Biogen’s vision for UK & Ireland  

UK vector

DDW Editor Reece Armstrong speaks to Kylie Bromley, General Manager and Managing Director of Biogen UK & Ireland, about her career within the life sciences industry and the challenges of navigating a large pharma company within the UK and Ireland.  

RA: Could you tell us about your career leading up to Biogen please? 

KB: I am driven by the impact that our industry has on the lives of patients and their loved ones – this mission makes me proud of the biopharma industry and the career that I have had to date in this industry. I am a pharmacologist by background, having transitioned into the industry over 20 years ago. As a scientist I have a deep sense of curiosity, and whilst I loved my time in the lab, I knew that I wanted to pursue a different path, one where I could leverage my skills along with being closer to making an impact for patients. I have had a diverse experience in the industry, spending the first half of my career in clinical research and medical affairs roles before moving into strategy-based roles in sales and marketing. I joined Biogen in 2016 to lead the rare disease franchise in Australia and New Zealand, before becoming Managing Director.  

RA: What kind of insights can you offer as a female leader in the pharma industry? 

KB: One of the most rewarding roles I currently have is as a Global co-chair of Biogen’s Women’s Impact Network. The network focuses on togetherness, development opportunities, internal and externally partnerships to positively impact women within Biogen, and to continually pave the way for future generations. 

A particular statistic that I am proud of is that we can say Biogen in the UK & Ireland has 58% women at director-level or above, and 61% in below-director levels. It’s important however to go beyond the numbers. Most importantly, we should not be sending any kind of narrative to ‘fix’ women, we need to focus on the systems and systemic cultural issues that require change to ensure a truly equitable work for current and future generational of women. For me as a female leader and a mother, the most valuable resource has been the presence of strong role models of all genders, from all backgrounds who lift people up, make bold, brave decisions that go unnoticed, and put themselves out there for the benefit of others. Women and allies in this industry are a vital part of empowering other women to enter and grow thrive in whatever endeavour they choose in this industry. 

RA: What’s your opinion on the UK as a scientific hub for drug discovery and development following challenges such as Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic?  

KB: In the UK, we have some world-class research institutions, wide-ranging talent, the NHS and an industry that strives for collaboration. In theory we have all the components of a world-leading life sciences hub. However, the system is not connecting as well as it could be. Looking at the front end of the innovation cycle, we have a government focused on delivering on the promise of genomics, as well as running huge scale research programmes like Our Future Health. Meanwhile, the number of people on clinical trials is significantly below where it was in 2017/2018. The messages we received are often mixed. We have a Life Sciences Vision from 2021, but it remains largely a vision in reality too.  

When it comes to it, companies like Biogen need confidence that the fruits of our research and our trials will end up in the hands of clinicians to serve patients on the NHS. Too often this final step feels disconnected from the intentions of the earlier parts of the cycle. We need to work together to deliver real change in these pathways to make sure that innovation reaches the frontline. That will bolster our confidence in the UK’s ability to deliver on the end-to-end story.  

RA: Following that, how do you lead a company like Biogen through challenges like those mentioned above?  

KB: No matter the challenges, aligning an organisation around our mission is essential. At Biogen we have a very clear mission to care deeply, achieve excellence and change lives. To deliver against this, I passionately believe that ensuring we have diversity of opinion, backgrounds and experiences around the table is fundamental. 

Understanding and adapting the unique needs of the UK health ecosystem, patients and the broader community is also paramount. At Biogen, we view ourselves as part of the life sciences ecosystem, rather than a standalone organisation. Last year we undertook a transformational change in our organisation structure to ensure we that can continue to deliver value to our stakeholders within the evolving environment. In addition, we partner with the sector within the UK & Ireland to catalyse positive change. We remain agile in our partnerships, and never lose sight of patient care remaining in the centre of all that we do. 

RA: Biogen is targeting long-term investment into the UK & Ireland. What’s the company’s vision for operating in the UK & Ireland going forward?  

KB: The UK & Ireland is a key market for Biogen with great potential for scientific innovation. We have world-class research institutions, wide-ranging talent, the NHS and industry that strive for collaboration. To this end, a core priority for us is our UK & Ireland research partnerships. We have partnered with the Dementia Discovery Fund, Our Future Health, BioBank, the Psychiatry Consortium and Precision ALS committing funding and our expertise to tacking some of the UK & Ireland’s greatest healthcare challenges. We understand that as a healthcare community we cannot stand siloed but must come together.  

Our vision is to continue to venture into under-served communities allowing patients to access the treatments that they need. But, to do that effectively, we must believe that health services in both the UK and Ireland will make those medicines available in a timely way.  

