After spending most of his career in the US, Takeda UK managing director Adam Zaeske arrived on our shores last year intent on transforming the company into an agile speciality business

What is your current role?I am managing director for the UK and Ireland business with responsibility to lead the commercial organisation – for me, that means bringing products to market that serve patients. I've been with Takeda for 12 years, in a number of roles, starting in product planning then leading teams in marketing, sales and market access, the three legs of the commercial stool. Prior to Takeda I was a management consultant and my original training was in finance and accounting. I had never thought my career would take me overseas until this opportunity came up but I am loving being here in Europe and so is my family.

What have been your biggest challenges?The first step after I started here in June last year was to define our strategy, focus and priorities, and to develop a roadmap. A second priority was to get the right leadership team in place and we now have a number of new faces around the table including new medical, compliance, HR and communications directors. A key goal from the outset was to transform and transition a business that was focused on primary care and small molecules into an agile, speciality care organisation. My challenges are to deliver on the promise we have in our key growth areas.

What are your main priorities?Here at Takeda, we have a big story to tell as we are coming into a wonderful growth period with some tremendously positive products and highly motivated and energised organisation. We have three key growth opportunities, firstly, Entyvio (vedolizumab) in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. It is the first and only gut-selective biologic to treat those diseases right where the problem is happening, so it is really an innovative product, and we have secured very strong market access in both indications. Our second growth area is with Ninlaro (ixazomib) in multiple myeloma, which is another first-of-its-kind medicine, in this case the first oral proteasome inhibitor. It has been approved in the US and is due to launch in Europe very soon, and has been received very well by the community. The final area is diabetes, a very costly and long-term disease, where we have Vipidia (alogliptin), a DPP4 that has strong safety and efficacy as well as offering the NHS a real cost benefit.

What are your goals?We expect to more than double in revenue over the next three years. We also aim to double in terms of the employee base, and a large part of that is the decision to bring our sales force back inside the company. We have worked in partnership with Ashfield very successfully for many years and the decision to in-source the sales force is not about changing the model, rather it's about taking the engine of the company and bringing it in-house so we can all be part of the same organisation. It also allows us to really focus on talent development.

What are the big issues/trends affecting Takeda?The key issue is the slow uptake of innovative medicines, summarised in terms of the NHS process to manage the introduction of new medicines through health technology appraisal and formulary work. We support NICE and the SMC, which we recognise do a 'tough job well', however, the methods guides and cost-effectiveness thresholds need to be appropriate for innovative medicines, which tend to be for much more defined populations with significant unmet need. Also, the NHS can be slow to adopt innovative medicines approved by NICE or the SMC, meaning that patient access is variable across the country, a situation which is not equitable. 

At Takeda UK, we work with HCPs to look at solutions that we can support; for example, where IV infusion capacity is a barrier to patient access or working collaboratively at CCG and Health Board level to support the implementation of NICE clinical guidelines.

What issues does the industry face over the next year?It's never a quiet time for life sciences. We eagerly await the publication of the Accelerated Access Review; the government has engaged industry and I hope it will set out a blueprint for access to innovative treatments. With our impressive and growing oncology portfolio, we also await details of the new Cancer Drug Fund later this summer, and we are closely following the Early Access to Medicines scheme. Our future medicines may be suitable for Promising Innovative Medicines status and we are excited by the potential to collect real-world evidence and use it to inform effectiveness and affordability decisions. As I've often heard said, if you stand still you'll be left behind so we won't be standing still.

What do you see in the future for the UK industry?Industry faces a number of challenges working within the financially constrained NHS environment, especially launching complex and costly specialist medicines. The greatest promise lies with those companies who can present novel, effective and evidence-based treatments that deliver better clinical outcomes whilst providing value for money. I am optimistic; the future of the NHS depends on it embracing technological innovation and, fortunately for industry, the innovation agenda is becoming central to the NHS' own business plans. Elsewhere in the NHS, the new care models are a great innovation, and I also believe devolution of healthcare to local decision-makers, for example regional mayors, will also present an opportunity we will need to adapt to.

What have been the most important lessons you have learnt during your career?You never know what's around the next corner. Several times in my career I've moved into roles that pushed me out of my comfort zone, yet, without exception, these ended up being the best moves because they stretched me and forced me to learn and change. Each one led to opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise, so be willing to take risks.

What are your passions outside of work?I enjoy exercise of all kinds, especially biking, running and swimming. I've completed a few triathlons and I really enjoy the atmosphere and positive, community attitude at these events. People are 'competing with themselves' rather than with each other and everyone is so encouraging and supportive that it's infectious.