Q & A With Carsten Thiel
With a decades-long career as an innovator within the global pharmaceutical industry, Carsten Thiel has amassed great experience in various leadership positions. Driven by ethics, a desire to bring medical treatment options for underserved populations, and a motivation to propel the medical field forward, Carsten Thiel has parlayed his multitude of skills, along with his professional motivations, to create tangible long-term change in the biomedical field.
Spearheading the launch of a multitude of new medications brought to market, Thiel worked alongside talented teams of industry leaders, and developed successful strategies to launch medications, and maintain stringent ethical standards. Recognizing the importance of each team members’ specialization, Carsten sought to partake in various positions within the pharmaceutical field, garnering expertise within varying roles. This all-encompassing experience allowed Thiel the unique advantage of being a well-rounded leader, capable of recognizing the manner in which each key player is integral toward the overall success of the entire operation.
In Thiel’s newest role as pharmaceutical juggernaut EUSA’s President Europe, Thiel leverages his previously perfected skills, alongside a myriad of professional experiences, to successfully drive the company’s continued growth in the European sector. EUSA’s focus on niche Oncological care, as well as the treatment of rare diseases, aligns with Thiel’s professional interests, and renders him the perfect advocate for the company’s continued progression.
Tell us a bit about your formative years, and your development of interest in the field of biology, medicine, and the pharmaceutical world.
I was born in Berlin, and spent my youth in the then-divided country, engaging in traditional educational endeavors. As both of my parents were medics, I understood the transformative power of medicine, science, and the implementation of medical advancements in the quest for the betterment of the lives of countless people. From a young age, I understood the innate good that the medical field provided for individuals, and knew that I wanted to be professionally engaged in the field in some capacity. The more difficult portion, however, was figuring out where my interests intersected with a tangible career path.
Upon the completion of the Chemistry program at Malbrook, I sought to garner new experience within a traditional Anglo-Saxon educational system. Thus, I then attended the United Kingdom’s University of Bristol, where I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. Throughout my undergraduate education, I became interested in the underlying and all-encompassing nature of DNA, and the genetic connection between DNA and disease. Obviously, my initial foray into the world of DNA studies came before the vast advancements that now allow us to literally manipulate DNA, and examine the smallest fragments, and though I couldn’t imagine the way in which technological advancements would change the capabilities of studying DNA, I inherently knew that DNA held the secrets of many of humanity’s medical needs.
Upon the completion of my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to be chosen to attend the Max Planck Institute For Biophysical Chemistry, a German research organization that is highly selective. There, I focused my studies on the examination of proteins involved in the changing of normal cells into cancerous cells, a study that further propelled my interest in biopharmacology. I specialized in Molecular Biology, and earned my PhD from the Max Planck Institute For Biophysical Chemistry.
Once you have completed your education, how did you choose what direction you wanted to take your career? Was it difficult to choose a concentration within the broad field of medicine?
Throughout my studies, I was fortunate to be greatly involved within various research focused projects, and was able to remain at the forefront of medical innovation spurred by technological advancements. For many individuals that choose similar research-heavy paths, delving into a career focused on research is a natural progression. In my own experience, I found myself at a crossroads post-matriculation, and needed to make a life-altering decision between a traditional research trajectory, or a totally different path.
Post-matriculation, I was offered a post-doctoral research position at Harvard University, offering a traditional career trajectory working alongside the world’s most talented Biologists, Chemists, and leaders in the growing realm of Biopharmacy. Simultaneously, I was also offered an exciting position with a forward-thinking pharmaceutical company, Hoffman la Roche. Though this was certainly the proverbial road less traveled, I was vastly intrigued by the notion of being a part of the exciting pharmaceutical advancements happening at Hoffman. Thus, I made the choice to follow my passions, and entered the workforce as a Communications and Product Manager.
As a young professional entering such a competitive field in a leadership role, how did you find success leading teams of older, more experienced team members?
Research-based work tends to be somewhat isolating, and renders the sole individual directly responsible for the outcome of the entirety of a project, experiment, or theory. Though there are some collaborative aspects to long-term research, especially within the realm of combining findings, the field is somewhat individually driven. Thus, leading large teams was a concept that was somewhat foreign to me, especially considering the notion that I was considerably younger than the vast majority of my team members. Within my initial time at Hoffman, I garnered extensive experience in proactively building team morale, and ensuring successful operations through team work.
Most importantly, I learned the transformative power of remembering that each individual member of the team is an expert, and deserves to be acknowledged. In the act of constantly working in teams, the specific expertise of the individual can become lost. In the case of several industry leaders working in tandem, it is important to recognize the individual talents, accomplishments, and unique expertise of individuals.
