Ipsen’s Alexandre Lebeaut discusses the highs and lows of working in pharmaceutical research and development.
What is your background and current role?
I was appointed in April 2017 as executive vice president R&D and chief scientific officer at Ipsen. Before joining Ipsen in 2012, I held various global leadership positions in R&D with both domestic and internationally based biopharmaceutical companies. My experience includes global clinical development in cardiovascular/ metabolism, oncology, gastroenterology, paediatrics and infectious diseases. In December 2013, I was also appointed independent director of the Calypso Biotech Board of Directors (Geneva, Switzerland). Additionally, I am a standing member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Heart Association, the American Society of Microbiology, the American Society of Critical Care and the American Gastroenterology Association. I am also a French board certified paediatrician. I earned my MD from Paris Diderot University and specialised in Paediatrics at Paris Descartes University.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
At Ipsen, we aim to launch at least one new drug or meaningful indication every year. One of my tasks is to contribute to the transformation of our R&D division into a development powerhouse to rapidly bring internal or externally sourced innovation to patients, and to make educated decisions on our portfolio as to timely allocate resources to our priority projects.
What is a key frustration of your job?
As a physician your key aim is to ensure that you can provide patients with an effective and safe treatment as soon as
possible, as patients don’t have time to wait. One of the frustrating aspects of my job is therefore the length of time for medicine development, approval and the commercialisation process before being able to deliver life-changing treatment options to patients. Working at the front line of drug development can hold many obstacles, and I believe that only an unwavering commitment to innovation and collaboration between all stakeholders (biopharmaceutical companies, patients, healthcare providers, regulators and payers) can lead to success. Only this approach enables us to design a winning development plan. Patients are always on our minds during the R&D process and inspire us to work faster and better.
What are the main challenges in moving forward early-stage healthcare innovations in Europe?
We have entered the ‘Patient Era’ where the healthcare landscape needs to continuously adapt to patients’ evolving needs. Patients have greater access to information than ever before, which means they are more informed and involved when it comes to treatment- related decision-making. At Ipsen, we are striving to go beyond providing efficient and safe therapies to demonstrating clear value from both a patient and societal perspective.
How can pharma best navigate these challenges?
We can embrace the Patient Era by shifting our model to deliver outcomes that improve patients’ lives. This means collaborating across the entire company, from R&D to post-marketing, to identify unmet needs and deliver outcomes that genuinely improve patients’ lives as defined by patients themselves. This represents an important cultural and organisational shift, whereby every new project starts with patients in mind, and success is measured from that perspective. It also means recognising the wealth of knowledge and expertise within an organisation and establishing meaningful partnerships with all relevant stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.
What do you think could have the most impact on improving R&D success rates?
Being a global actor: We decided to locate our main R&D centres in world-class scientific hubs to take advantage of the networking opportunities and to progress our external innovation philosophy within established scientific ecosystems. Being connected: Our three main sites are connected as an ‘innovation grid’, sharing real-time information, allowing us to adapt and focus capabilities to maximise our search and evaluation and development strategies on a global scale. Being nimble: Our governance is lean to make rapid albeit educated decisions on our projects. We are a project-centric, team-based and matrixed organisation to maximise cross-functional interactions and cross-fertilisation.
What do you consider to have been the most exciting scientific development during your career so far?
I consider the evolving Cabometyx story to be one of the most exciting scientific developments I had the chance to be part of during my career. The recent European Commission approval for Cabometyx in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was an important breakthrough, following two prior approvals in advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) since 2016. Considering Ipsen’s Neuroscience franchise, I find the results emerging from the first-in-human recombinant botulinum toxin study particularly promising. Our recombinant botulinum toxin E (rBoNT-E) was administered to healthy volunteers. Its safety, efficacy and pharmacodynamics were assessed in a Phase I clinical trial. We believe that it has the potential to offer a new treatment paradigm in both therapeutic and aesthetic conditions to address patient and clinical needs.
What do you see as the most exciting project in Ipsen’s current R&D pipeline?
The further development of Cabometyx in combination with other therapies, particularly with checkpoint inhibitors across many solid tumours and across many geographies. Also, initiation of the clinical development of our assets in systemic radiation therapy. Satoreotide is being developed in the treatment of neuroendocrine tumours. IPN-60090 is being developed in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Both radiopharmaceutical compounds have potential to become best- and first-in- class respectively. In Neuroscience, we are committed to continuously expanding the research, development and manufacturing of neurotoxins that could improve patient outcomes and address unmet medical needs.
How is Ipsen preparing for Brexit?
For the past two years we have been preparing on the assumption of a hard Brexit, and Ipsen is well advanced in executing robust actions to ensure continuity of its medicines to patients who depend on them, both in the UK and the EU. This includes, for example, making sure there are adequate stocks in those countries at the time of exit, and that we can ensure continuity of supply by setting up parallel quality assurance procedures. For us, the most important thing is to ensure that there is no disruption in patient supply of medicines, particularly as we produce Dysport in the UK that goes to over 80 different countries.
What are your goals for the future?
I am driven by providing innovative therapeutic solutions to meet patients’ needs faster and better. Because ‘patients can’t wait’ we must seek and find innovative paths to improve the design and accelerate the execution of our development strategies. To paraphrase G. Merck: Good medicine is good business. Delivering to patients differentiated and innovative medicines will contribute to the success of Ipsen.
What keeps you awake at night?
It is the next round of data...: do we have the right dose regimen, do we have the right target population, do we have any safety signals, etc. We make data-driven decisions to accelerate or to stop the development of a programme. We must take courageous and timely decisions. R&D‘s top job is not for the faint-hearted.
If you could invite anyone (alive or dead) over for dinner, who would it be and why?
I would invite - once again - Prof. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi who co-discovered HIV and who in 2008 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Francoise is an example of scientific brilliance and leadership, humility, courage, and has a deep sense of humanity. Her contribution to mankind is remarkable through her relentless engagement to fighting AIDS globally. She is my hero.