Astellas Pharma Exec Shares His Best Life Science Career Advice
Published: Dec 21, 2017 By Mark Terry
MM&M recently profiled a number of pharmaceutical executives, including Walt Johnston, Astella Pharma U.S.’s general manager and senior vice president of its urology hospital business unit.
Astellas Pharma US is the U.S. affiliate of Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma. The U.S. branch is headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois and employs nearly 3,000 people. The company’s key therapeutic areas are in cardiology, immunology, infectious disease, neuroscience, oncology and urology.
Johnston received a bachelor’s degree in economics and business from Lafayette College, and notes that he was very interested in sales from the very beginning. He also earned an MBA in finance from Boston College.
“When I graduated from college in 1990,” he told MM&M, “there were three primary industries hiring: long-distance telecommunications, financial services, and pharmaceuticals. Pharma excited me because of its expansion and growth, particularly in field sales. I knew having a sales background would be an asset to future career growth, while working to impact lives would be a mission I believed in.”
Johnston worked at Pfizer for 18 years in roles of increasing responsibility in marketing and sales. He was deeply involved in developing and driving the company’s strategic initiatives in its cardiovascular portfolio, including Lipitor and Caduet.
He joined Astellas in 2008 as vice president, marketing and new product planning. In his current role, he leads the company’s U.S. commercial activities. He is a member of the company’s U.S. Management Committee and Portfolio Steering Committee Executive Committee.
Johnston notes that three key skills he’s picked up on his years in the industry are collaboration, a broad and diverse set of experience, and a willingness to try something different or new.
“It’s harder to move things forward without being able to effectively collaborate, particularly at a time when healthcare is evolving so rapidly. It often takes longer than you like or expect, but being able to collaborate is critical to a company and product’s success,” he said.
When asked what advice he would give to anyone interested in getting into the biopharma industry, Johnston said, “First, have a continuous desire to learn. The marketplace, customers, and landscape are constantly changing, so it’s important to stay informed, be open to new ideas, and preempt change.”
Second, he said, “Say thank you. There are many people who help along someone’s journey so it’s important to stop, reflect, and acknowledge.”
And thirdly, Johnston said, “Strike a balance between work and personal life. Work can be all-consuming, but it’s important to find balance.”
On Nov. 30, 2017, Astellas Pharma exercised its exclusive option to acquire Mitobridge under amended deal terms from a partnership created in October 2013. Mitobridge, located in Cambridge, Mass., will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Astellas.
Under the original deal, the two companies collaborated on discovering and developing drugs that target mitochondrial function. The most advanced program from the collaboration is MA-0211, which is currently in Phase I clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
Astellas was already an equity investor in Mitobridge, and is paying $165.5 million in cash upfront in addition to the $60 million in equity it already owns. There is also an additional $225 million in potential milestone payments.
Astellas Pharma U.S. has numerous job openings around the country. Examples include:
Medical Director, Global Therapeutic Areas in the U.S., in Northbrook, Ill. This position reports to the Group Lead of the Global Therapeutic Area (TA) and will help create and execute the Global TA strategic plan. This position requires an MD or DO or other advanced professional degree such as PharmD or PhD. It also calls for relevant pharmaceutical industry experience, preferably a minimum of at least seven years, and direct exposure to pharmacovigilance functions.
This position will be based out of Los Angeles, and will be responsible for covering different territories within a sales area on an as-needed basis for the course of two years. The territory will include California, Washington and Oregon. The individual will be eligible to apply for a permanent Sales territory after 12 months. The role calls for a Bachelor’s degree with previous pharmaceutical sales experience or internship preferred.
Specialty Pharmaceutical Sales Representative, Maine and New Hampshire in Lynn, Maine. This position calls for promoting and educating specialty physicians such as urologists, OB-GYNs and dermatologists on the company’s products. It calls for a Bachelor’s degree and three or more years of pharmaceutical sales experience.
Digital Analytics Manager in Northbrook, Ill. This candidate will be a member of the Customer Engagement Enablement team within the Customer Engagement Transformation (CET) organization. The individual will provide leadership and direction to define the logical data-structure, aggregate and manage digital data to improve CET’s and Marketing Sciences team members’ ability to access and analyze data. The position calls for a Bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years of experience in digital analytics.
Primary Care – Pharmaceutical Sales Representative in New Orleans. This position calls for a Bachelor’s degree and at least one year business-to-business sales experience. The role is to achieve territory sales goals by promoting the company’s products and services to doctors and other medical personnel within the assigned geography.