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Working Life: Sanofi's oncology franchise director

Published on 07/07/11 at 10:46am
Sanofi's Neale Harris

Sanofi's oncology franchise director Neale Harris talks to Pharmafocus about how his field is changing and offers some advice for anyone just starting out in their pharma career.

How did you find your way into your current role?

I’ve worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 17 years, most recently as the UK director of oncology. I’ve held this position since December 2009 when Sanofi’s chief executive, Chris Viehb-acher, set up a dedicated oncology division as he felt this was a disease area that the company should be investing in and prioritising. 

Prior to this appointment, I spent two and half years as head of marketing in oncology before spending time as a regional business director. This latter role gave me an in-depth understanding of the demands and requirements of working in the field and what customers need from the pharmaceutical sector.

How is your field changing?

The healthcare market here, and across Europe, is facing a time of unprecedented change and challenge. The next few years are going to be very interesting as no one can really say how the healthcare system will look, particularly in relation to the Cancer Drugs Fund and the impact of Value-Based Pricing.

Within the pharmaceutical industry, these changes will continue to impact most significantly on market access for new medicines. I don’t feel it’s all ‘doom and gloom’ though, the pressures facing the NHS offer a real opportunity for motivated oncology clinicians to play an important role in gaining access to new medicines for their patients.

For the first time, the government has listened to clinicians, and other advocates such as patient groups, and empowered them to put the patient’s needs first through the introduction of the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Specifically within the oncology sector, there is a movement away from the traditional ‘sales’ focus towards a partnership approach with clinicians.

For example, we are increasingly working with doctors to ensure the appropriate drugs are used in the right patient at the right time to improve the quality of life and benefits for that particular individual.  

What are the most enjoyable things about your role?

It sounds like a cliché, but I feel very fortunate to have a talented, dedicated team who each bring different perspectives and strengths to the division. I particularly enjoy that the oncology division brings together diverse roles such as sales, marketing and medical into one integrated team that is working together to reach the same goals.

I also find it rewarding to meet the clinicians using our medicines, and finding out how they have impacted on their patients treatment and quality of life. It brings home to me why I joined this industry.

And the least enjoyable?

I’m the first to admit that day-to-day administration or the minutiae of paperwork aren’t areas that I enjoy, but are necessary to ensure the smooth running of the division.

What are the most common misconceptions about your field and the people in it?

I think there is a very broad perception of ‘big, bad pharma’ and that the industry is driven by money and making profits, whereas the reality of those working in the industry is that people are actually very driven to deliver effective medicines that greatly benefit patients and their families.

The feeling that we’re helping people and making a difference is a huge motivation for the pharmaceutical industry, and one that surprises those coming into the industry.

Is there someone in your field who has inspired you or from whom you have learnt a lot?

I was fortunate enough to work with some really exceptional people early in my career who inspired me to succeed in sales and then sales management.

I will always be grateful to Lisa Bright, my then sales director, who championed my move into marketing, a discipline I have found interesting, fulfilling and constantly evolving.

What is the secret to a happy working life?

It sounds obvious, but make sure you do something you enjoy and that motivates and challenges you.

For me, a happy working life involves working for the benefit of patients and being surrounded by like-minded people that pull together when challenges arise, whilst retaining a sense of humour.

If you had advice for anyone starting out in your field now, what would it be?

Try to gain as much broad experience as you can at the start of your career and look for areas that you can be really passionate about.

I also think it’s important to find a company that will support and invest in your career development.

Sanofi, for example, has in place an excellent development programme that supports employees, whatever area they work in, to develop their career within the company.

BIOGRAPHY: Neale Harris joined Sanofi in November 2005, following 11 years of sales and marketing experience at GlaxoSmithKline, as head of marketing for the cardiovascular franchise.

A year after joining he moved across to become head of marketing for oncology, holding the position for two and a half years, before going out into the field for 10 months as the regional business director for London and the South East.

Neale was appointed oncology franchise director in December 2009.

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