Executive perspectives: Dr Roch Doliveux

Paul Tunnah interviews Dr Roch Doliveux


Continuing our series speaking to senior executives who are transforming the pharma business model, pharmaphorum catches up with Dr Roch Doliveux, CEO of UCB, to find out what is the key to driving innovation as a patient-centric biopharmaceutical company.

The man at the helm of biopharmaceutical company UCB is in an ebullient mood following the release of the company’s full year 2012 results.1 Revenue growth of 2% at constant exchange rates compared to 2011 may not seem exceptional at first glance (although many pharma companies are seeing flatter sales growth or even decline in the current economy), but the deeper story of how UCB is transforming its business is what excites its Chief Executive, Dr Roch Doliveux.


“…the self-styled description of UCB as being ‘patient-centric’ goes far beyond just words…”


Speaking with Roch, it is clear that the self-styled description of UCB as being ‘patient-centric’ goes far beyond just words – it is a value that is underpinning how the company moves forwards and is woven into its culture at every level.

“Once a year we measure the engagement of our 9,000 colleagues at UCB and what stands out is this patient-centricity – this notion of being inspired by patients and driven by science”, explains Roch, before going on to reinforce the point that it is more than just a tagline, but is instead about “our commitment to both a holistic approach to care and the pursuit of excellence in science.”

Indeed, this focus is reflected in the story underneath the numbers, with UCB taking a strong line on quickly culling development programs that will not make a significant impact on disease management and, for the first time, seeing greater revenue come from the newer brands Cimzia, Vimpat and Neupro rather than its old stalwart epilepsy treatment Keppra. Roch is clearly not a man with an interest in ‘me-too’ therapies.

This approach hit the headlines recently, as UCB and Amgen abandoned plans for the development of romosozumab as a new treatment for fracture healing based on the evaluation of phase II data and changes in general regulatory guidance on fracture healing programs. Trials do however continue in post-menopausal osteoporosis (currently in Phase III) and Roch frequently cites romosozumab as a good example of their patient-driven development approach.

For me personally, what we did with romosozumab is a key driver of our future breakthroughs – starting from patients to understand the gene defect they had and then making a new medicine out of this, so connecting the insights of patients with science. This is the first example but there are more in early discovery”.


“Am I doing enough? No. But I am as connected with patients as I am with top KOLs…”


However, in an age where the regulatory environment keeps a close eye on patient engagement with pharma, Roch thinks the industry risks losing sight of who its real customers are and what it can learn from them. “I associate patients as individuals, people that live with diseases. Am I doing enough? No. But I am as connected with patients as I am with top KOLs”, he clarifies.

The topic of data transparency is unavoidable in such discussion, with calls for the industry to open up its clinical data closet and bare all. In response, Roch is clear that he sees this as the wrong focus for all the media attention. “I think the appropriate debate is about bringing the right information to patients so that they can make an informed decision, not the voyeurism of just putting everything on the web,” which he believes could lead to information misuse and the wrong decisions being made. Instead, Roch wants to see more open discussion on better communication with patients, not just from the industry but also from physicians and payers, to better help them understand their disease management and the decisions behind it.


Looking beyond transparency and drawing parallels with the most engaging and innovative companies outside healthcare, such as Apple or BMW, Roch describes their customer focus as ‘relentless’, observing that it is “the ability to capture customer insight together with great technology that creates sustainable great innovation.” It is clear that he believes this customer focussed approach is something that permeates beyond shaping product development, but also dictates the operational structure of successful companies.

“Their ability to cut costs, manage costs and focus their resources on what makes the difference for their business,” is another area where Roch feels UCB can learn from looking beyond the confines of the pharma industry.

The notion of learning from other companies is a key aspect of the way Roch is steering UCB, with academic and commercial partnerships underpinning the company’s development program in some challenging disease areas. Supporting this ambition, UCB has already had high profile collaborations with leading research centres such as Oxford and Harvard and committed over £3m investment into UK PhD scientists, in addition to his personal interest in partnership working as Chairman of the Governing Board of the Innovative Medicines Initiative.


“The dream is that every new medicine comes with its own biomarker, which enables you to really target the patients…”


To truly achieve the reality of personalised medicine in the specialist areas in which UCB operates Roch sees such collaboration as critical. “The dream is that every new medicine comes with its own biomarker, which enables you to really target the patients that would most benefit from this solution – this is an aspect of every single development program we have,” he reinforces.

It seems that, under the steer of Roch, UCB is not afraid to keep pushing the boundaries within complex disease areas with high unmet need, despite the risks. But these are calculated business risks with a solid focus on patient need or, as Roch succinctly sums it up, “rule number one in medicine is do no harm.”

With a continued focus on patient engagement, desire to deliver real innovation and collaborative approach, it will be interesting to see where Roch Doliveux takes UCB in 2013 and beyond.


1. UCB in 2012: New Core Medicines Drive Growth, UCB press release, Feb 2013.



About the interviewee:

Roch Doliveux has been UCB’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Executive Committee for the past eight years. He joined UCB in October 2003 as Head of UCB’s Pharmaceutical business and Deputy Chairman of the Executive Committee. Under his leadership, UCB was transformed from a diversified group to a focused patient-centric

biopharmaceutical leader recognized for its attractive growth prospects and rich pipeline.

He is a member of the Board of Directors of UCB, a member of the Board of Stryker Corporation in the US, a member of the Board of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Association (EFPIA), Chairman and member of the Board of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) which is a public-private partnership between the European Union and EFPIA, as well as a member of the Vlerick Business school. He also chairs the Caring Entrepreneurship Fund (King Baudouin Foundation), a philanthropic initiative which supports entrepreneurship in health and wellness.

Doctor in Veterinarian Medicine from Maisons-Alfort (France), Roch Doliveux is also Laureate of the Faculty of Medicine, Créteil, and holds an MBA with distinction from INSEAD (France). Roch Doliveux was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa degree of the University of Liège (Belgium) in October 2011 and was bestowed the title of Commander of the Order of the Crown of Belgium in November 2012.

He first joined the pharmaceutical industry with Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis) in Switzerland, Peru and France, and then with Schering-Plough Corporation in various positions in Belgium, France and the US, including President of Schering-Plough International. Before joining UCB, Roch Doliveux was Chief Executive Officer of Pierre Fabre Pharmaceuticals.

For more information about UCB, visit http://www.ucb.com/.

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