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Working Life: Joe Wiley, CEO, Amryt Pharma

Published on 22/10/18 at 11:47am

Pharmafocus talked to Joe Wiley, CEO and founder of Amryt Pharma as he retraced his journey from medical student in Ireland to founding a major commercial stage pharma firm...

What motivated you to originally consider and pursue a career in the pharma?

I was a doctor, so I’ve had three legs to my career so to speak: I was a medical doctor training in neurology, then I wanted to move into the business side of medicine, away from the clinical side. What was motivating me then was that while clinical medicine is very rewarding, you have an impact on one patient at a time, and so I thought that if I was on the business side of medicine I would have the opportunity to have a more impactful career on larger number of patients. The third part of my career is obviously setting up Amryt, which I did three years ago; in between I invested in healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. In terms of setting up Amryt I was able to leverage the experience working in clinical medicine and the financial experience of investing in healthcare, and I brought those two strands together to build the business, focused on rare and orphan diseases.

Can you paint us a picture of your career progression and how you made your way into your current role?

I studied medicine in Ireland in Trinity College in Dublin; I trained first as a general physician with the Royal College of Physicians and then specialised in neurology, and was doing research as part of that training scheme. It was at that point I made the decision to move away from the clinical side into the business side, but at that stage I had no business experience whatsoever, so I went off and did an MBA, which I did at Insead in France. After that MBA I moved into the venture capital world, investing in life sciences.

I worked in Switzerland for a period then moved to the UK, then moved back to Ireland in 2010. I had a stint in large pharma, working for a large Japanese pharma company, which was great in that it gave me a real insight into how big pharma operates. But it wasn’t really for me; I was much more interested in the entrepreneurial side of things. I was approached by a US group to open and lead their European office, and that was really the genesis of Amryt because that role gave me visibility in all of the late-stage drug development assets across Europe.

By that point I had the experience that allowed me to understand the unmet needs that likely impact patient lives, and the financial acumen to be able to raise money from the capital markets, so we formed the business in August 2015. We listed the business in London and Dublin in April 2016, and we acquired our first commercial asset in December 2016 – since then we’ve more than doubled the sales of that commercial asset. It’s been quite a journey; we booked business from two people in August 2015 which has grown to over 70 today, three years later – it’s been a hugely rewarding time.

What challenges have you faced in your current position? Have any of the aspects of the role caught you by surprise?

We’ve undergone tremendous growth, and that comes with its own challenges in terms of building the team, building the culture – getting that right. We are very proud of the team that we’ve built here at Amryt – our senior team has over 170 years of experience in rare and orphan diseases, so we bring a huge amount of experience collectively from our other roles. Building the business requires capital – we listed in London and Dublin fairly rapidly after we formed the business and thankfully we’ve been successful at bringing in some really top tier investors into the business as well. It’s challenging but it’s also been a lot of fun building the business.

It’s your first role at the helm of a company; did you notice a definite increase in pressure when you stepped into the role?

It’s different so I’m not sure if I feel any more pressure; I probably feel more responsibility as CEO of one single business, rather than being an investor in many different businesses, so you do feel a responsibility to the patients, to your physicians, to your staff and indeed to your shareholders, but I welcome that and that was part of the attraction of forming the business. I travel a lot more – I travel every single week so I’m on a plane a lot, but that travel has allowed us to grow the business significantly.

Do you think your educational background in clinical medicine has helped you in the role and given you an edge throughout your career?

As I said, I’ve had three phases of my career, and each phase has helped me along the way. My clinical medicine phase has undoubtedly helped me to understand patients’ needs, but also the positioning of products and just the technical knowhow of our industry. The second phase of my career post-MBA has really taught me a huge amount about the capital markets and the funding side of things, and I guess I’ve brought all of that together in forming our business. As I said, our strategy is to acquire, develop and commercialise and we wanted to be a commercial company from the outset, so understanding how to position products, how to get products reimbursed and how to fund acquisitions has all been an essential part of how we’ve built our business successfully to date.

Considering the demanding nature of your role, how do you manage your working life and maintain a healthy work/life balance?

That’s tough. I do have an enormously supportive wife, who’s also a physician – she’s a psychiatrist – and that has been critical in allowing me to go on. We do have three wonderful children as well and I make sure that on the weekends that if I’m not travelling to take downtime to be with my family, so I like nothing more than standing on the side of the pitch and supporting my children in whatever sports they’re doing that day and spending time with the family on the evenings and the weekends – that’s precious time to me. I also try my best to get away on a vacation from time to time; that often can be challenging, but the downtime is important as it allows you then to commit the time during the week to drive the business.

What advice would you pass on to those who would like to follow in your footsteps?

I would say anyone can be an entrepreneur, there’s no one size fits all. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many other entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses and not just in our industry but in other industries. I’m involved in the EY Entrepreneur Programme here in Ireland at the minute and that’s been a tremendous opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs, and the thing that strikes me is that people come from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds; it really is about having a dream and figuring out how to go about accomplishing that dream, so I would encourage anyone who is thinking in this way to go for it.

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