It was five years ago that manufacturing giant GlaxoSmithKline North America Pharmaceuticals took a step back to assess the way it was doing business. What it discovered led the company to establish a new approach on research and development and a “patient first” philosophy in the commercial operation, Deirdre Connelly, president of GSK North America Pharmaceuticals said Thursday.
“Clearly, over time, our industry had developed and accepted a way of doing business that was out of touch with the goals of those we serve,” said Connelly, a San Juan-born executive who is now the highest-ranked woman in GSK. “In short, our model was not helping us align and build trust with our customers. It wasn’t a sustainable business model.”
Connelly made her remarks during the 24th annual meeting of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Puerto Rico Thursday, which gathers research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies with operations in Puerto Rico.
She explained how GSK has fundamentally transformed its R&D operations, going from an “industrialized” approach to a model that puts scientists and smart, creative people together.
“Five years ago, we broke up the assembly line and created small teams, some with only a handful of scientists. Each team works on a particular disease or biological pathway. They are responsible for discovering and doing the early development work on potential new medicines in that area,” Connelly explained.
GSK now has almost 40 of these teams researching everything from gene therapy rare immune diseases to epigenetics, and since 2011, has led the industry in the number of new drug applications filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and brought more than 10 new medicines or vaccines to the market.
“We built a robust system of training and compliance that assures our GSK sales professionals are the most highly educated representatives of their disease states and medicines,” said Connelly, who began her career in Puerto Rico as a sales representative with Elli Lilly and worked for the company for 26 years in different positions and eventually became president of Lilly USA. In 2009 she joined GSK.
“The new approach — which we call ‘Patient First’ — rewards our professional representatives for their excellence in scientific knowledge, as well as their understanding of the business and the needs of doctors and patients. Their success is based on customer evaluations and on the overall performance of their business unit, not on the number of prescriptions written by doctors they speak with,” Connelly said.
Connelly said the transformation process has not been easy and it has required “ruffling many feathers” and “ending some empires,” but the company expects to align its activities “in a way that is right for our customers, the patients we serve, and our business.”
In her presentation, she asked industry peers to think differently, listen to customers, and act with courage to improve the performance of the business to serve the needs of patients.
Connelly has been recognized by Fortune magazine for eight consecutive years as one of the fifty most powerful women in business, the last conferred just a few weeks ago.
In 2008, she was appointed to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships and helped select White House Fellows. In 2010 she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and in 2013 was appointed to the Public Health Policy Council of Harvard University.