With each individual an expert within a niche aspect of the general biopharmaceutical industry, I’ve also learned to recognize the manner in which each individual’s role adds up to the success of the big picture, and the ways in which individual contributions are crucial toward overall success. By respecting each person’s enormous contribution toward achieving a cohesive long-term goal, I was able to successfully develop a leadership style based on recognition of individuals, and inclusion within the group setting. By learning about every individual’s role, team members felt understood, appreciated, and thoughtfully included in each part of the whole operation.
Was there a transformative experience early within your career that helped to shape the trajectory of your pharmaceutical industry career?
During my initial foray at Hoffman la Roche, I was provided with a life-changing opportunity fairly early in my professional career. The company’s decision to enter the dietary sphere via the initial launch of the first diet supplement, Xenical, was somewhat of an exercise in entering new markets. Tasked with spearheading the medical marketing and complete rollout for this product, this way my own initial foray into general product marketing intended to reach mass audiences. Prior to this assignment, I have garnered experience in marketing efforts targeted specifically toward medical providers, but the launch of Xenical required a completely different approach.
Recognizing the importance of garnering a positive market reputation for the product on a long-term basis, I knew that during the launch of the product, I needed to relay realistic expectations in regard to product success. As with all dietary aides, the product is most effective when combined with an extensively healthy lifestyle, including the adoption of a healthy diet and exercise regimen. In the niche diet industry, many companies tout lofty promises with little to no effort on behalf of customers, which certainly leads to a successful initial launch, followed by inevitable disappointment on a long-term basis. Intrinsically, I knew that I wanted to avoid this route, and I wanted to generate a trustworthy customer relationship driven by realistic results, expectations, and complete transparency.
This method, of course, would undoubtedly be beneficial for the company on a long-term basis, building a loyal following through trustworthy practices, but would most likely equal the absence of the initial boost of sales brought on by traditional launch marketing, filled with lofty promises. I truly believed in this methodology of slowly building brand loyalty and happiness based on success within a niche market audience, and forged ahead with planning for a successful launch of the product. While my unconventional methodology was certainly met with initial murmurs from some staff members, it was ultimately decided to move forward with my plans. The product was well received on the market initially, and within the first year, sales surpassed one billion Swiss francs, making the launch successful from the monetary standpoint, and in building a successful long-term relationship with customers.
Through this initial experience, I learned to trust my instincts, follow my ethical compass, and lead in a cohesive manner that takes a patient-first approach to pharmaceutical advancement. By sticking to my instincts, I was able to secure a successful launch for this product, manage a large team of experienced industry leaders in a cohesive manner, and excel in creating a positive launch for the product that resulted in continued long-term growth.
What does a typical workday look like for you? As a leader responsible for the continued development of a company, how do you ensure that you have enough face-time with your team?
Typically, I begin each day by trying to carve out quality family time during breakfast. I find this to be not only important for the sake of maintaining closeness with my family, but also a wonderful way to ensure that we all start the day on the same page, in terms of activities, schedules, and the like. Before heading into the office, I also spend a few moments checking my email, and reviewing the latest global headlines. This allows me to be prepared to discuss anything pertinent that may have occurred within my professional scope since the previous day, and allows me to feel prepared to take on whatever may come my way in the most concise, streamlined, and proactive manner possible.
Throughout the work day, I try to spend about 20-25% of my time in front of key personnel, from members of the Board, to my peers on a particular team. In a forward-facing position that requires the oversight of multiple moving parts, and numerous talented individuals, personal engagement is crucial to maintaining happiness, success, and an environment conducive to continued growth. Thus, I try to devote as much time as possible toward engagement that will create systemic change, forward movement, and a large-scale impact.
Additionally, as pharmaceutical success lies heavily in the successful communication with medical providers, I try to spend ample amounts of time conversing with such providers. By understanding their unique needs, perspectives, and motivations, we are able to draw insightful conclusions that are then parlayed into tangible marketing choices, product development, and company advancement. Early in my professional career, I began to recognize the need to employ empathy in daily interactions with individuals within the medical field who directly work with patients, as they are the key to bridging the gap between the direct consumer, and the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, through the development of positive relationships with providers, we can amass vastly useful insight regarding ongoing patient needs, underserved populations, and even side effects.
Amazing new data in nature medicine show that humans develop new neurons in hippocampus up to 9th decade of age. Could be meaningful for #Alzheimer disease
— Carsten Thiel (@_carstenthiel) March 26, 2019
What trends excite you within the pharmaceutical industry?
As a whole, the concept of globalization has allowed various industries to collaborate in ways previously considered impossible. Through vast technological advancements, medical professionals have the capacity to collaborate on various projects, share their data in real-time, and integrate one another’s procedures for the creation of a specific treatment, test, or medication. Through the implementation of the newest technologies, medical professionals are able to examine DNA swiftly and concisely, a feat previously considered impossible.
