UCB, Admedus, Retrophin, Takeda Execs: Patient Centricity’s Impact on Sales and Marketing

Do you feel it? A cosmic shift in our industry. The business model of the healthcare industry has always been based on innovation in medical discovery and commercialization. But in the last 5 years, first slowly and now so significantly that you can’t miss it, a shift is underway from molecule and machine focused to patient focused. Key to that shift is establishing a patient-focused culture. The ‘Why’ to doing it is compelling. Our people become more engaged and engaging. Collaboration increases both internally and externally when we are all on the same team—the patients’ team! More patients are served, which means more revenues are earned. So how do we create a patient-focused culture in sales and marketing? We would love to hear your ideas. Here’s how four thought leaders responded.

Our moderator:

Principal, Engage Rx Contributing Editor, Healthcare Sales & Marketing

Our panel of experts:

Head of UCB US Performance Training President, Life Science Trainers and Educators Network
Chief Operations Officer Admedus
Vice President, Sales & Marketing Retrophin
General Manager Takeda Canada Inc.

All comments reflect the views of the panelists and are not necessarily those of their companies.

What are the top ways that you are establishing a patient-centric culture?

BRYAN SELBY: At Retrophin, our mission is to identify, develop and deliver life-changing therapies to people living with rare diseases. One of the most important things that enables us to deliver on that mission is the patient-focused culture that has been established within the company. Building and maintaining a culture is something you never finish. There is a constant need to be reminding and enabling your people how to be patient-focused.

Our first step begins with hiring people who truly believe in, and are willing to live, the Retrophin culture. This is the key idea in Good to Great: “getting the right people on the bus.” “Right” for us is foremost about keeping patients at the center of our priorities.

The second step is to train our people to be able to share their own purpose story—their “Why.” It’s not enough to have a corporate mission statement—it has to be personal.

There’s one story I love that embodies that spirit. At a recent home office meeting with ten sales people, one of Clinical Account Managers (field sales reps) shared an experience she recently had while conducting an educational lunch program with two doctors.

While she was explaining one of our approved therapies, a third doctor that she didn’t know walked in and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about cystinuria cystinuria. I just diagnosed my first patient with cystinuria last week and frankly, I don’t know how to treat it.” So the Clinical Account Manager invited that doctor to join the conversation. At the end the doctor said, “Well, now I know what to do. Congratulations – you just made a sale!” As she recounted this part of the story, the other sales personnel listening collectively reacted with an almost audible gasp—like they had just been insulted.

In continuing her story, the Clinical Account Manager politely said to the doctor; “Doctor, you don’t know me yet, but if you did, you’d know that I’m not here to make a sale. I’m here to help you make someone’s life better.”

As I listened to her story, and watched the offended reactions of the ten sales personnel in our office that day, I concluded that we are getting this culture thing right! They are living the power of their purpose. When our reps deeply believe they are there for the patient—- not the sale — that’s a proud moment for Retrophin.

GAMZE YÜCELAND: At Takeda, patients are the primary consideration in everything that we do. In fact, one of the four company priorities is to put the patient at the forefront in everything that we do. The top three ways we are establishing a patient-centric culture include:

  • Truly understanding the patient journey by learning and hearing about their experiences and the realities they live through, either in person at special events coordinated by Takeda for employees or through video testimonials that are shared company-wide
  • Engaging in partnerships or collaborations that deliver programs supporting patient needs beyond the innovative treatments that we offer
  • Integrating patient centricity into our goals and objectives to ensure patients are top-of-mind at all times

DAVID FORTANBARY: Culture doesn’t happen overnight, and consists of many parts. Without question, this cultural change starts at the top. Our CEO and executive committee believe and create the right environment for all employees to experience the value and impact of patient centricity. Having that visible and consistent leadership voice for the organization to create value for patients is paramount. As important as the “tone at the top” is the “message in the middle.” We rely upon our local business leaders to embrace and model patient-centric behavior. When all of our employees (and potential new employees) see and hear this at UCB, they gravitate and want to be a part of an organization that places so much value in patient centricity.

All of our new joiners to UCB undergo a full day of cultural training within their first three months in role. This live, instructor-led training program orients the new hires to our philosophies, our patient value strategies and expectations of the company on how to place patients at the center of all decision making and actions. I don’t think we always fully appreciate the impact that early experience has on someone joining an organization. This cultural orientation has been very successful and provides new hires with a sense of belonging and purpose for the important career choice they made to join UCB.

We encourage all of our meeting times to begin with a question, “How can our discussion and actions today help people living with serious diseases?” If that question cannot be answered, the meeting is over.