It is hard to justify investment in research and development if we can’t have confidence in ultimate availability. Our experience, particularly in rare diseases, is that major reform to the access process is particularly necessary to the UK.  

RA: What do you think the biggest challenges are facing drug discovery and development in the UK? 

KB: I see great value in the UK drug discovery and development ecosystem, with world-class academia, cutting-edge science and a long tradition of innovation. That said, I am also acutely aware of the critical challenges that the landscape is facing in the post-Brexit, post-Pandemic world which stand in the way of patients, particularly those with rare or ultra-rare conditions, accessing the treatments they so desperately need.  

The current metrics of ‘success’ for treatments, which largely hinge on traditional clinical trial results and lengthy approval processes, no longer align with the rapid pace of scientific advancement.  

NHS and medicines uptake challenge 0- we focus on treating the sick and not treating the well and keeping them well. This makes it even more difficult to see how we can have a sustainable healthcare system and a healthy nation.  

RA: Biogen was one of the founders of Our Future Health (OFH). Recently, the millionth volunteer joined the programme. How important are large-scale population health initiatives like OFH and how can it inform drug discovery and development? 

KB: As we move into a new age of healthcare, with new innovations and simultaneously with the NHS under unprecedented pressures we must look at health differently. We are proud to be involved in programmes such as Our Future Health that bring together research and academia with industry and other healthcare organisations as well as investment enhances the holistic view of health. This immense data bank will hopefully enhance our scientific understanding of some of the biggest societal health challenges now and in the future. We hope they will shift our understanding of long-term conditions and their earlier phases, giving us new biomarkers that can transform the way we think about prevention and care.  

RA: 2024 will see the UK rejoin the EU’s Horizon research programme and the general election has brought with it a change of government. How do you react to these events? 

KB: With regards to the rejoining of the EU’s Horizon programme, it is important that we as a company and as a healthcare sector keep our finger on the pulse and look to their objectives to drive our research priorities. We should prepare to engage with collaborative research projects, of which I have already mentioned a few, and maintain and rekindle partnerships within the EU scientific community.  

Regarding the general election, we have a prime opportunity to engage with policy makers to ensure that the interests of patients, for example living with rare diseases, are represented in the election manifestos. We should also be advocating for policies that support innovation, research and market access in the UK & Ireland.  

Through truly embracing and leveraging both of these opportunities, we can drive growth, advance scientific breakthroughs and fortify our position in the global healthcare and life sciences landscape.  

RA: Do you think Brexit has negatively impacted the UK in terms of medicine launches and clinical trials?  

KB: In the world of scientific innovation there is such benefit in the ability to learn together and collaborate with a wider medical community. The UK’s separation from the EU creates additional hurdles and regulatory divergence, for example for medicine launches and clinical trials which may result in approval delays and reduced attractiveness for international collaborations. That said, the UK is a life sciences hub and so it is our responsibility as a community to ensure that we create opportunities, proactively collaborate and remain a core part of those developments.  

RA: What’s the best piece of advice you can offer from your experience of working within the pharmaceutical industry?  

KB: I believe I have had the privilege of an incredibly diverse career, all within the biopharma industry, and that’s what I love about this industry. Starting a career as a scientist and now working as a General Manager leading amazing teams through both highs and lows, experiencing new cultures, working with the most intelligent, inspiring humans, learning new things every day and having a deep sense of purpose. 

So, I would say, never stop learning, seek and take opportunities that come to you with both hands. For me, I act with a curious and entrepreneurial mindset and ensure I strike the balance between empathy and business decision-making, fostering a creative, thriving environment. 

RA: What are your ambitions for Biogen going forward?  

KB: My ambition for the UK & Ireland within the life sciences industry is to remain a key player globally in the life sciences landscape. In order to do this, we must adopt more agile and adaptive regulatory and access systems that can accommodate the nuanced complexities of modern therapies. In particular in the rare disease space, innovation cannot always be appropriately benchmarked for the small populations. We should embrace real-world evidence, streamline pathways for breakthrough treatments, and foster a collaborative environment for international research and development. By doing so, the UK & Ireland can ensure quicker access to cutting-edge medical innovations for its population while bolstering its competitive edge in the global market.   

Biography  

Dr Kylie Bromley, Vice President and Managing Director of Biogen UK and Ireland, has been at the company for seven years, including a role as Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand. A scientist by background, she began he career in clinical research and medical affairs before transitioning into commercial roles. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management. She is driven by the impact that Biogen makes to patients and their caregivers each day. 

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