Carsten Thiel on Big Pharma’s Evolving Patient-First Approach

AstraZeneca is to increase its stockpiles of drugs by about a fifth in preparation for a no-deal Brexit after European regulator told companies to be ready for a possible hard Brexit in April 2019.

Stereotypically, thinking of the traditional pharmaceutical industry conjures up images of well-coiffed and pushy sales people, cunning financial masterminds set on maximizing profits, and white lab coat laden scientists working frantically to beat their competitors to receive the patent for a chemically similar drug product.

While these stereotypes, and all stereotypes inherently, may be unfair and unflattering, the pharmaceutical industry has suffered from a public relations problem for quite some time. From Doctors publicly chastising aggressive Pharmaceutical Representatives, to very publicized recalls due to various potentially avoidable concerns that could have been eliminated through exhaustive testing, the pharmaceutical industry’s quest for aggressive growth at any cost has added to the industry’s detrimental image.

​Through evolution, commitment to public health and safety, and a wholesome patient-first approach, many innovative pharmaceutical companies are now working diligently to change this industry-wide stigma, and are fostering tangible systemic change within the sector. With forward-thinking leaders setting the new standards of operation, best practices, and people-first mission statements, companies are building trusting long-term patient relationships through transparency, communication, and a resounding commitment to patient wellness above all else. These changes continue to spearhead the future of the pharmaceutical industry, one that values extensive testing, innovation to cure diseases for traditionally underserved populations, and works in tandem with industry partners for the betterment of all individuals.

​With over twenty years of experience within the biopharmaceutical industry in various capacities, Carsten Thiel has played an integral role in the operations of international pharmaceutical juggernauts. Consistently led by a strong moral compass, and stringent medical ethics beliefs, Thiel has generated positive change within the industry throughout his own leadership experiences, always choosing to follow his scientific knowledge, commitment to patient safety, and overarching desire to help individuals in need. Through these experiences, Thiel has encouraged team members to think differently, has championed radical ideas that would go on to assist countless patients, and has created standards of operation dedicated to providing real-life assistance to underrepresented individuals. Within the span of his career, Thiel has witnessed radical changes within the pharmaceutical industry, from technological advancements that propelled the physical possibilities to cure various ailments, to cultural shifts that allowed pharmaceutical industry leaders to freely problem solve unpredicted issues immediately prior to a potential product launch.

​Carsten Thiel was born in Berlin, and garnered first-hand insight regarding the medical industry from his medic parents. Throughout his formative years, young Thiel excelled in school, and became vastly interested in the pre-determination of conditions, as related to DNA. In the earlier stages of development and research at the time, the burgeoning world of DNA exploration provided young Thiel with excitement, and a growing interest in the fields of science, biology, and medicine. After initially pursuing the field of chemistry in his native Malbrook, Thiel sought the experience of a traditional Anglo-Saxon education, and enrolled in the UK’s University of Bristol, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. Upon the completion of his undergraduate studies, Thiel attended the highly selective Max Planck Institute ForBiophysical Chemistry, where he eventually earned his PhD in Molecular Biology. Post-matriculation, Thiel was granted an assignment in Post-Doctoral Research at Harvard University, but instead of taking this traditional path, decided to pursue his growing interest in the pharmaceutical industry via an assignment at the forward-thinking Hoffman la Roche.

​Initially acting as the company’s Communications and Product Manager, young Thiel swiftly became professionally recognized for his leadership skills, marketing prowess, and unique assortment of skills that allowed him to understand products inside and out, while retaining the interpersonal touch that allowed him to confidently bestow product information to prescribers, patients, and the general masses. Swiftly, Thiel became responsible for the launch of Hoffman la Roche’s initial foray into the dietary supplement realm, via their new product, Xenical. With his first assignment marketing a product to the general public, rather than to medical subscribers, Thiel recognized the need to consider humanistic trends, patterns of behavior, and ways that the product may be received on an immediate basis versus a long-term basis.

​As a young leader, Thiel spearheaded a team of experienced professionals from various sectors of the company, many of whom have been working within the traditional confines of the pharmaceutical industry. In terms of launching Xenical, Thiel recognized a potential conundrum that required forward-thinking movement in an industry that traditionally valued the creation of a large-scale splash during a product launch, followed by any needed upkeep, reputation management, and subsequent continued growth.

By marketing this product to the general public, without consideration of inability to generate lifestyle changes needed to ensure the product’s maximum efficacy was reached, Thiel would generate a large initial splash, which would undoubtedly leave some users feeling as though the product wasn’t working for them. In turn, this dissatisfaction could hurt the company’s overall long-term reputation, and inhibit dissatisfied customers from purchasing the brand’s products in the future. Conversely, by targeting only potential customers who were more likely to utilize the product in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes, Thiel would be limiting initial sales to only the targeted audience. Through this approach, however, Thiel firmly believed that the company would elicit a generally positive consumer response, building future sales upon the steadily increasing positive reputation garnered from appropriate initial sales, and consumer results.