DAVID ST. DENIS: I think the most important thing we’ve done is to put our purpose front and center and ensure it is embedded in and embraced by our entire team. Like most companies, we have our values clearly articulated. But how are we ensuring those values are tied to something real? For us, it has been by linking those values to a clear purpose. We believe that our solutions are able to make a difference for patients. That’s our purpose: to make a difference. When we launch a new marketing campaign or sales drive, we try to ensure we are looking at “why” we are doing things a certain way as opposed to only “what” we want to come out of it. This constant reminder of our purpose is becoming woven into our culture. I expect this to be the most important aspect of our journey to becoming more patient-centric.

As a result, what have your sales and marketing teams started and stopped doing?

DAVID FORTANBARY: This seems simple, but we have stopped pushing what we think is right, and we started listening more to our stakeholders. We seek greater patient insights through various and numerous healthcare delivery channels. We spend more time trying to understand any problems or barriers our stakeholders face when delivering care to patients. Part of this change includes a mindset shift for our sales and marketing teams to “fall in love” with the problem. The deeper we understand these issues that are getting in the way of quality outcomes, lower costs and improved patient satisfaction, the closer we are aligned to our stakeholders’ and customers’ (patients’) interest. And, that is good for business and what we believe in at UCB.

Sale chart image

GAMZE YÜCELAND: Takeda has had the same values for 237 years and that says everything about who we are as a company. Our values are the foundation of our decisions and drive the way we have operated as a company and will continue to operate. Patient, Trust, Reputation, and Business—in that order—are words we live every day. We are putting more emphasis on living those values in everything we do, even as part of our Code of Conduct. In particular, we look at what impact our sales and marketing activities have on Patients first, then building our Trust and Reputation and, finally, on our Business. Brand strategies for the different therapeutic areas we work in always start with Patients and consider how the work we do and the programs we create will contribute positively to their outcomes.

DAVID ST. DENIS: Change is slow, especially within sales teams. By nature, sales professionals want to win, and this means convincing the customer to choose us over our competitors. This can also lead to very transactional thinking, and customers can be skeptical of how earnest we really are in advancing the standard of care for patients. We have been working to characterize winning, which is still important, in a more meaningful way: i.e., if we can build trust with our customers by demonstrating the value we bring to them and their patients, we will establish a long-term relationship focused on working together (health care delivery and industry) to serve the patient. This shift results in a variety of behaviors that are different.

For example, when we discuss our competitors, we might point to a recent study where that competitor had some positive results — rather than try to malign or “position” those results, we like to engage our customers in a discussion. Have they seen them yet? What do they think about those results? We tell them how we see those results and how we see our value proposition relative to those results. When you are convinced you have a better option, you shouldn’t fear being balanced. There are unlimited tweaks to our commercial posture we can make that keep us competitive, but also establish trust and increase influence. Additionally, we have started to engage patient societies more with a focus on bringing emerging trends and solutions to the front of the discussion. This activity is absolutely harmonious with our efforts to partner with HCPs for the same purpose.

BRYAN SELBY: The Retrophin sales and marketing theme for 2018 has been RY*PT—which is short for “Our WHY is a patient”. You’ve got to keep finding ways to grow your patient-focused culture and remind people who we want to be. As senior management, we often look to communication devices to help center our organization on our mission and values. RY*PT is an example of how we can build that patient-centric culture. I especially love when I see RY*PT as an e-mail sign-off or hashtag.

The RY*PT campaign has been accompanied by a corporate “Our Why” campaign for all employees and partners of Retrophin. The “Our Why” campaign is designed to showcase how we, as Retrophin team members across the organization, put patients at the center of everything we do. It also gives us an opportunity to engage other members of the rare disease community to join with us in sharing their individual “Why” stories and build a stronger sense of community.

What have been the outcomes from creating that patientcentric culture—for patients/caregivers, employees, HCPs and other stakeholders?

GAMZE YÜCELAND: For patients and caregivers, we are continually looking for ways to improve quality of life for patients. This starts with the new therapies we have brought and will continue to bring to them, and making sure that these innovative treatments are available to patients as quickly as possible. We then move on to establishing our very comprehensive patient support programs. It also means helping do more of what’s important to patient organizations, such as supporting the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada GoHere washroom access program.

For employees, when a team comes together with one goal in mind it makes collaboration much easier. Our shared values are what drive us. Ask anyone at Takeda why they come to work each day and they will tell you it’s because they want to make a difference in the lives of patients. We each understand that, regardless of our role, the work that we do does make a difference. Patients are our passion.

For HCPs, we remain committed to ongoing research and collaborations. New therapies come as a result of investments in research and development and this is very important to us as a company. One vital area we share with healthcare professionals is that we want to help patients. We see our role as providing treatments and tools so those professionals can maximize what they can do for patients.

Other stakeholders, such as patient organizations, are another important conduit for us to help patients. We collaborate with patient organizations to provide different types of support including education programs, disease materials, special projects that make a difference to patients, and fundraising activities. We also work collaboratively with government authorities to ensure that patients have continued access to treatments that are essential to their wellbeing and quality of life.

