Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
There’s a simple question that Dr. Judith Klimovsky uses as a guiding light for her work: “If the patient was my mom, would we be comfortable with the process and measures we have put in place?” It’s this kind of “personal touch” that Klimovsky has brought to the task of oncology R&D, a nominator says.
A physician by training, Klimovsky’s roots in pharma run deep, with decades of research experience at Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck and Co. and Novartis. Now the executive vice president and chief development officer at Genmab, a global biotech that specializes in what it calls “knock-your-socks-off” antibodies, Klimovsky has “established herself as a leader in antibody science,” a nominator writes.
During her nearly six years at Genmab, Klimovsky has racked up a number of big wins including the 2021 FDA approval of Tivdak, in partnership with Seagen, the only ADC cleared to treat advanced cervical cancer — and one of six approved therapies that incorporates Genmab’s antibody innovation. She also oversees the company’s sturdy pipeline of eight potential first-in-class or best-in-class investigational therapies for a number of cancers and more than 20 overall in clinical development.
"As a physician by training, I am always thinking about the patient."
Dr. Judith Klimovsky
Executive vice president, chief development officer, Genmab
Yet, her nominator writes that what makes Klimovsky a “powerhouse in oncology drug development is not her work in the lab, but her leadership outside of it.”
As Genmab has doubled its global workforce over the last two years and shifted to virtual work due to the pandemic, Klimovsky has transitioned “lunch table brainstorms” with fewer colleagues in the pre-pandemic days to virtual discussions with a wider group to focus on how her teams can impact patient lives.
“[Klimovsky] also brings a people-first mentality to her leadership style,” a nominator says. “You’ll hear her call the scientists in the lab her colleagues and her family.”
Here, Klimovsky shares her leadership advice and explains why Zoom meetings have helped her feel closer to her team.
PharmaVoice: What new leadership skill have you acquired in the last two years that you will continue to bring forward?
Dr. Judith Klimovsky: When we transitioned to the virtual environment, we faced new challenges and experienced new opportunities. For me, it was seeing a new dimension to my colleagues, as we brought work into our homes and our homes into our work. Over time, I made closer connections with my colleagues and teams as we navigated the new normal together. While in Teams or Zoom meetings, I happened to ‘virtually’ meet their pets, kids and spouses. And I developed a deeper level of empathy, as I watched colleagues care for sick relatives and friends and double as teachers. While we may have lost the face-to-face interaction, we gained deeper and stronger connections as individuals, which I take with me every day.
What’s the most meaningful item you have on your desk?
I have photos of the teams I had the opportunity to lead. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most motivated, passionate and brilliant colleagues. Not only do these photographs remind me of everything we achieved together, but they remind me of why we do what we do — to bring hope to patients.
What keeps you up at night?
As a physician by training, I am always thinking about the patient. Sometimes ideas on how to tackle a new challenge come to me in the middle of the night. When they do, I jot them down in a notebook I keep on my bedside table. The next morning, I take these ideas for discussion to solve the problems together — because when you bring the right people together, you can take it on as a team rather than alone.
What is your key piece of leadership advice?
As leaders, it is important to actively listen, promote critical thinking and be respectful and inclusive of different opinions. I believe, as a leader, we need to have a team from diverse backgrounds and experiences and instead of telling them what to do, actively listen to them and work as a team.
How are you paying your success forward?
I’ve had the opportunity to watch Genmab evolve into the ‘unicorn’ it is — a company that is like no other, its innovation and brilliant team paving the way for treatments that can potentially transform the way cancer is treated. To me, success isn’t defined by one person, it’s the teams, the colleagues, the collaborations that can potentially pave the way for innovations for tomorrow. My success manifests itself in the high functioning and collaborative teams we’ve built — each has a sense of fulfillment made by working together. And, our team’s success manifests itself in the breakthroughs we aim to deliver to patients.