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Obsessed with patients

Interview with Wim Souverijns, CEO of Celgene AB

EBJ: Celgene is well known for its passion for patients and developing new drugs that help treat cancer and other severe immune and inflammatory conditions. What is the driving force behind the company’s success?

Wim Souverijns: “The patients are the driving force in our efforts to ensure optimal quality of care and continuous development of therapies tailored for patients with incurable haematological and solid tumour cancers, including multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes. Every single day we ask ourselves: Are we doing the right things for the patients? This requires courage to face the unknown. When you start a trial, you can never be 100% sure that you will end up with the results you aspired for. However, so far, our products have spoken for themselves. We have doubled the survival rate of patients who have trusted our cancer treatments.”

EBJ: So, developing drugs is all about treading new paths and striving for the unknown. Where do you start?

Wim Souverijns: “We at Celgene always want to deliver exceptional results, and we always set the bar just a little bit higher. We take pride in listening to patients’ needs and providing practical responses to their requests. It is all about trust in the first place. Doctors prescribing our drugs want to feel comfortable. We try to get clinical trials to our regions as this also gives doctors trust because they can use the drug in a clinical trial setting.”

EBJ: What have been the major milestones in your company’s development?

Wim Souverijns: “Thalidomide was our first immunomodulatory drug and provided first-line treatment for patients with untreated multiple myeloma. Today, our key product Revlimid is even better. It causes fewer side effects and offers greater efficiency.”

EBJ: As Revlimid is one of your key products, can you tell us a little more about its impact on the treatment of cancer?

Wim Souverijns: “Revlimid has been developed for patients who have first treatment. It boasts good tolerability and fewer side effects. We launched it in 2007. The approval was based on two registration trials, one in the USA and one in Europe. Back then, we were still a small company and new in the hematology field, and investing in two registration was a risk for us. However, it has always been our conviction that one has to take risks and just start doing things.”

EBJ: How did the success story continue?

Wim Souverijns: “We concentrated on other new drugs and gradually became a leading haematology company, aiming to cure all diseases with blood cancer. But we also wanted to enter the solid cancer market. In 2009, we acquired Abraxis, which allowed us access to Abraxane, a drug for fighting metastatic breast cancer. It is a cytotoxic drug to treat cancer, and we were able to reduce its toxicity and to bring it closer to the tumours.”

EBJ: What are current projects?

Wim Souverijns: “We are about to launch our third immunomodulatory drug imnovid, aimed at patients with relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma who have received at least two prior treatment regimens, including both lenalidomide and bortezomib. We got the approval in August and expect to launch in the coming months.”

EBJ: What drugs can you offer doctors for the treatment of cancer and other severe immune inflammatory diseases?

Wim Souverijns: “At the moment, we have five drugs: Thalidomide, Revlimid, Imnovid, Vidaza and Abraxane. In 12 to 18 months, we hope to launch Apremilast. This will be another milestone in our history. It provides treatment for inflammatory diseases. So far, we have only been involved in haematology and oncology. It will be a totally new field for us. We will set up the organization to support this new area. The drug will first be launched in the USA and then in Europe.”

EBJ: What will Celgene’s future look like?

Wim Souverijns: “The future will be a great place for us. We are a science and research company, spending approximately 31% of our revenues on R&D. Treatments for inflammatory diseases will add a new leg to the company, which might double our organization. We will hire external top talents out of the inflammatory market. In five years, we hope to have doubled our turnover in the field of haematology and oncology. So, we are really optimistic about the coming years.”

EBJ: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your future plans.

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