Executive perspectives: Peter Greenleaf

Paul Tunnah interviews Peter Greenleaf

MedImmune / AstraZeneca

Speaking with MedImmune’s President, Peter Greenleaf, pharmaphorum finds that the challenges and opportunities faced by MedImmune in developing commercially successful biological therapies in collaboration with its big pharma partner AstraZeneca mirror the broader changing landscape for biotech.

Editor’s note: pharmaphorum spoke with Peter Greenleaf in December 2012. In January 2013 he was appointed to lead AstraZeneca’s Latin America business, effective March 2013, in line with the formal designation of MedImmune as the parent company’s biologics research and development arm.

The history of MedImmune is one that could easily be viewed as a broader ‘coming of age’ story about the whole biotechnology industry. Originally founded in 1988 (and existing for a short while under the name Molecular Vaccines Inc.), it is probably fair to label MedImmune as one of the first generation biotechs, following hot on the heels of big names like Amgen and Genentech. Since then, the company has had its fair share of ups and downs, culminating in its acquisition by AstraZeneca in 2007 for $15.6bn, a figure that still raises the eyebrows of some analysts today.

Nevertheless, speaking with Peter Greenleaf, who joined MedImmune in 2006 and was appointed President in 2010, it is clear that he believes that the company has lost none of its youthful spirit of innovation during its journey. During a broad-ranging discussion, Greenleaf shares his thoughts on why he is optimistic for MedImmune’s future and how the relationship between biotech and big pharma has matured over time.


“The history of MedImmune is one that could easily be viewed as a broader ‘coming of age’ story about the whole biotechnology industry.”


Biotech reaches a balancing symbiosis with big pharma

Also sitting on the Executive Committee of BIO (the US based Biotechnology Industry Organization), Greenleaf only has to look around him to see how important the big pharma to biotech relationship has become, with representation from companies like Pfizer and J&amp,J now round the table1.

In defining what big pharma sees in biotech, he believes at its core is the notion of an “innovative, fast, new technology-driven and connected organisation, one that has a science first, patient first mentality”. Efficiency in producing innovation is the key – it’s not that big pharma cannot do this, but that biotech is geared up to drive it at a faster rate, through being structured around the science.

Greenleaf is wary though of the fact that the early biotechs, including MedImmune, are now reaching a stage where they have to guard against some of the challenges posed by scale and bureaucracy that can stifle innovation in larger companies. “Biotech faces the same innovation, scale and productivity hurdles,” he accepts, but goes on to add, with an air of optimism, “we will learn a lot over the next five years about our success rates and speed, but right now the data would still point to biotechnology as a really strong bet for the future.

So has acquisition by AstraZeneca impacted on MedImmune’s ability to be nimble? Not according to Greenleaf, who sees the culture of innovation only growing under the protective wing of its big pharma parent. “Structure and leadership are the two areas that I would say are the most important to ensuring that culture stays in place,” he attests and adds that, whilst a small number of senior figures have moved on since the acquisition, “the base leadership is still the leadership that was within the company.” In addition, Greenleaf is outspoken on a bright future for AstraZeneca under the leadership of the new Chief Exec, Pascal Soriot, citing Soriot’s prior experience in leading Genentech as vital.

Ultimately, he sees the long term success of MedImmune in protecting the scientific expertise. “People stay for leaders, they want to be able to make fast decisions and to know that their time is protected to do the valuable work at creating the science,” he asserts.


“Ninety per cent of our overall portfolio involves some approach to companion diagnostics and personalised healthcare…”


Biological therapies require more efficient development approaches

Biological therapies are also facing their own challenges as they mature, not least of which is the pricing pressure imposed due to global healthcare cost containment. Greenleaf accepts that MedImmune has to carefully manage these risks, being such a strong player in this space, but sees careful selection of the right patient populations as key here.

“Ninety per cent of our overall portfolio involves some approach to companion diagnostics and personalised healthcare, which increases our probability for success and balances the risks and benefits. Hopefully this gets us to response rates of around 90% to 95%, instead of 60% to 70%.”

However, this is not the only area to focus on. “Drug development can be costly, so if you cannot also address the research and development side of the equation you’re at a net loss,” states Greenleaf, before adding “we have got to reduce the time to market to help reduce the cost per cycle and overall cost per patient – something we are monitoring and measuring religiously in this organisation.

Greenleaf also believes that, in addition to reducing R&amp,D time and costs, stricter elimination of non-viable assets earlier on and higher level portfolio management are two critical elements of managing risk as an innovator in the biological space. Core to these decisions is a translational approach to development, he explains.