BRYAN SELBY: For Retrophin, being patient-centered allows us to be more driven, more focused, and more effective in assisting healthcare providers in diagnosing and finding patients who may benefit from our medicines, possibly leading to better health and better lives. Being patient-centered allows our people to be more engaged in their work and allows them to more easily comprehend the difficulties of living with rare disease. At the end of the day, when our people go home, they know they have made a positive impact on our patients’ lives. Isn’t that how we all want to feel?

When your HCPs trust you and believe you’re in it for the same reason they are, they are far more engaged in your educational message and benefit more from interactions.

By orienting our actions around the patient, we create opportunities to partner with all healthcare stakeholders. I love the metaphor of the pit crew around the patient. We at Retrophin are part of that pit crew for patients and families with rare disease.

DAVID FORTANBARY: Outcome measures are different depending upon your customer or stakeholder. For example, we are seeing an influx of responses and letters written to UCB from patients and caregivers sharing their stories and gratitude to UCB. Those stories are routinely shared across the organization to remind every employee that what they do makes a real impact on the lives of others. There is no greater satisfaction than reading these stories of how patients overcame or controlled their disease with the help of UCB. For our employees, having a patient-centric culture has created a strong sense of purpose for everyone. Whether you are in IT, finance, operations, HR or in a more direct line role in delivering patient solutions, our employees celebrate what we are accomplishing at UCB. Interestingly, our focus on patients has attracted like-minded, very skilled and passionate employees. This, in turn, further accelerates our culture to a more patient-centric organization. We measure the impact of our patient value cultural through frequent employee surveys (where we consistently receive high marks on patient focus), and improvements in retention and engagement. For our shareholders, we only need to look at our company’s performance. Our quarterly results are our report card on how well we are executing our patient centered strategies. For HCPs, I believe we are convincing them through our actions that we are very much aligned to their priorities— improved access to care for patients, improved health outcomes, lower costs and improved patient satisfaction. We have many examples where we have achieved that level of trust, alignment and success with HCPs.

DAVID ST. DENIS: We are at the beginning of our journey, but I’m happy with the progress we made so far. For patients I believe we have been successful in inserting ourselves into their treatment decisions along that patient journey. That has resulted in them potentially getting better options as a result of a more informed HCP.

For our employees this shift has resulted in an empowered team, driven by the power of purpose and belief that what they do every day makes a difference, not just a paycheck. For investors, beyond the obvious financial results, we are building a brand identity that establishes us as an important player in our space; a player who is driving innovation and improvement in providing patient care. This ultimately makes the company they are invested in more valuable and sustainable. Finally, for HCPs, here is where we still have so much opportunity. HCPs today are under tremendous pressure to increase the quality of care while containing its cost. This results in them potentially having less time to look at changes in their practice that could be beneficial but risk costing them more time in the near term. We have been successful at convincing many of our customers that we can be trusted and intend the best for their patients, but we are still struggling with the best way to get them comfortable with the investment in change.

Moving Forward image

Much has been done in patient centricity, but much remains to be done. What are the next steps in your company with respect to this important effort?

BRYAN SELBY: Culture matters! Culture wins! Positive culture doesn’t just happen. Our patientcentric culture, as strong as it is, needs continued nourishment and continued recognition throughout the organization, especially from senior management. It’s easy to lose sight in the pressure and challenges of the day, but we at Retrophin try hard to remind ourselves daily of why we are here—to help save or improve a life of someone living with rare disease, one patient at a time

DAVID FORTANBARY: We must stay the course. Living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, it is very easy to lose focus and become distracted on our purpose and desired outcomes. However, with our leadership, our employees and our purpose deeply rooted into our organization, I am very optimistic that we will continue to succeed and fulfill our mission to help patients living with serious diseases. This is who we are at UCB.

GAMZE YÜCELAND: Being a patient-centric company is at the core of who we are and is part of our global and local strategy. We have built a very strong foundation that puts patient centricity at the core of how we do business. It is imperative that everyone in the company has a patient-centric mindset—patients must always come first. There is always room for improvement and to better understand the patient needs and where the gaps are so that we can provide the right support to patients.

In our external activities and programs, we must always ask ourselves what more we can do directly or with our customers and stakeholders to support patients, including to ensure that our innovations are and remain available to patients.

Internally we must always look at how we can best structure our teams, change our processes or communicate among ourselves to ensure that it all comes back to putting the patient first. It’s not a do-once-and-you’re-done activity. It’s a continual process of learning, change and improvement.

DAVID ST. DENIS: We intend to invest a lot more in building tools that enable us to discuss value and outcome. The discussion right now is focused on cost. We need to show that the long term benefit far exceeds the perceived costs, which are not just financial, but more importantly, costs to the patients long term quality of life. The cost of not getting the right outcome is too high.


