Welcome to our series examining what makes successful leaders in the life sciences industry tick — from their personal and professional habits to their hobbies, the books they read and even their guilty pleasures. Today, we’re in conversation with Lundbeck’s CEO, Dr. Deborah Dunsire.
Throughout her long career as a pharma executive, Dr. Deborah Dunsire has reached a number of milestones. But not until recently did the CEO of Lundbeck experience having two drugs approved and launched in the U.S. within the span of two weeks.
The first nod came in April when the FDA approved Abilify Asimtufii, a long-acting, injectable treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar 1 disorder that Lundbeck developed with Otsuka Pharmaceutical. An oral tablet version of the med was first approved in 2002.
Then in May, the FDA signed off on Otsuka and Lundbeck’s drug Rexulti for treating agitation in Alzheimer’s — the first approval of its kind for that indication.
“We look forward to offering this first FDA-approved treatment option to address this significant unmet need for patients,” Dunsire said at the time.
The two approvals will now serve as crowning achievements for Dunsire, who announced her retirement in June. Dunsire is planning to step down from her top spot by Oct. 1 and will be replaced by Charl van Zyl, the current chief operating officer, executive vice president of neurology and head of Europe/international markets at UCB.
“I was hired to take Lundbeck through the recasting of the R&D strategy and the rebuild of the pipeline from within and through acquisitions and licensing,” Dunsire, who also spent 17 years at Novartis and eight at Millennium, a Takeda oncology company, recently told PharmaVoice. “It has been quite an amazing journey together with a great team and I am so proud of where we are.”
As she winds her way toward a victorious exit, Dunsire took a few minutes to tell us about her career journey, the words she lives by and her favorite rule to break.
What motivated you to get into the life sciences industry?
I am a physician and my passion is to return people to living well and healthy. I found I could do that for more people within the industry than as a practicing physician. I also was captivated by the huge number of different skills that must come together to discover, develop and commercialize a new medicine. The breakthrough treatments I have been privileged to be a part of have been so fulfilling.
What’s the biggest win you’ve had in your career?
Being part of the oncology company that launched the first targeted therapy, Gleevec, and seeing chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) turn from a death sentence to a chronic disease for many people.
What was the most important decision you made in your career?
Taking the leap out of my fantastically interesting and rewarding position as a business unit leader in a large company, to take the risky and exposed role of the CEO of a biotech company. I grew and learned exponentially!
What’s the most difficult part of being a leader?
As a CEO, ensuring that you are getting the information about what is happening in the organization in an unfiltered way is a perpetual challenge. Ensuring one is not living in an echo chamber is imperative.
What’s your favorite rule to break?
‘We have always done it this way.’ It is not in a rule book but so many organizations and people live by it and miss the fact that the world has changed around them and they are getting left behind
What’s the most exciting change you’ve seen in the industry in the last decade?
New modalities like antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), RNA technologies, gene and cell therapy and new approaches with old modalities (peptides, small molecules and antibodies) have opened up treatment for diseases that were untreatable before — Alzheimer’s, obesity, ALS, and Angelman’s syndrome, to name a few.
What is your best piece of leadership advice?
Only do work you love with people you like and respect. Life is too short to work for a bad boss or to spend that singularly non-renewable resource called time on things that don’t fill your soul.
What words do you live by?
One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.’
Another is from Aristotle: ‘We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not so much an act, as a habit.’