Though he was met with some backlash from peers who only recognized the traditional marketing standards of touting the benefits of the drug, without consideration for lifestyle accompaniments needed to ensure appropriate results, Thiel forged ahead with what he considered to be the consumer-first approach. Committed to providing the most transparent marketing approach, and strategically only marketing the product to the population that would most benefit from the product, Thiel forged ahead with his marketing standards for the launch of the product. Certainly boundary-pushing at the time, this method yielded the company vastly positive initial results, with first-year sales staggering at an astounding one billion Swiss Francs. Enjoying a positive reputation based on product success, the weight loss supplement continued to be a leader in the marketplace, and the company successfully maintained a positive public reputation, a feat difficult to achieve on a long-term basis. While strategic marketing, and consumer transparency are swiftly becoming the golden standard within today’s evolving pharmaceutical industry, this practice has not always been the case, and efforts on behalf of leaders like Carsten Thiel have propelled the industry forward.

Established as a leader within the biopharmaceutical industry, Thiel went on to spearhead the launch of various additional products, innovative treatments, and new options in the realm of Oncology. With an imminent launch of a new colorectal cancer treatment product on the horizon, Thiel’s team made a discovery that halted the trajectory of the project, andrequired a boundary-pushing patient-first approach once again. After discovering the existence of a genetic biomarker that would indicate the potential success of the treatment via pre-treatment testing, Thiel recognized the magnitude of this discovery in relation to the imminent launch, once again placing him well within the confines of an ethical dilemma.

By revealing the existence of this genetic biomarker, and prescribing pretreatment testing to determine feasible outcomes of the procedure, the company would be sparing individuals with colorectal cancer from undergoing treatment, only to find the procedure to have been unsuccessful. Not only would this limit false hope, it would provide patients who have undergone the testing, and garnered a favorable result, with unprecedented confidence. As Oncological treatments tend to be costly, this pre-screening tool would also save countless patients from spending funds on unsuccessful treatment.

On the other end of the spectrum, limiting the number of patients who are viable to receiving the treatment would also equate to a smaller pool of potential patients, limiting sales and financial success of the treatment. Additionally, creating mandatory pre-screening testing would equate to additional resources spent by the company to provide prescribers with testing supplies, and extensive training related to completing the pre-screening procedures. With added costs, manpower, and vastly shrunken potential sales, this option was deemed unfavorable by some traditional pharmaceutical leaders, who remained keen on moving forward with the status quo launch of the treatment.

For Thiel, however, there was only one ethically sound choice, and he forged ahead with planning to require in-office pre-screening for the presence of the genetic biomarker associated with success rates of the new treatment. Though met with some hesitation, Thiel’s groundbreaking proposition passed, and the company moved forward with disclosing the presence of the genetic biomarker, and needed pre-screening prior to administration of treatment only on patients who would benefit from the treatment. This forward-thinking move was met with great success financially, as well as from a patient perspective. Not only did the treatment instill confidence in patients, but also worked toward capturing an overall growth within the sometimes complicated relationship between patients, and the medical industry. For prescribers, this proactive approach to administering treatment to patients who would benefit from the treatment signified a systemic shift in the pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to a patient-first approach. While pre-screening is a tool widely used by physicians across a myriad of medical fields currently, andcontinues to become a widely renowned tool for creating efficacy within medicine, this practice has not always been the operational standard. In a changing industry, attempts to heighten efficacy through pre-screening, and transparent reporting of new discoveries, like in Thiel’s case, have spearheaded the general changes needed to impart these new operating standards.

Throughout Thiel’s extensive career within the pharmaceutical industry, he has witnessed the transformative power of the implementation of innovative technology for the betterment of the lives of countless individuals. From manipulating DNA sequences to eliminate a specific ocular disease, to the effective treatment of previously lifelong Hepatitis C, Thiel’s time within the pharmaceutical industry has been met with countless advancements. Simultaneously, during this transformative time, the culture surrounding the pharmaceutical industry also began to shift. With an unprecedented focus on spearheading treatment options for previously unconsidered conditions, to operating with complete transparency on the behalf of patients, the pharmaceutical industry recognized the power of working in tandem with medical professionals, patients, and local communities to champion the patient-first approach.

Consistently leading by example, Carsten Thiel has dedicated his professional career to changing the lives of countless individuals through championing innovative products designed to alleviate symptoms, eradicate diseases, and improve overall quality of life. Never losing sight of this lofty mission, Thiel implemented his stringent ethical standards throughout the entirety of his professional career, even when met with opposition from seasoned peers. With a belief system that the pharmaceutical industry inherently exists to help people, rather than simply gain profit, Thiel has guided various teams to success, whilst acting on good faith based on these convictions. Spearheading contributions to patient education efforts, patient advocacy, transparent operational practices, and an overall tangible plan for patient commitment, Thiel proactively creates the environment that he wants patients to recognize as being hospitable, treatment oriented, and caring.

In Carsten’s newest assignment as President Europe of EUSA, a relatively new and innovative pharmaceutical company committed to providing Oncological care, and the treatment of various rare diseases, Thiel continues to implement his patient-first mantra throughout his new role. In charge of creating infrastructure needed to successfully support continued company growth, Thiel focuses on continuously setting the standards of operation for future leaders to follow. As an individual, his actions have tangibly changed the trajectory for countless patients, medical prescribers, and individuals who needed advocacy to yield positive results. On a larger scale, his avid participation in the changing tides of the pharmaceutical industry’s focus aided in the overall shift toward a patient-first approach.