In Canada now, really represents for us a phenomenal opportunity because we see a real, strong clinical benefit for zenubrutinib today, and Waldenstrom's, we anticipate that our other studies in other malignancies will also confer similar results. And so for us, hopefully, this is the beginning of what we anticipate will be, you know, very long relationship with the Canadian government and most importantly with Canadian patients.
You're listening to Josh Neiman, Chief Commercial Officer for BeiGene.
So it'll come as no surprise to our listeners that I've spent a little bit of time reading more on BeiGene and its founders and its approach to care. And I reflect on sort of John Oyler and Xiadong Wang's vision to create something meaningful and it's funny, it reminds me of, of Henri Termeer at Genzyme some 30 years ago as he pioneered treatments for rare diseases in terms of something meaningful, something different. What do you think the BeiGene vision today is for growth? Tell me what that future's looking like.
Certainly. So what you have likely discovered in your assessment of us is, you know, BeiGene has a very strong commitment and really investment in developing and discovering medicines that are meaningful advances. And so, you know, it's perhaps a bit cliche to take a company like Genentech, as example, you know, and sort of say you want to be the next Genentech, you know, BeiGene wants to be more than that, I think.
Genentech defined itself by showing that they could really advance the science, right, the science forward and make really meaningful advances across a number of disease areas. We absolutely want to do that. And I think that the 'and' part comes into play with, you know, again, the keen focus on ensuring that patients globally have access, it's not enough to simply focus on the biggest markets, cancer does not discriminate. Back to the earlier question, you know, when we say cancer doesn't have borders, neither do we, that speaks to our ambition, and to the fact that there are patients around the globe, there are countries that have theoretical borders, they're not physical borders, and perhaps in some cases, they are, but the disease blows right through those. And you know, we would like to blow through them as well, in terms of providing access.
And so that's something that I think, you know, every employee really feels and believes. And it's that commitment, you know, to get to 4 billion patients if we can, of course, 4 billion is the ultimate- I hope 4 billion patients don't need our drugs, that would mean that 4 billion individuals are actually suffering from cancer, but at least if any of those individuals, you know, should have the unfortunate circumstance where they find themselves needing a medicine to treat their disease, our hope is that we will be there for them.
Okay, well, let me selfishly ask then: So what does the future hold for BeiGene's presence in Canada? Where do you see the corporate investment in our country?
Yeah, again, I go back to the point around, you know, it's a long term relationship. It's a real investment. And I think you can look at the way that we've approached the market and the way that we resourced it as evidence of that commitment. Now, as you mentioned earlier, we're already there. They're very early on in our commercialization efforts. But beyond that, you know, we've been really thoughtful about, you know, we're trying to establish our Canadian presence with Canadians. I mean, I think a lot of other companies will look at Canada as an opportunity to sort of provide headquarter, you know, a talent with, you know, "hey, get some experience in a foreign market", that's not our approach. BeiGene's approach is to go to local markets, and build affiliates based with local expertise, because we intend to be there for the long run.
As we look to BeiGene's presence in Canada today, obviously, we have one drug that's been approved, we have a very robust pipeline with other molecules that are under development, constantly looking to in-license other molecules as well. And so I think, you know, five to 10 years from now, you're going to see that BeiGene is a strong partner for Canadian patients in the fight against cancer, and it's not going to be just one drug. It'll hopefully be many, many more.
You've been listening to Josh Neiman, Chief Commercial Officer of BeiGene Limited on the NPC Podcast. Thank you for listening.
Thanks to Josh and Peter.
If you want to know more about the company, check out beigene.com. And if you have comments or questions about the discussion you just heard, we've got lots of ways for you to connect with us. You can direct message us on Twitter @2020NPC. That's easy. You can send an email to email@example.com or better yet, attach your voice clip, and we'll use your voice in a future episode. You can also grab your phone and call our comment line at 647-873-6995. Like I said, lots of ways to connect with the NPC Podcast.
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This is Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies here in Toronto. The producer is Jeremy Visser, our announcer Liona Ford. The musical theme is performed by the NPC Podcast Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Vilhelm Millbrook.
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