The CEO of Lundbeck, who announced that she will retire last week, did not initially intend to join the life science industry, but it captivated her more than 30 years ago, and the ability to transform lives still drives her to this day.
For more than 100 years, Lundbeck has been at the forefront of research and development in the life sciences industry. Founded in 1915 by Hans Lundbeck in Copenhagen, Denmark, the company has grown to become a leader in the discovery and development of therapies for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
One of the driving forces behind Lundbeck’s success is its CEO, Deborah Dunsire. She joined the company in 2018, bringing with her more than 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Her leadership and vision have been instrumental in shaping the company’s strategy and driving its growth, but at the beginning of her career this wasn’t the route she was expecting to take.
“I started as a GP [General Practitioner], but didn’t intend to join the life science industry,” she explains. “I took a job as a filler before moving on to study for a specialty. That job was meant to be for nine months at a pharmaceutical company and I thought I would learn something new and then go back to my path.”
Prior to joining Lundbeck, Dunsire served as CEO of XTuit Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company focused on developing therapies for cancer and fibrotic diseases. Before that, she was the CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on oncology and other diseases, where she oversaw the successful launch of several innovative drugs and led the company’s acquisition by Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
I got captivated by the industry and the concept of turning scientific understanding and understanding of biology into new medicines, and what was so captivating about that, was the ability to transform lives.”
When asked what made her decide to stay in the life science industry, she says that it was simple. “I got captivated by the industry and the concept of turning scientific understanding and understanding of biology into new medicines, and what was so captivating about that, was the ability to transform lives.”
Exciting new areas
Under Deborah Dunsire’s leadership, Lundbeck has made significant progress in advancing its pipeline of potential new therapies, expanding the company’s global reach, and fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration.
Explaining Lundbeck’s operations, she says there are key areas the company focuses on, with neurocircuitry being at the forefront because “[that] is Lundbeck’s heritage,” she says. “This includes depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. All of those types of diseases are neurocircuitry-driven, and then also protein folding and aggregation. Those are the big diseases where you’re accumulating proteins in your brain, like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multi-system atrophy.”
There have been tremendous advances in neuroscience. For instance in multiple sclerosis, where we’ve had a lot more immunological therapies, and neuroimmunology will also yield targets that I think will be profitable for new therapies in neurological diseases, such as neuroinflammation, because a lot of diseases we’re finding are linked to inflammation.”
There are also other, new areas, which Dunsire is excited about, including neuropeptides and hormones, which the company initiated with its acquisition of Alder Biopharmaceuticals.
“There have been tremendous advances in neuroscience. For instance in multiple sclerosis, where we’ve had a lot more immunological therapies, and neuroimmunology will also yield targets that I think will be profitable for new therapies in neurological diseases, such as neuroinflammation, because a lot of diseases we’re finding are linked to inflammation,” she says.
Something that Dunsire particularly enjoys is what happens when a new drug is approved, saying, “You get to see new medicines emerging in research, but you’re also helping patients today by putting drugs on the market.”
Talent – A critical issue
As one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Denmark, Lundbeck has played an important role in attracting and retaining talent in the industry. Though Dunsire admits that this doesn’t come without some hurdles. Like the other Nordic countries, Denmark faces some challenges in attracting and retaining talent in the life sciences industry. One of the main challenges is a shortage of skilled workers in certain areas, particularly in specialized fields such as neuroscience, oncology, and rare diseases.
So, we need to bring in both talent from Denmark, but also, we’re going to have to bring in experience from outside of Denmark. That is a critical issue.”
“We need to bring in talent in our neural inflammation and neural immunology areas. So the ease of accessing and bringing in talent is important, and Denmark is simply too small for all the talent to exist in one place. So, we need to bring in both talent from Denmark, but also, we’re going to have to bring in experience from outside of Denmark. That is a critical issue,” Dunsire explains, though does note that things are changing.
“The Danish government has launched a number of initiatives to support the growth and development of the life sciences industry, including funding for research and development, tax incentives for companies, and support for entrepreneurship and innovation,” she adds.
An attractive ecosystem
That being said, Lundbecks’s focus on neuroscience research, combined with its supportive and inclusive culture, has made it an attractive destination for scientists, clinicians, and other professionals in the field. Being located in Denmark also has the benefit of an established collaborative ecosystem.
“If there’s an ecosystem it’s much easier to attract talent because people know if they come here for one job, and if that job doesn’t work out, there are lots of other opportunities. I see some of the same thing in the rest of the Nordics. You have some big companies, obviously, and then around them there have been some entrepreneurial companies that are growing in scale. There’s good academia around that new ideas can come out of and there’s a focus on harvesting that,” she says.
Dunsire’s advice for those just starting out in the industry, or even those still in training, is that there are so many different paths one can go down.
What’s typically not known to people in training in life sciences and medical schools is that they don’t really know what the different career paths are within the industry.”
“What’s typically not known to people in training in life sciences and medical schools is that they don’t really know what the different career paths are within the industry. My best advice is to find out and get some exposure to the different directions,” she says.
Being in contact with new professionals in the industry is important. Speaking from experience, Dunsire says, “I had no understanding of the industry, even as a physician, and the different skill sets required to really make that discovery of new biology and transform it into a new medicine that’s safe and effective for human use.”
So with that in mind, she says that Lundbeck recently invited a group of young physicians who had recently qualified, because they simply wanted to understand more about the industry.
“We had them in and we talked about barriers, roles, and career paths. That gives them the opportunity to think about a career path that might use their skills, but in a different way than they first thought,” she says.
Striving to help people
Looking to the future, Lundbeck is well-positioned to continue its legacy of innovation and leadership in the Nordic life sciences industry.
“It’s all about the making of medical innovation and it’s fun to be able to work with people that you get to know well and make transformations with, and to move the company forward in a tangible way,” says Dunsire.
Every day has basically fulfilled that early promise of really being able to learn new things and see those transformations take place.”
In addition to its focus on research, Lundbeck is known for its supportive and inclusive culture, she adds. The company is committed to providing a work environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, and personal growth, and offers a range of benefits and career development opportunities for its employees.
“It is important that Lundbeck continues its tradition of excellence and making significant contributions to the field of medicine in the years to come, and inspiration is built into an industry that strives to help people,” she concludes. “Every day has basically fulfilled that early promise of really being able to learn new things and see those transformations take place.”