Harmony Garges talks to PharmaTimes about her role as ViiV Healthcare’s chief medical officer and head of Global Medical, and the importance of focusing on patients

What is your background and current role?

I’m a physician with expertise in paediatric infectious diseases and spent nearly 20 years taking care of children living with HIV. During my 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I have developed or launched a dozen products across multiple therapy areas in both pharma and consumer healthcare and worked in R&D, pharmacovigilance and medical affairs. Currently, I’m the chief medical officer (CMO) and head of the Global Medical organisation at ViiV Healthcare.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

There is no typical day, which is what I love about this role! I lead the Global Medical team at ViiV Healthcare, which includes medical affairs, regulatory and safety functions. As CMO, I am accountable for all aspects of human safety and medical governance for the company, along with the global medical affairs strategy and execution for ViiV Healthcare’s portfolio. A typical day might be chairing a governance meeting related to product safety and labelling, engaging in an advisory board with global external experts or meeting with senior leaders from our community partners, such as Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Last year, I had the privilege of travelling to Rome and meeting the Pope to share the work we are doing to build medical capability in Africa, focused on paediatric health for children living with HIV.

What sparked your interest in patient care?

I have always been interested in how things work and loved science, pursuing chemistry at Colgate University. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a physician. This commitment to medicine was solidified as a teenager when my father battled a terminal illness. His medical journey showed me how impactful a physician can be on someone’s life and I knew from then that medicine was my calling. My passion for taking care of patients only grew during my medical school and residency/fellowship training at Duke University Medical Center, where I learned so much from my patients. I carry this commitment to patients with me in my role as CMO. We are here to serve patients and ensure they continue to have effective and well-tolerated treatment and prevention options.

How can pharma ensure that it is truly patient-centric?

Patients must be the focus of every conversation we have and every decision we make. At ViiV Healthcare, we have a relentless focus on patients – our mission is to ensure no one living with HIV is left behind. These are not simply words on a wall that we occasionally reference. These words are our guide, our North Star, and influence every aspect of our company. This focus on patients ensures we continually challenge the status quo and continue to innovate and develop new medicines to optimise HIV treatment and prevention and make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives.

What are the key challenges in truly engaging patients in the UK?

We typically engage people living with HIV via patient organisations to gain insight into their evolving needs. One of the key challenges in this area is finding a diverse group of patients to engage with who represent the full spectrum of those living with HIV. Many of the patient representatives who come forward to work with pharma are confident, white men having sex with men. It is always more difficult to find women and men of colour, but we are committed to doing so and have set diversity goals for our clinical trials. People living with HIV have a broad range of experiences and challenges and we need to ensure we understand their individual needs, and not generalise the experiences of a few across to all. The need for diversity is also reflected in our work to develop HIV medicines for children and adolescents and those people living with HIV who have failed on certain therapies and have few treatment options available.

Broadly speaking, what do you think lies in the future for UK pharma?

For ViiV Healthcare, we seek to make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives. From a treatment perspective, this means more innovative treatment options. We are focused on developing new medicines with unique mechanisms of action against HIV and developing new regimens with fewer medicines and long-acting therapies that remove the requirement for a daily pill. We are also committed to working with the community to ensure access to our medicines and to tackle stigma. And our work isn’t just about treatment – we’re also focused on medicines that can prevent HIV and we have a team dedicated to HIV remission and cure. All of these efforts are important in the fight against HIV.

What are your passions outside of work?

I embrace life with passion and vigour! I love spending time with my family and exploring the world. Whether it’s soaring above a mountain in a paraglider, exploring the depths of the oceans or simply going on a run or hike, I’m an adventure seeker. My favourite hobby is SCUBA diving. I’ve been on hundreds of dives all over the world and each one is as awe-inspiring as the first.

What keeps you awake at night?

My current worry, in light of COVID-19, is that other pandemics such as HIV, will get deprioritised or forgotten. We cannot allow this to happen. The HIV pandemic is still raging, and we need to ensure continuity of our supply chain and maintain our focus on innovation, access and the elimination of stigma to ensure that all people living with HIV, no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, or where they live in the world, are not left behind.