Laura Schumacher, AbbVie

Laura Schumacher
Concentrating on the job at hand

Company: AbbVie
Title: Executive Vice President of Business Development & External Affairs, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary

It's hard to know where a career takes its inspiration. Mentors are important, as AbbVie's ($ABBV) Laura Schumacher attests, and being a mentor has become equally important.

"I have benefited greatly from outstanding mentors in my career and I believe all senior leaders should be dedicated to developing the next generation of leaders," Schumacher said. "A former boss and mentor once told me that for true leaders, it is never about you, it must be about your team. As I've advanced in my career, I have tried to live by this while also imparting the same on leaders I have had the pleasure of helping to develop."

Schumacher, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and went on to law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wears many hats in her role as general counsel and executive VP of business development for AbbVie. But she's found her experience as a litigator was the best preparation for her current duties. "I am a litigator by training, and I find that the decision template that makes one successful in litigation is often useful in many other business contexts. That template teaches you to separate relevant and irrelevant issues, to anticipate outcomes and to collect all the facts in support of a decision but also to consider the alternative point of view."

It's also helped form her future expectations for AbbVie.

"The most important expectation is continuing to enhance our pipeline, so that we can deliver a consistent stream of innovation for patients. I spend a significant amount of time with my team planning and pursuing the right opportunities to sustain the success of our new company."

And that planning and pursuit of the right opportunities has kept her and the AbbVie team busy. In July the company nailed down an agreement to buy Ireland-based Shire ($SHPG) for $55 billion. Investors were to get £52.48 a share in cash and stock, which is essentially a 53% premium, and AbbVie would get Shire's ADHD drugs, some rare disease products and some stuff in the pipeline, a big help for a company that generates more than half its revenue from a drug that will go off patent in 2016, arthritis fighter Humira. It also would get Shire's Ireland domicile which it expected would lower its tax rate from 22% to 13%. Then in October, the company made the hard decision to walk away from the deal after the Obama administration took several steps to blunt the benefits of the so-called tax inversion deals.

But there has been more. One of AbbVie's newest bets made under her business development tutelage surprised outsiders with its leap of faith. AbbVie is committing up to $750 million to be in on the ground floor with Google's biotech startup Calico and its plan to develop treatments for "age-related disease." Calico will handle early stage development over the first 10 years and AbbVie can take any product beyond.

That deal was announced only days after the company said it would pay $275 million for rights to duvelisib, an oral PI3k-delta/gamma inhibitor for blood cancers being developed by Infinity Pharmaceuticals ($INFI). Another $530 million milestones are possible.

"I don't know of another collaboration like AbbVie and Calico in our industry--it is a novel way to approach drug discovery and we are really excited to be a part of this collaboration. It allows us to augment an already strong R&D model with a startup discovery engine, so we believe we are breaking new ground in our industry. The experienced leadership team and proven track record of success is equally impressive and lends an additional excitement to this opportunity."

Of course, Schumacher brings extensive experience to this kind of decision making, more than two decades in which she quickly moved up the ranks at Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) and became one of the key execs at AbbVie when it was spun off by Abbott last year. It takes dedication and hard work to get to such a position. She is happy to share her experience and tells those starting out to concentrate on the job at hand, not the next position. She also understands the benefit of having mentors willing to take a chance. In her case that included Mark Barmak, who was her boss as the leader of Abbott's litigation department. He exposed her to top execs at the company and taught her to learn what they needed and give it to them.

She also has a firm understanding of where the industry has been and where it's going, citing that the biggest change she's seen over the course of her career has been the need for health economics outcomes studies and real world evidence to support the reimbursement of new products. "The question is no longer just about the efficacy and safety of a new compound, but also around whether the benefit of the therapy is justified by the cost to the system."

What does she see ahead in the biotech industry?

"The rise of chronic, undertreated diseases as the population ages means tougher and more complex science is required. At the same time, healthcare systems are challenged to treat more patients for longer. Biotech is becoming heavily relied upon to solve these challenges and demonstrate outcomes while facing overwhelmed and strained budgets and economies."

And AbbVie's role in that future?

"We must constantly push ourselves beyond new medicines, but to make more of a contribution to address the total health needs and experience of the patient. At the same time, we can't do it alone, partnerships are vital to making this happen."

For more:
AbbVie finally gets Shire, its low tax base and enough new drugs to protect its future
AbbVie takes 'leap into the unknown' with Google tie-up
AbbVie partners with Google's Calico on $1.5B R&D operation focused on aging

-- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter)

With additional reporting by Joseph Keenan.

Laura Schumacher, AbbVie
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