Timothy Walbert, Chairman, President, and CEO, Horizon Therapeutics plc
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Title: Chairman, President, and CEO
Company: Horizon Therapeutics plc
Industry Awards: PharmaVOICE 100, 2010, 2015, 2019
Company Awards: Best Workplaces in Health Care & Biopharma, Fortune Magazine, 2019, 2018 – No. 1; 50 Companies that Care, People Magazine, 2018; 100 Best Medium Workplaces, Fortune, 2018; Best Places to Work in Chicago, 2018; Crain’s Chicago Business, 2019; Top Workplaces, Chicago Tribune, 2018; Best Places to Work for Women Over 35, Crain’s Chicago Business, 2016
Associations: World Business Chicago; BIO; MATTER; Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization; Greater Chicago Arthritis Foundation; Illinois Innovation Council; NORD
Since being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease while in college, Tim Walbert has been committed to making an impact in the biopharmaceutical industry. From launching Humira at Abbott (now AbbVie), to helping children with osteosarcoma at IDM Pharma, later sold to Takeda, and today working to find cures for rare diseases at Horizon, Tim understands how important every contribution is to developing innovative therapies. He says his diagnosis is the driving force behind his patient-first management style.
Under Tim’s leadership, Horizon has grown from a handful of employees to more than 1,200 people across the globe; from no marketed medicines to 10 marketed products; and from no net sales to more than $1.2 billion in net sales. Strong fiscal performance aside, Tim continues to drive his team to define success by a different set of numbers — the number of lives touched, the number of lives changed, and the number of lives saved.
2018 marked Horizon’s 10-year anniversary and a year in which the company made further progress defining its identity. Tim led the company to shift its focus from a commercially focused organization to an R&D-focused company with a rapidly growing pipeline, which includes Actimmune for treating genetic disorder chronic granulomatous disease, Ravicti for urea cycle disorders, Procysbi for nephropathic cystinosis, Krystexxa for uncontrolled gout, and other diseases.
Tim ensures that his colleagues and the company overall make a difference in the communities where they work. He ensures that the company’s investment extends beyond its medicines by engaging with more than 50 large global and regional umbrella advocacy organizations, small, local disease-specific patient advocacy organizations, and community partners that align with Horizon’s four pillars of giving — children’s healthcare, innovation, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and therapeutic areas of focus.
Colleagues are inspired by Tim’s leadership as an extraordinary mentor, coach, and overall culture, patient, and community champion.
PV: What was the impetus behind starting the company and how has the mission evolved?
Walbert: Horizon is about seeing the future and a bright new day. It’s about focusing on the medicines and ultimately the patients who we treat. Our initial strategy was like most small companies — survival, often living from paycheck to paycheck, venture investment, and bridge loans, and a staff of about 10 people. The second half of our decade as a company has been about building a more R&D focused company centered on rare diseases.
It starts for me personally as a patient, that’s what motivates me and our team and has informed our direction as a company. I have two autoimmune diseases, one that is a specialty-based disease managed by a rheumatologist and the other is a rare autoimmune disease. I’ve been through the journey and live the life of a patient. Getting into the biologics and rare disease space came from some of my own personal experiences. We have promising near-term medicines such as teprotumumab, which is for a very rare condition called thyroid eye disease where patients develop proptosis (eye bulging) due to inflammation and tissue expansion behind their eyes, which threatens their sight. We recently submitted an application for teprotumumab, and hopefully it will be approved in 2020.
PV: What do you attribute Horizon’s successful second phase to?
Walbert: It started with the decision to take our commercial success and cash flow and diversify the business into areas that, frankly, I wanted to explore. We wanted to go into biologics. I had significant experience in developing and leading the global launch of Humira and I had interest in autoimmune disease from my personal experience. We then started looking for medicines that we thought we could buy. The first was Actimmune, which is an autoimmune rare disease medicine that can make a difference for a few thousand patients. From there the path was about identifying existing medicines that we thought we could better commercialize; we did a number of transactions to build what is a billion-dollar rare disease business. The next step in being a sustainable biotech company is to innovate and develop new medicines, which is what led us down the path of teprotumumab.
PV: When you started you were one of the few companies focused on rare diseases. Today, there are many different companies in the rare disease space. Is that a good thing?
Walbert: It’s great news. There are 7,000 rare diseases and approximately 5% have approved treatments, so there still aren’t enough companies exploring rare diseases. As more and more companies come in, patients are ultimately going to benefit. Oncology has been a real focus for rare disease and gene therapies have promise in a variety of different rare diseases. Yet, I still don’t think we’ll get close to 10% even if every company is successful in its current portfolio of medicine. So, the focus is warranted and still needs to increase.
PV: How have you created a patient-focused culture?
Walbert: From my perspective it’s fairly simple. I am a patient. I have good days and bad days. I’ve also been in biologics for 20 years. We have a top-down focus on patients because I understand what patients are experiencing at a different level than many other executives. We also have many employees at Horizon who are patients or are parents of children with rare diseases.
In addition, as an organization we’re committed to the community, to patients, and to organizations that share our common purpose, which is to transform and better the lives of those children and patients who ultimately need therapies most. We have employees who go out and paint a school or build a fence or work within one of the four areas of our corporate social responsibility program. We give employees a personal day so they can work in their community. We have a matching program so if an employee puts money into a community organization we’ll match his or her donation. We also focus on STEAM to ensure that we have girls and boys going into math and the sciences.
PV: How will new technologies impact the future?
Walbert: There’s been a lot of commentary recently about AI and we’re all going to need to continue to use these tools to help us diagnose, identify, and treat patients in a different way. Gene therapy is changing how we think about treating patients and we need to think about how to pay for these medicines in the system. There are a lot of different parts to consider, but we need to start with identifying the right diseases and finding the right ways to identify the biologic opportunities for those patients. Many of the underlying processes will be the same, but how we do what we do will be enhanced by AI, digital, and the patient voice. We need to evolve the endpoints and how we communicate with patients and how we involve patients in trials to better develop medicines.
PV: Let’s talk about your philosophy with developing the next generation of leaders and mentorship.
Walbert: I’ve always believed if you’re in the biotech or biopharmaceutical business then you should be in it for the right reasons and that is about helping patients and making a difference, and at the same time we represent shareholders in enabling that success.
Leaders need empathy, drive, and passion to do the right thing. At Horizon, we bring in patients from different therapeutic categories to talk to our employees to help them understand their needs. We bring in physicians to explain to them why we’re developing a certain medicine and help them understand the challenges their patients face. I believe it’s critical to educate our employees on why we’re in this business. As an industry, we need to focus the conversation around how to help more patients.
PV: What advice would you provide to others who may want to embark on an entrepreneurial track?
Walbert: I think it requires a mindset of drive, passion, and risk tolerance. In a big company, if a medicine fails you move onto a different product. But in a start-up, you’re taking a risk that impacts your family and your future, so you need to believe that you can make a difference and willing to take that risk.
PV: What keeps you up at night, what brings you joy, and what would you like your legacy to be?
Walbert: I stay focused on the mission and control what I can control.
What gives me joy is coming to work and making a difference. It’s pretty cool to be involved in bringing drugs to the market that can truly change people’s lives.
I want to be remembered for leading a company that cared and tried to make a difference to patients, the community, and physicians versus just being a business or financial enterprise.(PV)