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Commercial strategy in biotech - insights from Roivant Sciences CCO, Amy Mahery

Amy discussed her experience for the Venari Podcast's Chief Commercial Officer series

Amy Mahery notes that she is ‘uniquely positioned’ for her role as Chief Commercial Officer at Roivant Sciences – and she has the experience to prove it. For over 20 years, she has worked across almost every aspect of commercial functions in both Big Pharma and biotech, covering not only functional issues but sales, marketing, and market access in multiple therapeutic areas. Her experience dealing with diverse fields, including neurology, immunology, oncology, and rare disease, among others, have been an asset at Roivant, which does not operate according to specific therapeutic areas. ‘It’s a very agnostic and opportunistic strategy that I can add value [to] and impact in multiple ways,’ Amy says – and we were pleased to discuss this with her in more detail on the Venari Podcast recently, where Life Sciences Commercial Consultant Joe Knight hosted Amy as part of the Chief Commercial Officer series.

 


 

Hub-and-spoke benefits

After progressively senior commercial roles at EMD Serono and Johnson & Johnson, Amy joined the biotech Roivant – which was established in 2014 – last August. There, she oversees ‘the strategy of our organisation from a commercial standpoint,’ as Roivant commercialises drugs through the ‘Hub-and-Spoke’ model. Amy explains that her responsibilities filter down from her centralised hub to the spokes – i.e., subsidiaries known internally as ‘Vants’. She’s involved not just in ‘assessing the commercial opportunity for new assets as we bring them in and potentially build a Vant around them, but also incubating those Vants as startups and joining the leadership team’. From a distance, Amy then oversees the subsidiary organisation’s efforts to commercialise products, with the aim of developing and delivering medicines to patients as quickly as possible.


Roivant’s bespoke Vant model mixes ‘the best of both worlds’ – that is, the scale and productivity of a larger organisation, backed by the company’s central hub, and the agility of a biotech ‘that’s just not possible in Big Pharma’. The entrepreneurial, start-up model, where everything is delineated by accountability, is preserved in Roivant’s ‘spokes’, allowing them to operate with great efficiency. While she has successfully blended these approaches in Roivant’s commercial strategy, she admits that moving from Big Pharma to becoming a biotech CCO was a ‘big transition’. Her pharma background familiarised her with the playbook of developing a drug; switching to a biotech lets you focus on the biggest factors informing the big decisions. ‘Everything else is incremental and optional,’ she says.


The importance of team building and motivating talent

Team building is a key aspect of Amy’s role, and she has her own views on when to bring in commercial talent: ‘As soon as possible.’ She notes that in commercial, there is a tendency to rely on sales reps and DTC marketing; while this is certainly part of the picture, Amy notes that her sector is all about ‘asset strategy’. She believes that commercial should be involved as soon as you start planning your vision for this asset, ‘so you need to have somebody – whether it’s new product planning or commercial strategy, marketing strategy – to be able to help shape programmes with the end in mind, because that’s really what clinical development is’.


A crucial element of Amy’s team building style is to help leaders to gain broad experience, paying attention to what motivates them. ‘I guarantee you that most people have a desire to make an important impact,’ she says, ‘and they’re in this part of the industry because they feel a connection to patients, or a connection to healthcare in general.’ Tapping into what drives her employees helps them to realise their own goals, while furthering the aims of the organisation at the same time. One way of ensuring this remains an ongoing process is to encourage talent to sit in on leadership meetings so that they can hear what senior leaders are discussing. ‘These things help people learn and they’re very motivating. And it democratises information [...] Let’s be transparent so that people can learn.’


Future trends

These are interesting times for both small and mid-sized biotechs and Big Pharma alike, as the continuation of tech as an enabling force remains the most fundamental trend in the commercial sphere. Amy lists several areas where this manifests itself, including digital health, digital marketing, AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics – ‘all of that is really designed to increase personalisation and customer experience to ultimately increase engagement.’ She is positive about the future, believing that tech-enabled developments will help to bring ‘more value to the healthcare world in general, and I think that biotechs are probably uniquely positioned to drive this innovation, because it’s going to make us more efficient.’


Making the leap to biotech CCO

Finally, what advice does Amy have for executives who might like to follow in her footsteps as a biotech CCO? First, you’ll need to draw on knowledge you’ve accrued throughout your career. ‘You will be rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in work that you probably haven’t done for years. But I think that’s one of the fun parts of this job.’ Additionally, Amy stresses the importance of using your network, because in biotech, ‘resources are thin. You don’t have teams of functional experts to call up and say, “Hey, what should we do about this?” [...] It’s a very reciprocal relationship as well. So being part of that ecosystem is fun, enlightening, and necessary.’


If you would like help with commercial talent solutions in biotech, please get in touch.



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