Access to treatments is a global right and something that I see as our responsibility


Interview with Monica Shaw



Monica Shaw is the Executive Vice President, Region EUROPE Plus, LEO Pharma. She spoke to us about the intrinsic link between physical and mental health, her approach to leadership and culture, and how the industry can overcome the challenge of access to medicines across the globe.


Diverse organisations simply perform better; the incentive is there for us to make sure that we continue to drive that agenda

You initially trained as a doctor. What was it about joining the pharmaceutical industry that appealed to you and ultimately led to your shift in career?

It was a similar reason as to why wanted to be a doctor; I really enjoyed science but was also fascinated with how science translated into actual healthcare for patients. I worked in the NHS for about five years, at a time when biologics were really starting to take off. It was incredible to see the transformative power that these treatments had, but it also struck me that access to these medications wasn’t as fast or as equitable as I had expected. Even when you have great science, how do you demonstrate value and convince healthcare systems to adopt and pay for these medications, so that they can start working for patients and make the health impacts you want? As somebody who has spent time in different parts of the industry, understanding that holistic aspect of getting medication to patients is what really drives and motivates me.


We have seen significant digital transformation over the past year, offering us a window into the future of healthcare. What solutions for improving the management of chronic diseases are you most excited about?

Digital has been an aspiration for most of the industry for several years now, and COVID-19, for all its bad aspects, has been a strong catalyst across the whole of drug development. We’re looking at implementing more virtual studies and optimising our recruitment and touchpoints with patients. A fringe benefit is that you can run studies faster, easier, and cheaper. There’s a real role for pharmaceutical companies in keeping engaged with physicians and allowing them to access knowledge and education how they want. Personally, I know what it’s like to try and find time slots to read and keep up-to-date. Digital gives people that flexibility, which is very exciting for the future. There are chronic diseases where people must commit to their treatment, so having digital patient support programmes is crucial. We could also do more in telemedicine; as somebody with regional responsibility across Europe, I see different uptake speeds across different markets. We know the capacity issues that some healthcare systems have; telemedicine is potentially a fantastic solution, even outside of COVID-19, to advance healthcare.


Encouraging numbers of women are pursuing careers in science. What steps can companies take to support this upward spike and what impact do you expect the pandemic to have on women entering the life sciences?

I’m pleased that the diversity conversation in all its different facets is now more centre stage. At LEO’s executive level, we are reporting into the CEO at 50% women; that is an extraordinarily powerful message. I speak to women about why they feel they haven’t fulfilled their potential; they tell me that they don’t see a diversity of role models or females in leadership positions to whom they can relate, and that encourages them to have that aspiration. Diversity in all its forms is incredibly important. As a woman, it’s a privilege to be able to encourage young females to move into science. My niece who lives in Cornwall is not as exposed to different career options, so it was fantastic to put her in touch with female leaders; she’s now doing a biochemistry degree. The more conversations we have, the better it’s going to be for the future. Diverse organisations simply perform better; the incentive is there for us to make sure that we continue to drive that agenda.


LEO Pharma is reputed for its work in dermatology, an area where attitudes have evolved significantly. What have we learnt about the impact of skin conditions on mental health and how can the industry assist in addressing this?

When I started as a doctor, I worked in a tertiary referral centre and saw severe cases of atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. I once saw a woman in her mid-20s with very bad facial and scalp psoriasis. She was in bits; she felt unable to take her children to the playground because she could see people wondering what was wrong with her. The stigma surrounding conditions of the skin had reduced her to a shell of a human being. It was one of my first experiences using a biologic treatment for such a condition; she returned a few months later and it wasn’t her skin that you first noticed – it was her attitude. She walked into the office completely differently, exuding confidence, and the joy she clearly had for life had an enormous impact on me. If you have diabetes or hypertension, people understand and empathise. There’s still huge stigma and ignorance surrounding dermatological conditions. Historically, dermatology wasn’t a prioritised condition, but increasingly we’ve convinced payers that these diseases are important to fund because of the impact that they have on mental health.


You have held leadership positions across several companies and cultures. What is the most important lesson you have learnt about leadership?

The best piece of advice I can give is to stay curious. I’ve been lucky enough to work for different therapy areas, companies, and markets, and I learn something every day. You must be open to learning if you want to keep evolving. The world nowadays is extraordinarily uncertain; we must navigate ambiguity. The VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) concept has never been more real than it is now and staying still today will not make you successful in the future. We must be agile and respond and adapt quickly. I started at LEO when I wasn’t necessarily meeting people face-to-face, and to create an environment where you can be curious, you need to create a trustful dynamic. Trust can form through exhibiting vulnerability and allowing people to share ideas and express opinions that move things forward.


Having lived in the UK, Singapore, Panama, and now Copenhagen, what common healthcare challenges have you noticed that manifest across the globe?

Regardless of where I’ve been, access to medicines is fundamental. In the UK, individuals have universal access, but speed and rapidly accessing treatments doesn’t always happen. In Central America it was the diversity of access; a section of the population could afford to pay while a huge part of the population couldn’t. Singapore was not too dissimilar. Access to treatments is a global right and it’s something that I see as our responsibility. We need to find ways of partnering with payers to ensure both speed and breadth of access. We do our best to make global availability of treatments possible, but I don’t think that any market can honestly say they have 100% of the medications they need when they need them; that’s the reality and a common goal that we must work together to resolve.