The abilities to examine DNA, decode the human genome, and fledgling methods of manipulating particular strands of DNA all have the ability to change the entire way humanity looks at genetically-based diseases. Through these envelope-pushing innovations, leaders in the industry are looking at the possibility of eradicating potential diseases through the manipulation of DNA strands responsible for said diseases, including a recent breakthrough in the potential eradication of a degenerative DNA-based eye disease.
The ability to garner meaningful data in a staggeringly short amount of time is a testament to the transformative power of merging the realms of medicine, biopharmacy, and technology for the betterment of mankind. Not too long ago, it used to take scientists decades to decode the human genome, a process that can now be completed in roughly four days. This increase in speed allows for the rapid collection of data previously unavailable within the field, and opens the doors for the development of new cures, treatments, and medications that will help countless individuals.
As the technology industry continues to swiftly develop new products, these innovations are implemented for medical use, and continue to generate opportunities for medical professionals to lead the charge in providing ample care options for various diseases, conditions, and ailments. Fueled by the continued tech boom, the present is a transformative time in the realm of medicine, and I feel truly thankful to be a part of such an exciting time in medicine.
You mentioned maintaining a patient-first approach throughout your professional endeavors is a key element to your success. What does that mean in the pharmaceutical industry?
In the medical field, researchers and clinicians are continuously motivated by the desire to help individuals to live meaningful, healthy, and happy lives, often despite various potential medical issues. Clinicians are also often problem-solvers by nature, and are motivated by the notion of resolving medical quandaries previously considered impossible. In the race and commitment to developing treatment options, pharmaceutical professionals must always consider that there are additional humanistic factors at play. Sometimes, these factors can account for the difference between a successful treatment, and a treatment that is not well received by the intended audience.
For example, in my previous experience within a team responsible for successfully launching an innovative treatment for a rare degenerative disease, the human element of fear played a large role in the outcome of the treatment. This particular treatment was aimed at increasing the quality of life components for patients with a rare disease that begins at birth, and manifests itself very early on in the lifespan of affected individuals. Children with this condition are essentially born without the presence of fully formed bones, and thus, are vastly limited in mobility options. This innovative treatment is administered through an injection that needs to be completed multiple times per week, a feat that is especially difficult to maintain in a population notorious for fearing needles.
Thus, with these very real humanistic considerations, we developed ways to normalize the lives of young people affected by this disease, in an effort to ensure the highest possible quality of life experience that doesn’t center around daily visits to a medical office. Through the implementation of bluetooth technology, we were able to successfully enable parents and guardians to administer injectable treatment in the comfort of the patient’s home, and were able to monitor progress, inventory, and symptoms via this technology.
I recall specifically working with a young man who was very hesitant to begin the treatment, as he was afraid of needles. In this case, we thoughtfully matched him with a younger female patient who was able to receive treatment without any adverse reactions. For the young man, physically seeing the younger girl successfully receive treatment triggered his own desire to complete treatment. In a true “if she can do it, I can do it” fashion, he was then able to receive the first treatment, and his anxieties about subsequent treatment were lifted.
In those particular instances, having the physical treatment option was not enough to ensure the successful implementation of treatment, without consideration for the human element. Thus, it is crucial to remember that patients are real people, with complex feelings, emotions, and motivators. By implementing compassion, concern, and a patient-first approach, we were able to ensure a successful treatment experience for affected individuals. In a field that sees people at their most vulnerable, the ability to connect with people throughout their medical journey is almost as important as being able to provide the treatment itself.
Recently, you were named the new President Europe at the niche EUSA Pharmaceuticals. What does the future hold for you professionally?
EUSA is a relatively young pharmaceutical company that specializes in the development of viable treatment options in the realm of Oncological care, and the treatment of rare diseases. Launched in March of 2015, EUSA Pharma has enjoyed nearly immediate cash-positive status, a feat difficult for many pharmaceutical companies to obtain, and has amassed an impressive portfolio of effective treatment options currently on the market. Currently, with thousands upon thousands of rare diseases left without any treatment option, there are millions of affected individuals who do not have the opportunity to overcome a particular condition, treat their symptoms, or otherwise maintain a normal quality of life. Thus, EUSA aims to create effective treatment options to assist these underserved communities. Personally, I’ve always been professionally driven by the notion of being able to make a tangible difference in the lives of patients who do not have many options, and thus, this appointment is a perfect fit for my ongoing motivations.
Tasked with commercializing European operations, I intend on leveraging over 25 years of pertinent experience to garner continued growth, development, and treatment on behalf of those who need it most. Through my previous experiences within a myriad of roles in the pharmaceutical industry, I am confident that my unique assortment of experiences will allow me to successfully engage the many experts involved in the daily operations of the company. With a growing European market for EUSA, I am enthralled to be building the infrastructure needed to support this growth, and to spearhead continued development, innovation, and success.