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From science to strategy

In his job as Project Director at AstraZeneca’s Pharmaceutical Development unit, Anders Holmén constantly has to be one step ahead and has to be able to see how science best can benefit the end customer.

Anders Holmén is in charge of the pharmaceutical development in various projects within cardiovascular and metabolic small molecule research, carried out at the AstraZeneca research site in Mölndal, just south of Gothenburg. He is involved in early, as well as late stage clinical development. The job involves directing CMC strategy work for the established AZ CV brands, and being involved in development of novel treatments for diabetes and CVD.

The world of chemistry

In the 1990s he initiated his lifelong encounter with the world of chemistry. He began by studying chemical engineering at Chalmers University of Technology and went on to receive a PhD in Physical Chemistry. However, at an early stage he felt that he didn’t want to stay in the academic world but wanted to devote himself to something more practical instead. At Chalmers Anders Holmén had experienced some time in the laboratory. As it turned out, he was offered a job at AstraZeneca and his career continued in the laboratory, where he worked for six years with different roles and various tasks. Among other things he participated in establishing a team to screen pharmaceuticals. From 2005 onwards he held several management posts but was still close to the lab designing molecules.

Today Anders Holmén mainly works from the meeting room or the desk in his role as Project Director. From time to time he misses his time in the laboratory. However, his new position has not led him further away from science, he says.
“On the contrary, with my job science is brought to the fore. I constantly have to take a stand on complicated matters and be able to see what science leads to. Part of my job is also to be up-to-date and read scientific publications to keep up with the latest developments.”

Taking drugs further

Anders Holmén works closely with the team in Mölndal, but a great deal of his time is spent in contact with colleagues and collaboration partners all around the world. The job as Project Director involves coordinating activities, as well as representing pharmaceutical product development in the global AstraZeneca product team. The focus is mainly on drugs that are on their way to the market or already there but which could be further developed as regards to new strengths or formulations. For example, heart firm Omthera, recently acquired by AstraZeneca, has an omega 3 compound for which Anders and his team are working on a new formulation and investigating possible combinations with products in the pipeline. Anders is also co-leading projects in collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb regarding the type 2 diabetes medicine Onglyza and diabetes drug Forxiga.

Working with the various development projects means being under constant deadlines and achieving milestones. The job can be quite stressful from time to time but he appreciates working under specific pressures.
“Of course, sometimes it’s hectic when we need to arrive at a very important result, and even more so when something unexpected occurs. But otherwise I like the good challenge that some of the timeframes can result in. Also, I think that the project plans bring transparency to our mission. These clarify the issues and give you better insight into what has to be done.”
Scanning the global market

One great challenge, according to Anders Holmén, is finding your way in a globalized world and the need for more knowledge about the local markets.
“The various projects we are running in Japan, for example, can be challenging as you have to understand the needs and demands of the particular local market. Also, the language barrier can sometimes make it more difficult and time consuming before any advances can be made. We are expected to deliver pharmaceuticals on a global level and to have a comprehensive view of the international market. But in order to get there we can’t just proceed from what works here, we have to constantly look outward. That’s why my colleagues and I have a close contact with our colleagues in the field as often as possible.”

In order to develop pharmaceuticals it is important to understand what the customer wants, highlights Anders Holmén. Marketing and pharmaceutical development are becoming more and more intertwined. This is something that those working from the more technical perspective are beginning to have to get more insight into, he says.
“It’s no longer enough just to develop a compound that the industry believes has great potential. It also has to meet the demands of the payer. That’s why pharmaceutical development is becoming more and more oriented towards the client. It’s a question of survival on the global market. Also, the pressure is high for many countries with large health care costs. Therefore providing a pharmaceutical that is effective from a medical as well as a financial aspect is crucial.”

The job of Project Director has many sides, but the social part is what Anders Holmén likes best.
“It’s amazing to see things happening and developing in teams. Here in Mölndal there are so many qualified people. We have 560 employees with doctoral degrees, plus more than 250 scientists from 30 different countries. Since I also have day-to-day contact with our colleagues and partners in other parts of the world, I’m really working in a multicultural workplace, and loving it. In addition everyone who works here, including myself, is passionate about delivering products that are meaningful to patients.”


Name: Anders Holmén
Age: 46
Family: Wife Lotta and three sons, Jacob, Filip and Edward
Title: Project Director at AstraZeneca.
Education: PhD in physical chemistry from Chalmers University of Technology.
Most exciting thing about drug development today: “It is moving more toward translational research with the attempt to overlap between animal testing and cell tests to what in fact occurs in humans. I hope this can lead to a change in the declining trend of few drugs being launched.”
Hobbies: Orienteering, Laser sailing and acting as a taxi driver for my kids.