Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
After serving as general manager in four different countries, Chris Round didn’t hesitate to step up to lead EMD Serono, the U.S. and Canada healthcare business unit of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, when the opportunity arose.
“Some countries have an impact beyond their borders, and the U.S. has a lot of unique characteristics to it around pricing, reimbursement, market access, the quality of the science and innovation, the scale and potential and the profitability of the market,” Round says.
Round has been with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany since 2017, so he knows his way around the organization, serving as head of international and core franchises for the company’s global therapeutic areas across China, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Latin America. That has been instrumental in finding his rhythm quickly, but colleagues note it’s his track record of “bringing new treatments to market to provide new therapeutic options for underserved patient populations; business transformation across a number of therapeutic areas, from primary care to oncology; leadership and oversight of local and regional operations; as well as global responsibilities in executive leadership teams,” which they say are the key differentiators to his success.
Over the past 18 months, Round has racked up a number of wins across EMD Serono’s main therapeutic areas of focus — fertility, oncology, neurology and immunology, and endocrinology — including “double-digit growth in 2021 in the U.S. vs. the previous year; significant organic sales growth in 2021 of the fertility business, due in part to COVID-19 rebound effects as well as strong demand for EMD Serono’s fertility products; strong sales growth for key oncology products in 2021 since approvals/launches in 2020 and early 2021; the launch of EMD Serono’s enhanced Fertility LifeLines patient support program, as well as the launch of the fertility Slim Pack packaging for one of its medications; [and] key pipeline milestones,” according to one of his nominators.
Colleagues say Round is focused on driving growth and expansion for the company by delivering on its core business while establishing a “launch machine” that regularly brings innovation to U.S. patients, aiming to create, improve and prolong lives.
“[Round] has a unique and effective leadership style, focusing on pushing himself and others to get out of their comfort zone and identify solutions. [Round] believes that when someone finds an opportunity — whether it’s a project or a new role — and they find it incredibly challenging at first, that’s how you know you’re learning. He channels this mentality through his leadership style, and it helps build trust among his teams and drive innovation at EMD Serono,” one of his nominators says.
Here, Round discusses how he managed the organization through COVID, what drew him to the life sciences industry, his leadership style and the trends he is tracking.
PharmaVoice: What new leadership skill did you learn over the past two years that you will carry forward?
Chris Round: When Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany asked me to take over as head of its U.S. healthcare business, known as EMD Serono, in 2021, I knew that coming onboard in the thick of the pandemic required an evolution of the working models and an adaptation of my leadership style. It takes effort to build connection, comradery and trust — both with colleagues and customers — which are critical to get to the next level. We leveraged a hybrid work approach, which required us to embrace digital technology while also meeting face-to-face safely and appropriately on a periodic basis. This method allowed us to quickly develop trusting relationships between leadership and colleagues to strategically plan and implement.
“Biopharmaceuticals is a very competitive industry, and if you’re not challenged, you aren’t growing — that’s critical.”
President, EMD Serono
Today, leaders are grappling with what the ‘return to office’ will look like. There are certain elements in our business model where the pandemic helped us uncover some efficiency improvements. We’re going to find customer groups being more comfortable in digital spaces, and the market will demand in some ways how we move forward. The challenge will be to keep what we’ve learned and improve upon it, while at the same time striking the right balance with a level of face-to-face elements as well. The most effective companies will embrace a hybrid model and move forward that way.
What drew you to the life sciences industry?
At some point or another, all of us will be impacted by illnesses — whether you, a friend, family member or neighbor. Unfortunately, diseases like cancer are increasing in prevalence. The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of someone impacted by these illnesses keeps me motivated and encouraged — and it has since I started working in this industry so many years ago. Today, at EMD Serono, I continue to be inspired by our aspiration to help create, improve and prolong lives for people living with difficult-to-treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer and infertility. The work we do to research, develop and bring affordable medications and services to market is incredibly important, perhaps now more than ever.
What keeps you up at night?
As a commercial leader, the importance of continuing to evolve our commercial engagement model is something that is often on my mind. The team quickly realized at the start of the pandemic that it's more important than ever to customize our multichannel approaches with various stakeholders in order to reach them at the right time, with the right information through the right platform. For example, it is critical that we keep physicians informed even in light of access restrictions to support them in making the best treatment decisions and ensure patients receive the support they need.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to focus on encouraging others to get out of their comfort zone and identify solutions. Biopharmaceuticals is a very competitive industry, and if you’re not challenged, you aren’t growing — that’s critical. I try to lead by example, encouraging others to take appropriate risks and challenges, so that everyone will benefit. I’m proud to work at a company like EMD Serono where our people are courageous about advancing new science and passionate about delivering programs that make an impact on our communities.
What is the biggest trend you are tracking?
We’ve seen the impact of digital health technologies in the last two years, specifically for patients. The rise of digital technology during the pandemic elucidated how it can ease healthcare burdens by providing alternative, more efficient care delivery models such as telemedicine.
This has been reflected in many ways at EMD Serono as we work to imagine the future of healthcare. In particular, we’ve seen a positive impact on our fertility business — a space where we have been a leader for more than 20 years. Patient willingness and demand for in vitro fertilization (IVF) has increased compared to pre-COVID levels as the combination of telehealth and remote work flexibility emerging post-COVID relieved pain points in the patient journey.
On this digital wavelength, we’re continuing to think outside the box to support our oncology, multiple sclerosis and fertility communities where we can have the most direct impact.