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Gabriela Güntherodt

Gabriela Güntherodt

Head of International Markets & Business Affairs, Member of the Management Board

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Roivant-Symposium: Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Roivant-Symposium: Fostering a Culture of Innovation

02.07.2018

Speedboat Meets Supertanker

It was a get together of the Swiss pharma and biotech industry: More than 150 guests joined the annual symposium with this year’s theme «Fostering a Culture of Innovation» by Roivant Sciences and BaselArea.swiss on Tuesday, 12 June at the Congress Center in Basel. Vivek Ramaswamy, CEO of Roivant, welcomed the audience, moderated the panel discussion and – last but not least – presented his vision and values for Roivant and its subsidiaries.

Vivek shared his views on unloading innovation in biopharma by:

  • Maneuvering in small units. Smaller is generally better which is why the Roivant subsidiaries, called “Vants” are organized as a set of decentralized companies.
  • Focusing on value rather than on corporate strategy, defined by where the best opportunities are found.
  • Aligning incentives between decision makers, stakeholders, operations and managers.
  • Recruiting top talent, not only searching from within the industry but also seeking out-of-industry talent.
  • Using data and deploying tech in all areas of business.

Roivant had opened their headquarters in Basel with the support of BaselArea.swiss in 2016. In his keynote, Vivek explored the reason behind settling in Basel. For him, the top reason to headquarter here is the talent and the diversity between large and small companies as in people from different countries and backgrounds. Vivek declared: “There was no better place for us,” and affirmed his commitment to the city further: “I am an ambassador for all companies choosing to locate their business in Basel.”

Congratulations on failure

Vivek Ramaswamy introduced Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis and keynote speaker of the evening, as a true innovator. Narasimhan reflected on the tremendous legacy of Novartis – and how to make his own mark: “Could I create the next culture of innovation?”

He showed that he is determined to do so by encouraging:

  • Creative abrasion. Disagreement is possible – it is important though to separate task conflicts and personal conflicts.
  • Creative agility, which means that it is important for everyone to be able to switch from one idea to another, despite the risk of financial losses.
  • Creative resolution, meaning that people within the organization are able and willing to take decisions.

Further, Narasimhan talked about unbossing the organization. He intends to transform a culture of fear into a culture of learning and curiosity. “People don’t like to talk about failure. So to change that, we lately congratulated a team whose drug failed.” Shaping the culture for the Novartis CEO also means not assimilating new acquisitions. “We are a supertanker, trying to protect speedboats and operating with them next to us,” Narasimhan explained. “It’s a big shift and a cultural journey that will approximately take five to ten years.”

Open conversation about women’s diseases

A different take on the topic of innovation was presented by Lynn Seely, CEO of the Roivant company Myovant Sciences that focuses on women’s health. She demonstrated how identifying unmet needs, creating a novel solution and executing the solution while engaging others often leads to innovation. One example is to provide menstrual supplies to women who do not have access to them, so that young women can partake in education and thus raise their productivity and overall impact.

Lynn Seely criticized the fact that no innovative drugs have been developed for women in the last couple of years. The demand is high, though: Eleven million females suffer from endometriosis, a painful condition of the uterus. Research is still insufficient and not heavily funded. Seely ascribed this issue to the fact that female diseases like endometriosis are not very well known so far. “We need to have an open conversation about women’s diseases, improve education, invest in research and develop transformative drugs,” Lynn Seely said.

From talent to money to the future

The keynotes were followed by a fireside chat between Domenico Scala, president of BaselArea.swiss and Alvin Shih, CEO of Enzyvant. Subsequently, a lively panel discussion concluded the evening. Anja König from Novartis Venture Fund, Paris Panayiotopoulos, CEO of Genevant, Giacomo di Nepi, CEO of Polyphor, Lynn Seely, CEO of Myovant Sciences and Vivek Ramaswamy discussed the perfect conditions for innovation (“somewhere between complacency and screaming pain”, as Anja König said). They also targeted regulations: “We are forced to take a conservative approach – that does inhibit innovation”, said Lynn Seely while Anja König argued that you can create something new within tight restrictions and that these restrictions actually foster innovation. Giacomo di Nepi showed how choosy he is when settling for the perfect employee. “You have to be picky. When everything works out it’s like the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Paris Panayiotopoulos added that it does not matter where the employees come from – but they need courage and passion. “After all, they will fail on a daily basis.” The panel cordially disagreed on the topic of availability of money to foster innovation: Some saw rather a shortage of ideas than of money while others stated that to create innovation, to have too much money is hardly impossible.

Regarding one point about players from other sectors entering the life sciences industry, the panel agreed wholeheartedly: Amazon, Google and Apple are not able to turn healthcare upside down on short notice without acquiring some serious R&D first. That being said, AI, machine learning and existing technologies are supporting major evolutions in finding patients for studies, running trials or applying apps for specific diseases. Nobody denied that the life sciences will and already is undergoing a major transformation.

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