Principal, Engage Rx

Jill, HBa, MAdEd, is on a mission to lift our industry, building purpose-driven, influential people. Through her keynote talks, workshops and award-winning mobile-learning programs, she is helping pharma people build trust, open doors and make a bigger impact. She also serves as Associate Editor of Healthcare Sales & Marketing.

Our panel of experts:

Head of UCB US Performance Training President, Life Science Trainers and Educators Network

David is a 33-year veteran in the pharmaceutical industry, having held numerous EXPERTSleadership positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb for 28 years and with UCB for 5 years. David’s current role, as Head of US Performance Training for UCB and President of the Life Science Trainers and Educators Network representing over 2,000 life science learning professionals worldwide, has contributed to healthcare panels, educational symposia, books, articles and keynotes at major conferences and events. His passion for patients and caregivers stems from his personal experiences at home and at work. He began his journey to evangelize patient-centricity in healthcare following the death of his father, who struggled with his health and fragmented care. David said recently, “I get up every day thinking of my parents, and what they did for me. For the longest time, I felt guilty about how difficult it was to coordinate care for my dad. And, in some ways, I believe that lack of coordinated care contributed to his death. I’ve turned that guilt into my purpose, and will do all that I can to see things through the patients’ eyes and what they are experiencing.”

UCB’s ambition is to transform the lives of people living with severe diseases. They focus on neurology and immunology disorders, putting patients at the center of their world. Their medicines treat thousands of people around the world and they are engaging with patients, their families and healthcare professionals to address unmet needs. They want to enhance understanding of disease and the real-life experiences of patients so that their teams are able to deliver the right drug and the right care to the right patient. UCB is leveraging scientific advances and skills in areas such as genetics, biomarkers and human biology.

Chief Operations Officer Admedus

David St. Denis is an accomplished senior healthcare leader with a systematic and metrics-driven approach spanning 20 years of proven business results at the regional and global levels within the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors. Most recently at Merck in Germany, he headed commercial operations for Europe and Canada. He has an extensive track record in charge of complex cross-functional and multicultural teams that have achieved impressive business objectives in both mature markets (US, Europe, Japan) and developing markets (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico). His core competencies include operations management, strategy development, marketing and sales, new product introduction and launch excellence, market access and pricing.

ADMEDUS (ASX:AHZ) is a medical technologies company delivering clinically superior solutions that help healthcare professionals create life-changing outcomes for patients. Its focus is on investing in and developing next generation technologies with world-class partners, acquiring strategic assets to grow product and service offerings, and expanding revenues from our existing medical sales and distribution business. The company has assets from research and development through clinical development as well as sales, marketing and distribution.

Vice President, Sales & Marketing Retrophin

Dedicated to building a team that advocates for patients, Bryan advocates for raising the bar of expectations and for hope for patients with rare diseases. He has 25 years of experience in sales and marketing of pharmaceuticals and clinical diagnostics. At Retrophin he has led the creation of the commercial team. Prior to Retrophin, Bryan was head of marketing at Prometheus Therapeutics and Diagnostics and Millennium Labs, where he built two marketing departments that managed 18 pharmaceutical and diagnostic brands. Bryan started his career in sales with GlaxoSmithKline and went on to hold numerous roles in marketing leadership positions. His WHY of being patient-centric goes back to a hug he received from a patient in the Emergency Department of St. Ann’s Hospital in March of 1992. That started him down the path of truly understanding that what we do in the pharmaceutical industry can have a profound effect on patients’ lives.

RETROPHIN is a biopharmaceutical company specializing in identifying, developing and delivering life-changing therapies to people living with rare diseases. The company’s approach centers on its pipeline featuring late-stage assets targeting rare diseases with significant unmet medical needs, including fosmetpantotenate for pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN), a life-threatening neurological disorder that typically begins in early childhood, and sparsentan for focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and IgA nephropathy (IgAN), disorders characterized by progressive scarring of the kidney, often leading to end-stage renal disease. Research in additional rare diseases is also underway, including a joint development arrangement evaluating the potential of CNSA-001 in phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic metabolic condition that can lead to neurological and behavioral impairment.

General Manager Takeda Canada Inc.

Gamze has been the General Manager of Takeda Canada Inc. since April 2018. She brings more than two decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry to this role, having held a number of senior sales and marketing positions as well as country management roles over her 21- year career,. Prior to this position, Gamze served as General Manager of Takeda in Turkey. Her leadership was instrumental to the growth of Takeda in Turkey, contributing to the significant expansion of the company’s reach.


Takeda established operations in Canada in 2009 and is one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in Canada. They are delivering leading innovations in their disease areas of focus, gastroenterology and oncology, and strive to become a best-in-class specialty care provider focusing in the areas they work to serve the needs of patients.


Cleveland Clinic