Barry Greene, President, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
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Every Single Patient Matters
Raising the bar… by bringing interconnectivity into everything we do
Company: Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Awards/Honors: Albert Einstein Award; 2008 Pharmaceutical Executive 45 Under Forty Five; 2008 The 11th Annual Myer Saxe Award from the Alzheimer’s Association; 2010 Women Unlimited, Inc. You Make the Difference Recognition; Alzheimer’s Association 2010 Century Award
Associations: Acorda Pharma Board of Directors; Karyopharma Board of Directors; Hope for the Harbor Event Committee for Alzheimer’s Association; Chair, 2020 American Heart Association Boston Heart and Stroke Ball
To complete the journey from the raw science of RNA interference (RNAi) to a clinically validated platform required a leader with passion and persistence. That’s exactly what Barry Greene has brought to Alnylam as president. Since joining the company in 2003, he has been leading the company to develop RNAi therapeutics to transform the lives of people living with diseases for which there are limited or inadequate treatment options. Barry epitomizes what Alnylam is all about. Much like the company name, which is derived from “Alnilam,” the bright center star in the constellation Orion’s belt that has been used by navigators for thousands of years and symbolizes a passion for discovery, Barry is guiding the company to deliver on its promise of RNAi from a Nobel Prize-winning discovery into an innovative, entirely new class of medicines.
In fact, Alnylam has delivered the world’s first and only approved RNAi therapeutics — Onpattro (patisiran) for the treatment of transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis (hATTR amyloidosis) and Givlaari (givosiran) for the treatment of acute hepatic porphyria (AHP).
For Barry, it’s all about patients and bringing new and innovative medicines to market that not only improve the lives of patients but save lives. And along the way, he’s guiding the next generation of researchers and leaders to create their own patient-based legacies of success.
PV: How do inspire others to reach their personal and professional goals?
GREENE: What we do is personal and it’s amazing. When you work in a company that is developing a whole new class of medicine that saves lives, that in itself is inspirational. I focus on our vision, mission, and our core values. And I try to live our core values every day to the best of my ability. I think the best companies are those where the leadership believes in the vision and mission and believes in the core values and lives those core values: commitment to people, innovation and discovery, sense of urgency, open culture, and passion for excellence. I look at leadership mostly as a function of support. What can I do to enable the people in my organization to be successful? And what processes, what tools, what enabling technologies can we put in their hands, so ultimately, people feel like they’re succeeding? We also set big, hairy, audacious goals, and ask people to strive and stretch. Nothing is more satisfying to a team when it’s been able to achieve big, hairy, aggressive goals, particularly when those goals are oriented toward saving lives and helping patients.
PV: How are you raising the bar both professionally and personally?
GREENE: On a personal level, I was asked to be the chair of the 2020 Boston Heart and Stroke Ball for the American Heart Association, which brings together many in the medical community to tackle the devastating aspect of heart disease and the disparities between certain communities. And those disparities have grown greater with COVID, so rather than not do our 2020 event, we thought about how the AHA could be even more valuable to the communities to help them deal with the crisis. I’m proud that we doubled the net fundraising from last year through a virtual engagement. We raised more than $1.6 million for programming to tackle disparities of heart disease. As a company, we started thinking about digitization and virtualization early on. So, when COVID hit, we were able to move forward fairly quickly. The other heavy lift that we had to do was find alternative sites of care for our patients as institutions were closing “elective procedures.” Giving someone a drug, even a cancer drug, became an elective procedure. In a very short period of time, we were able to move many patients to home care from local centers, so that they didn’t have to stop taking their lifesaving medicines.
PV: We’re hearing that with COVID-19 there has been greater collaboration in the industry. Are you seeing this in your space?
GREENE: What’s been interesting about the biopharma space, particularly in the Cambridge/Kendall Square area, is for the 20-plus years I’ve been up here, I have found there to be more collaboration than in any other ecosystem out there. I could reach out to a Nobel laureate professor at MIT, and he or she would come walk over to our facility for an hour and exchange thoughts and ideas. You can meet venture partners and exchange ideas. I think COVID has taken the Kendall Square ecosystem, if you will, and globalized it, meaning big pharma is working with other big pharma, biopharma, and academia.
PV: What is your philosophy with mentoring and developing the next generation of leaders?
GREENE: Helping people be successful is ultimately the most important thing. I look at it this way, if I can work with others and help make them be more successful, ultimately I will be successful. I don’t know if this is a philosophy I developed over time or something I was just born with. My parents told me that my kindergarten and first grade report cards said something like, ‘Barry’s more interested in helping everyone else with their homework than doing his own.’ I have had the good fortune of working at amazing places with amazing people working together toward a common goal.
PV: When you work with the next generation of leaders, what advice do you provide to them?
GREENE: I tell people, whatever you’re asked to do, do your very best at whatever it is. Also, make sure people know that you have done the very best you can do. It’s okay to showcase your work. The third thing that I tell people is look for white spaces. Where can you add value? How can you do more than you are asked to do? The final thing is look for ways to make everyone around you more successful.
PV: When you look to build your executive team, what are some of the qualities you look for?
GREENE: I look for people to be strong individual contributors and team players. I look for people who can do the work, meaning I want player coaches. People have to know how to create deliverables, move projects along, and dive in without requiring massive teams to get a lot done. I also look for people who resonate with our core values. They also have to value the mission of Alnylam and our goals to build a top-tier, independent biopharmaceutical company founded on RNAi.
PV: As a leader, what is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
GREENE: I don’t sleep very much, so that’s a bad question for me, but the thing that saps my energy is when I see a lack of collaboration to do the best toward a common goal.
PV: Conversely, what brings you most joy?
GREENE: Every time I hear a story about a patient that we helped in a meaningful way, and fortunately we hear these stories a lot, gives me great joy. One of our more serious doctors looked at me one day and said: ‘Barry, every time you hear a patient story, you get all excited.
You know the data, you know that there are a lot of these stories out there.’ I looked at him and said, ‘yes, but every single patient matters, every story gives me great joy.’ I also get joy from seeing people come together to work on something hard and achieving the goal as one team.
PV: What would you like to leave to this industry as your legacy?
GREENE: One of the things I’m most proud of is when I hear ‘Barry’s got your back.’ I also feel pretty good about bringing medicines to patients amid the doubters who never believed these medicines would make it in the first place. I am proud that Alnylam is a patient-focused company. And third, I’m incredibly proud that Alnylam has led the world by offering proactive value-based agreements and partnering with payers. I’d like to see value-based agreements strengthen in the future. We’ve paved the way for how manufacturers and payers can partner at Alnylam. Our industry should be praised and should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
PV: Where do you see the industry headed in the shorter term?
GREENE: My hope is that the industry emerges from the COVID situation with the recognition that it literally can save the world. And that includes everything from testing, to diagnosing, to treatments, to vaccines, to prophylaxis to get us through this global crisis. I hope at the end, rather than being seen as those damn drug companies that charge too much money, the public views us differently. We need to do everything we can, not just to do great work, but to make sure people know the great work we’ve been doing. I’m also hoping that collaboration between and among industry players continues to stay strong beyond solving COVID. How do we come together to improve access? How do we come together to speed drug development? How do we come together to share information — legally — and enhance collaboration? How do we get faster and better at trial design, testing drugs, and getting real-world evidence into how we promote and use drugs in an effective way?(PV)