An interview with Evjatar (Evi) Cohen, Global Practice Leader,
Pharmaceuticals at Appian Corporation
It’s challenging enough to climb the corporate ladder in your chosen skill area, especially in pharma. But to jump from one ladder to another, each time acquiring and mastering an additional skill set, is rare in any field. Evjatar (Evi) Cohen has been all over pharma, and some other places as well. His cumulative experience has added value to every position he’s taken, and we’re glad he took the time to explain his journey to us.
You might think that his three-year stint with the Israeli Defense Forces back in the ‘80s isn’t related to what he does now, but as Sergeant First Class he was also an active duty paramedic who literally hitchhiked across war zones coordinating emergency medicine instruction for active and reserve duty physicians. So that counts.
From there, he went into the food and beverage industry, graduating from the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, and becoming an executive chef. During that period, to keep from being bored, he implemented an electronic point-of-sale system and a function scheduling and reservation system, already showing his technical and corporate chops. Not falling short on his artistic abilities, he also had the great privilege of meeting the honorable U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, during the brokering of the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords. Evi presented Mr. Shultz with an artistic marzipan white peace dove perched among miniature renditions of the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Muslim Al-Aksa Mosque, and the Jewish Holy Western Wall. Another gesture of healing. Evi was later part of the chef brigade that prepared the state dinner for the heads of state – Mitterrand, Kohl, Andreotti, Kaifu, Thatcher, Mulroney, Delors, and Bush – during the 1991 16th G7 Economic Summit in Houston, Texas.
His next leap was into science, as a chemist analyzing antibiotic residues in tissues for the US Department of Agriculture on a joint research project with the FDA into antibiotic resistance. It was considered science fiction at that time.
Following this stint with the U.S. Government, Evi joined Teva Pharmaceuticals during its early foray into the U.S. pharma market, leading product development teams and developing analytical methods to support regulatory submissions. It became obvious to Teva at that point that this was someone with enormous curiosity and intellectual capability whom they could point in other directions. He moved on to become Associate Director of Quality Assurance. In that role he exercised his technological knowhow, managing electronic data management and heading up Teva’s North American global e-records and e-signatures task force. These were years of stellar growth at Teva, and Evi was tapped to help drive the challenging integrations of each of the M&A targets Teva was acquiring, one after another.
At that point in his career Evi felt that he needed more exposure to work at some of the big pharma brand companies. He took another leap to work for a Philadelphia-based consulting firm where he managed the implementation of large networked computing systems. In this new capacity he consulted to Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, J&J and others. Key challenges for pharma at that time – the early days of computerization – were the tracing of materials and product throughout the manufacturing process. To solve this challenge Evi and his team devised an ingenious method. They implemented a system that tracked the documentation related to the manufacturing process, which always traced the materials very closely. By capturing data about the document locations and movement, they were able to trace the materials and product batches and devise sophisticated algorithms for movement of product and people Soon Evi was back at Teva, this time as Director of Legal Affairs. Director of Legal Affairs? Where did that come from?
“I never considered my formal education as a limitation on my knowledge,” Evi says. “The industry was facing a traffic jam at the intersection of legal, regulatory, IT and R&D. It was challenged by new regulations, and the systems had to adapt to those. Meanwhile, R&D had to advance in as streamlined a fashion as we could manage. I considered my overall skill set to be The Art of the Possible. Someone had to take a look at this from 10,000 feet and figure out the landscape. Why not me?”
He shaped the product identification, selection and prioritization as well as portfolio management processes for Teva North America, and later Teva Global Generic R&D. He also oversaw commercial pre-launch clearance and risk assessment, and provided litigation preparation support, for an R&D pipeline of over 1,000 products. As breathtaking as that sounds, Evi makes it more adventurous when he describes the vast intelligence-gathering and split-second timing it took to guarantee that Teva captured the First-To-File opportunities afforded to generic filers with the FDA, sometimes edging out the competition by hours or even minutes.
“Of course, we had people in Israel who had already been at work for seven hours by the time we got up, so that was an advantage!” he notes.
But it was time once again to expand his horizons, so in 2010 Evi followed a colleague to Catalent Pharma Solutions, a private-equity owned global organization specializing in prescription, biologics and consumer health. Not that it limited him, but his title was VP of Global Innovation & Portfolio Management. The vision was to transform Catalent from a contract manufacturing organization to a sophisticated product development partner across the three key sectors.