Working hand-in-glove with our research and development process is a translational approach where we are looking at gene screening, diagnostics and mapping early in the process to help better inform our development decisions. We actually do it early on, at the gene level, to do heat mapping and understand what level of validation we are getting on the targets.

In fact, Greenleaf sees this approach as key to the broader pharma industry, not just niche biotechs working in biological therapies, seeing it as one area where AstraZeneca has learned directly from MedImmune.

The other key component in portfolio management and early decision making, according to Greenleaf, is the interplay between the scientific and commercial sides of the business. He does not believe in the argument that earlier commercial input can kill innovation, instead preferring a cross-cultural approach that involves “everybody realising what value looks like and the weighting you put against different value components, which drives better, more focussed research efforts and improved outcomes pre-clinically right through to phase II.


“…we have got to reduce the time to market to help reduce the cost per cycle and overall cost per patient…”


The future for MedImmune and the biotech industry

One of the possible routes to reducing risk for MedImmune, as with other biotech and pharma companies, would be to avoid therapeutic areas where the success rates are low, such as the recent retraction by a number of companies from the neurological disorders market. But for Greenleaf, this is a short term view, as he firmly believes that “all organisations in the pharma and biotech space have mission statements set out to create meaningful medicines that change patient’s lives,” which they need to stick to. He also cites cross-company partnership, such as the Pfizer investment in Elan, as the collaborative approaches to managing risk in these areas of high unmet need.

For MedImmune, sticking to its mission statement means retaining a spirit of innovation whilst playing to its strengths in the biological therapies space. However, the company is using this expertise to diversify in other ways too, through partnerships to help manufacture biological therapies for others, which can lead onto bigger things.

Bricks and mortar is hard to justify today,” explains Greenleaf, before going on to explain that ‘manufacturing’ partnerships, such as the one MedImmune holds with Merck, can lead to much broader collaboration – “they not only own a piece of our space and we manufacture the product, but they also sink their scientists into our facility and we work together.

As he rightly points out, “no given company has the market cornered on scientific leadership and intelligence, so if you can get the best scientists from partners like Merck Amgen, and others and the best scientists from MedImmune to create a better compound, then the rest of us who do not have science PhDs can focus our efforts on how you actually make the business engagement work.


“…no given company has the market cornered on scientific leadership and intelligence…”


Nor is MedImmune always the smaller player in collaborative activity. The progression of the company from emerging biotech to major player in personalised medicine is perhaps best demonstrated by its MedImmune Ventures arm, which itself is investing in emerging healthcare companies that are bringing innovation to market.

The first generation of biotechs may have experienced some growing pains as they have matured, but it seems they have learned much along the way that can be imparted not only to their big pharma backers, but also to the next generation of innovative biotechnology companies. Greenleaf sums up this mutual future opportunity well as we conclude our discussion.

I’m incredibly excited about what the future holds for our industry and MedImmune’s impact on AstraZeneca and its mission as an organisation. We are past the point of the acquisition integration and making really solid progression with the portfolio. I think you are going to see a lot of that emerging scientifically over the next few years.


1. Biotechnology Industry Organization, Executive Committee, accessed Dec 2012.

This interview was conducted during the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference 2012 and pharmaphorum wishes to acknowledge the support provided by the Financial Times.

About the interviewee:

Peter Greenleaf is the President of MedImmune, the worldwide biologics arm for AstraZeneca. Since becoming President in February 2010, Greenleaf has helped to shape MedImmune into an innovation-focused company that is poised to be the next revolutionary force in biotechnology. Prior to becoming president, Greenleaf led the development of the company’s global marketing and portfolio organizations, as well as managed the broader commercial, corporate development and strategy functions.

In addition to his duties at MedImmune, Greenleaf also chairs The Maryland Venture Fund Authority (MVFA) and serves of the board of trustees of the University of Maryland Baltimore Foundation, and the board of directors of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the world’s largest biotech trade organization.

Greenleaf joined MedImmune from Centocor, Inc., where he served as Vice President of the gastroenterology franchise, responsible for sales, marketing, strategic planning and business development. He joined Centocor’s cardiovascular division in 1998 and later moved into the immunology business, holding a number of positions with increasing responsibility. Previously, he was employed in key roles with Boehringer Mannheim Corporation and US Healthcare, Inc. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Connecticut State University and a Master’s degree in business administration from St. Joseph’s University.

In line with the management changes announced in January 2013, Greenleaf will head up AstraZeneca’s Latin America Business, effective March 2013, and will be succeeded by MedImmune’s Executive Vice President of Research and Development, Bahija Jallal.

For more information about MedImmune visit www.medimmune.com.

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