Executives from Incyte, Janssen, Merck, Teva and SK life science Offer Their Views

Our Moderator:

MARIA FINLAY Director of Channel Marketing Incyte

Our panel of experts:

LESLIE AMENDOLA Director of Marketing, Oncology/Rare Disease (Brand Lead) Janssen Inc.
TAMI O’SULLIVAN Campaign Development Lead, Diabetes Franchise Merck
SEBASTIAN “SEBBY” BORRIELLO Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer SK life science
NILSA SANCHEZ Head of U.S. Sales, Oncology/ Hematology Teva Pharmaceuticals


Continuing our coverage of the industry response to the Covid-19 crisis, in this roundtable we focus on its effect on sales forces and how they are adapting to the current challenges. Our thanks to all for their valuable insights, especially Moderator Maria Finlay, a member of our Editorial Board, who helped recruit the panelists and develop this article.

How has Covid-19 impacted you, your company and your brand? What impact do you see it having over the near, mid and longer term?

LESLIE AMENDOLA: As the world’s largest healthcare company, we were built for times like these. We are mobilizing our global reach, deep scientific expertise, and extensive partnerships to address the critical needs of those we serve, while working toward mitigating and ultimately ending the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s nothing like an immersive experience to teach you how to be nimble and innovative. And these past few months have been as immersive as any I can remember! While these months have been challenging, they have had a positive outcome, enabling us – and companies across the globe – to build and flex our “muscle” of resilience and adaptability. The last few months have also given us the chance to better understand that everyone has their own unique circumstances, and this has helped us be even more sensitive, empathetic and authentic in how we interact with others, including our teammates, customers and, most importantly, with patients.

NILSA SANCHEZ: We have had our field facing team working remotely while balancing this effort with other internal employees who may have needed to be at one of our sites and are critical to ensure patients have access to our medications. It is essential across all of our teams that we are exercising utmost safety. We have utilized technology and created platforms to engage customers and I suspect this will continue to be a regular part of our business as institutions assess changes in policy and guidelines in response to this pandemic. When we think about national/regional/local conventions and exhibits underway that provide additional resources, we have had to assess if participation “virtually” is the right approach. There are key learnings from this, as it is a new concept. Access is challenging for any organization, and there is a fine balance between a productive engagement to ensure patient needs are met while being respectful of time. Technology may be able to help with this where appropriate. We are proud of the Teva brand as the company wants everyone to do their part during this global health crisis and is committed to continuously looking for ways to contribute.

SEBBY BORRIELLO: When Covid-19 emerged, we had to quickly shift our plans to ensure we would be ready to launch XCOPRI® (cenobamate tablets) CV in a completely new environment. XCOPRI is the SK life science’s first therapy to be approved by the FDA and commercialized independently, so this was a momentous milestone for us. However, it has been a very challenging time for the healthcare system, and the most important thing for us was to take a responsible approach to our launch. In May, we launched XCOPRI virtually, leveraging a suite of digital tools and video conferencing, to ensure our sales force was prepared to provide HCPs with important clinical and reimbursement information about XCOPRI. Interestingly, we found that because we had a new product, HCPs were more willing to connect with us. This is still a dynamic situation, and we will continue to take a very personalized approach that considers the local situation as well as the provider’s preferences. We expect that throughout 2020 and beyond, we will likely continue to have a hybrid approach with both faceto-face and virtual engagements.

TAMI O’SULLIVAN: Covid-19 brought unprecedented challenges with so many layers of complexity from emotions to changes in daily habits. From my perspective, being uncomfortable often opens the opportunity to challenge status quo, our thinking and opens the doors to new ideas. On a personal level, it was a powerful jolt to reflect and examine on what is truly important and soak in the resilience of humankind. This unique situation also forced organizations to quickly mobilize on how to continue to efficiently conduct business. While working from home has worked for some roles, it was never enforced to be the new normal at such a large scale. I must admit, I was surprised how teams were able to focus without skipping a beat. It is a great testament and a discovery that organizations may never have tested or considered if it wasn’t for this situation. Looking at our HCP customers, they shifted as well, instituting new protocols in their offices to be able to safely treat their patients. I am particularly curious about what new habits will continue post Covid-19 with our HCP customers, the office staff and the patients we serve.

MARIA FINLAY: On a personal level, since mid-March back to back virtual conference calls leveraging video technology to connect with colleagues and customers have become the norm for many. Return to the office varies across the industry, with some smaller companies encouraging a return to work, while larger organizations have not yet provided dates. Both healthcare business culture and biopharm corporate culture in the US has matured and continues to evolve as all are openly sharing personal spaces, and moments with children and pets on screen. For many, this virtual world has broken down walls and strengthened relationships with both internal and external customers.

From a business point of view, many oncology administrators and payers are also working from home, creating a different environment for account manager interactions with these customers – an environment favoring those established field professionals with strong relationships and a well developed.

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