“It was about identifying opportunities for new dosage forms, delivering molecules, finding new combinations, and repurposing old molecules. Then taking those opportunities to customers who could bring them to market,” he says. Harking back to his executive chef period, he modestly portrays it as “taking half-baked ideas and making them fully baked.”
At Catalent, he engineered global workflows for product identification, selection and new product introduction for the prescription and consumer health divisions, delivering a $273M funnel of products, which eventually became $627M worth of opportunities for their strategic customers and partners. Not to rest on those laurels, he also collaborated on creating a global R&D function that delivered innovation and technology development growth ultimately worth $1B. With a “B.”
It became obvious that Evi’s most vital talent was a combination of seeing where the future was and putting together the teams and structure to get there first.
“What I enjoy is getting people working across disciplines – putting scientists, manufacturing, IT and others in the same room and empowering them to do what they do best, but in collaboration. It’s that synergy that makes our work exciting. It’s what Edison called the Innovation Factory.”
Evi describes it further as a two-step process. “Inventing is the beginning, but inventing only gets you part of the way there. Innovation – the act of bringing the invention into the real world – is the discipline that finishes the task.”
One particularly meaningful project was expanding the delivery capability of ibuprofen. “It had been around since 1969 in the UK, and 1974 in the U.S. But it took a team of people to recognize that more could be done with it. Pfizer was interested in developing a softgel capsule formulation. The contents of a softgel capsule are ideally a clear liquid, which give this dosage form its pristine look. Dissolving ibuprofen in a liquid proved challenging, and the scientists at Catalent identified that a different salt form of the molecule could do the trick. Serendipitously, this new dosage form also proved to have a rapid release effect, providing an added advantage for a medication that is supposed to treat aches and pains. Acting faster was a distinct benefit.
Despite the success of his tenure as a member of the senior leadership team at Catalent, Evi seems almost sheepish in reporting that the original goal was to take the company to IPO position in two years, but that it eventually took four years of strong team work, under the laser-focused leadership of current CEO John Chiminsky, to get there. Considering its pre-IPO position of $1.8B and $464 EBIDTA, it seems there’s not much to be embarrassed about.
“At that point, what was I to do?” Evi asks, as though someone with that resume would be at a loss for options. Well, Teva needed a leader who could help them grow, reorganize and restructure, so it was back for another tour of duty with his former colleagues, this time as Principal Consultant with the Global IP Group. His job was to strengthen the interface with internal clients by reorganizing, implementing process improvements, developing standard operating procedures and internal controls, and guiding the implementation of information platforms to improve overall capabilities and strategic alignment. That took a full eight months. Almost as long as having a baby.
And then one day he was contacted “out of the blue, through LinkedIn, by someone at Appian whom I didn’t know at all.” Appian is a software company considered by Gartner and Forester to be a leader in the business process management and case management space. Appian’s powerful platform provides companies with the canvas for developing and building business applications to improve their customer journey, enhance decision-making, mobilize key data and processes, and unite business and IT in driving bottom-line performance. During that discussion, a light bulb went off in Evi’s head.
“The pharmaceutical industry was in chaos. Regulatory issues, the patent cliff, the steeply rising cost of getting a product to market, and a lot more. Finding better ways to streamline the people and process was a perfect assignment for someone who had always seen my job as bringing together all the puzzle pieces. There was potential to unlock tremendous opportunities and value!”
And so that’s what he does now on a daily basis as Global Practice Leader for Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences at Appian. What he likes most about the Appian platform is that it handles highly complex data, but is easy and user-friendly, the perfect combination. As for his activity there in the past year, his LinkedIn profile says it best: “I leverage my multi-disciplinary and relationship building skills in revenue building and business process designed to achieve positive outcomes for world-class multinational organizations in the pharmaceutical industry sector…I nurture strong collaboration with my teams and together we resolve critical issues and remove barriers, implementing optimal business solutions, exhibiting operational excellence and maximizing performance towards ongoing market expansion.”
If you were to put together a word cloud of my interview with Evi, one of the most prominent elements would be the word “empowering.” He is most excited about the act of identifying talent and intelligence, and introducing people of disparate skills to each other to accomplish the formerly impossible. His ongoing task, he says, is making sure to keep the horizon wider, knowing what’s possible.
And then there are two other principles at the heart of everything he does:
“Always keep integrity at the forefront—your own integrity and that of your message. And understand that getting yourself heard begins with listening.”