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European Biopharmaceutical Review

People Potential

Sean Russell talks to EBR about his business philosophy, his motivation and the future of pharmaceuticals

EBR: What was your entry point into the pharmaceutical industry?

Sean Russell: It often surprises the people who ask this question to fi nd that I did not take the traditional route into marketing by first ‘carrying the bag’ for a drug company. In fact, my first job in the pharmaceutical industry was at the bench of the chemistry labs in Schering Plough’s biotechnology plant in Ireland. Having a research background has greatly helped me in developing effective marketing strategies for pharmaceutical outsourcing services.

Which part of your current role do you most enjoy?

Premier Research is a very dynamic and fast growing company, with a unique combination of expertise and capabilities. I love the fact that there is so much potential here and it feels as though we are really only getting started. As Head of Marketing, I have the opportunity to help direct that growth, and to shape a serviceoriented culture that differentiates us in a fairly homogenous industry.

Which part is the most challenging?

I’ve worked for much larger organisations, and every now and then I miss the resources available in those companies. However, all of that can be brought in these days, and I would not trade the nimbleness of our decision-making and the short route to the front line that I have here.

How would you describe your business philosophy?

We are in the business of creating customer satisfaction at a profit. There are two components to that statement – a satisfied customer and profit. We cannot exist long term without fulfilling both parts. It drives everything we do, from our service mix to our geographic presence and our pricing strategies.

What motivates you?

When you’re buried in dealing with day to- day challenges, it’s easy to forget how privileged we are to be working at the cutting edge of medical research. We see some amazing technologies at work in the clinic, long before they hit the market: nano-sized compounds; products derived from stem cell research; and treatments for the rarest of diseases and the youngest of patients. Just stepping back and listening to our project managers talking about their work is extremely motivating.

What has been your proudest moment?

We’re a people-based business and I am most proud when I see one of our project teams rolling up their sleeves and getting down to work with their counterparts from the customer side. When I cannot distinguish who works for which company, I know then we are doing our job the best way possible.

And your greatest disappointment?

I’m reluctant to bring it up and relive the memory, but a few years ago Forbes Magazine did a fairly decent feature on the CRO business and then ruined it with the headline ‘Pharma’s Little Helpers’. A multi-billion dollar industry full of MDs and PhDs was reduced to servants by those three words.

What does the pharma sector need to focus on in 2013?

Despite the fact that most clinical research is now conducted by CROs, the majority of pharmaceutical companies still treat outsourcing almost as a distress purchase to address capacity shortfalls. It’s true that many have established preferred provider partnerships and have put master service agreements in place, but then each project is still competitively bid as if it were the first ever. It’s an inefficient sourcing strategy that needlessly runs up costs – costs that are ultimately borne by the pharma industry.

How do you think the pharmaceutical industry as a whole will change over the next 10 years?

Healthcare reform and downward pricing pressure will continue to drive change in the pharmaceutical industry, resulting in increased outsourcing and collaborations. Since no more than two products treating the same disease can be successful in a market, there will be greater interest in the rarer diseases, many of which currently have no treatment at all. As our understanding of the human genome grows, we will see more precise treatments being developed such as targeted therapies or personalised medicine.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt?

Change takes time.


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Sean Russell is responsible for communicating the advantages of working with a contract research organisation. He was a consultant at Quintiles, GSK and Merck. He holds a BSc degree in Biochemistry from University College Cork, and an MA in Marketing from the University of Westminster.
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