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'You need to be on top of innovation' - launching in the rare disease space with Johanna Rossell

Johanna discussed her career and leadership vision on the Venari Podcast

With an academic and professional career that has taken in telecommunications, marketing, and Big Pharma across three different continents, Johanna Rossell certainly has a diverse range of experiences to draw from. Joe Knight, our Life Sciences Commercial Consultant, welcomed Johanna to the Venari Podcast for another episode of the Chief Commercial Officer series, where they discussed her career, leadership vision, and insights on the world of commercial biopharma. All views expressed are Johanna’s own and not those of her employer.



Varied background

Johanna grew up in Venezuela, where she studied computer engineering followed by a master’s degree in telecommunications. She changed direction to work in marketing for Procter & Gamble across Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. Johanna then moved job and continents for a role with Novartis – first in Switzerland, then the US, where she stayed with them for ten years. Thereafter, ‘most of my career in pharma has been in bigger companies like Novartis, Merck, Biogen, and Mallinckrodt’, Johanna explains. She applied this wealth of experience in her recent venture as CCO of the biotech Enzyvant, and it certainly proved useful.

For example, at Procter & Gamble, ‘the markets are very competitive,’ Johanna notes. ‘You need to be of top of innovation. You cannot let the insights from your customers be out there without you knowing.’ By contrast, in pharma things happen slower. ‘You know exactly what the competition is going to do,’ from clinical trials to results. Johanna ensured she brought the innovative mindset adopted at P&G to the pharma setting, which meant focusing on how to do things differently and satisfy the needs of various customers, from patients and doctors to payers. At the same time, Big Pharma taught Johanna ‘the areas or the milestones that you should not skip,’ and participating in the launches of ‘blockbuster’ drugs is something that she has managed to translate to the rare disease space.

Continuing to learn from launches

Last year, Enzyvant launched and commercialised a regenerative medicine in the US, which presented further opportunities for Johanna to learn and grow. For instance, she cites the importance of always talking ‘about a win-win proposition with our key stakeholders’ – something that is true not just of Big Pharma, where there are many customers, but even in commercialising regenerative medicine, ‘which is a very innovative place where not everyone has been able to launch drugs.’ Knowing what constitutes a win-win proposition in the long term for academic centres and payers has allowed Johanna to evolve the business. From patients receiving treatment to academic researchers, Johanna stresses the importance of stakeholders ‘feeling that we are there to support them’ while offering a strong value proposition.

How to approach team building?

When it comes to building teams in the smaller regenerative medicine space, you cannot afford ‘the luxury of having people that are not consistently high performers.’ In more agile fields, it is especially important to ensure that your talent is multifaceted. ‘I call it coach manager: the coach that can lead the multi-functional team’ while also thinking long-term. For Johanna, having analytical thinkers on the team ‘is key, because at the end of the day we are trying to combine a value proposition that will make sense for everybody in the market but also for the company.’ In such setups, high performers must be willing to work hard in implementation as well as strategy.

As for building commercial teams, Johanna likes to combine trusted members of her professional network with new talent. Access to the latter is particularly important for CCOs in small biotech; ‘you can’t afford to drag with suboptimal performance.’ Working with recruiters can be especially useful ‘to ensure that I can tell them the kind of talent I need,’ Johanna notes.

Getting the timing right

How to time the launch is yet another learning that Johanna has taken from her time at Novartis. ‘I understand that in a smaller company, commercialising early can be difficult to justify for investors, but it’s the best investment you can do,’ she explains. An asset in Phase Two might not launch for another five years, so Johanna recommends having someone strategic ‘from the commercial point of view to understand that the Target Product Profile that you are going to put in your Phase Three maximises the value of the asset.’

Two years out from a commercial launch is the time to have people examining your product ‘from the access point of view’ – that is, how patients and physicians will use it. ‘Trust me, two years goes super fast,’ Johanna says. ‘It’s not only [about] having the people but understanding where the resources that you need are’ that will ensure success in the long run.

What trends are on the horizon for biotech and Big Pharma alike?

Johanna believes that Big Pharma companies will continue to look ‘at the smaller companies that have a strong value proposition, which complement their pipeline.’ Still, many smaller businesses will have offerings and profit margins that allow them to compete with larger competitors. In Johanna’s view, ‘the issues to come depend on what kind of disease area you are going into.’ Venturing into competitive, oversaturated fields will make it harder to compete with bigger businesses; in such instances, going to a bigger company, or co-promoting, may be the better option.

Enzyvant’s parent company, Sumitovant Biopharma, has recently combined its wholly owned US subsidiaries – including Enzyvant – into Sumitomo Pharma America. Johanna has now started a new role in this organisation as SVP, General Manager Rare Diseases, continuing her track record of delivering for patients and doctors alike in this space.

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