Talking about a revolution
We live in exciting times of cutting-edge science, truly innovative new medicines and positive changes towards patient-centricity, says Janssen’s Jane Griffiths
What is your current role?
As Company Group Chairman for Janssen EMEA I am responsible for the commercial group in the region.
How do you start your day?
I get up early, take my dog for a quick walk (trying to increase my steps) then check my diary to get my head around the day ahead. After that, I head for the office or Heathrow airport.
What are the main issues in oncology at the moment?
The main issue is that cancer still exists. I remember having a conversation with a colleague about 10 years ago where I said our objective should be to cure cancer, and she said she wasn’t sure that was a realistic objective. Yet, over the last 10 years, we’ve seen amazing advances in oncology.
However, there are still a lot of people with unmet need. We’re sourcing science anywhere that it’s great, creating a disease area stronghold of oncology and haematology, and in the last few years we have struck licensing agreements, invested in small biotech and academic units, and now we have pretty amazing early and late-stage pipelines. We announced new data on Darzalex (daratumumab) at the European Haematology Association 2016 congress, and it has just been conditionally approved by the EMA and European Commission, plus we’ve got new frontline data with Imbruvica (Ibrutinib).
This is great news because, at the end of the day, patients with a diagnosis in one of these diseases need more hope than fear. That’s what we’re bringing with these medicines.
A cure for many diseases is within sight now and not just in our own portfolio – other companies have pipelines that are looking just as good – so, for me, the industry and Janssen in particular are really addressing unmet needs at the moment. These are very exciting times.
What other challenges are you seeing in the industry?
Affordability in healthcare is still a challenge. My position is that if you’ve got great medicines in areas of high unmet need that are well differentiated then that’s good for patients and it’s good for companies.
What I’m seeing in the industry is an explosion of interesting science. I was talking to a senior person at the EMA and he was saying how inspired he was by the science that’s coming through at the moment, and that’s how I feel too.
I absolutely love the job I do, for many different reasons but primarily because what we do impacts so many patients. Knowing that beyond the statistics and science there is someone at the receiving end who’s worried about what options they’ve got, even if they’re going to be on this planet for the next 12 months, and we’re seeing from the data that a good proportion of patients will be. That’s happening with lots of different medicines, with a number of companies that are looking at solid tumours and liquid tumours.
It’s a really great time and the challenges around affordability are due to the great science that’s around. Through collaboration and negotiation, we’ll get there.
With Imbruvica having trouble with NICE, what are your thoughts on HTA in the UK?
We were disappointed with the initial feedback on Imbruvica but we’re still in discussion with NICE. I won’t be the first person from a pharma company to say that I think NICE needs an overhaul; it can’t be that we have cancer medicines in other developed markets being reimbursed and used but not in the UK. As a British citizen this worries me, and somehow we have to reach a place where we truly put the patient at the centre of everything we do.
I’m confident that ultimately we’ll have a positive outcome but we have to remember that this isn’t about ‘them and us’. Cancer medicines are an integral part of patient care in cancer, and we have to come to a point where we’re partners and we work our way through this.
What are your main objectives over the next few years?
My primary priority is to make sure that these great medicines are reaching the people who need them. In terms of development, the priority is to develop new indications for our existing medicines, which means they will reach more patients.
The next thing is to bring new medicines on board. In development, we’ve got medicines for haematological malignancies, prostate cancer, and solid tumours, although it still remains an area of high unmet need. Many cancers are not cured and the response rates are not high either, so there’s a lot of work to do.
Have you ever been given any good advice that you can pass on?
Seek to enjoy what you do, take the counsel of others when they tell you where you need to improve.
What are your passions outside of work?
My family, walking, skiing, gardening, the natural environment, and my pets (a dog, cat and rare breeds of sheep).