Sue Dillon, Janssen

Sue Dillon
Opening up minds

Company: Janssen (J&J)
Title: Global Therapeutic Area Head, Immunology

Years ago, as a research team leader at the old SmithKline Beecham, Sue Dillon came across an outside company that had exactly the kind of skills and tools she was looking for and needed badly. This was back before the pharmas had made a mantra about collaborations, and while she knew what she wanted, she didn't know exactly how to go about getting it done.

"It was very complementary, but I had no experience in proposing an external collaboration," recalls Dillon. "It was quite revolutionary back then. But my boss and mentor supported the idea, and made sure I understood who I needed to talk to and what I needed to do to paint the picture and sell why this was a good idea."

"It was funded and was a huge success over many years," she adds, "but I couldn't have done that without that person basically whispering in my ear, urging me to keep going."

Now, as the global therapeutic head for immunology at J&J's ($JNJ) research arm Janssen, that's her role. And there is no end of opportunities. There are 250 people in Dillon's R&D group dedicated to immunology, which spans early research and discovery and development and life-cycle management.

"From my own experience in my own company, I think that there are many women that get to a certain level with huge potential, but they don't go further," says Dillon, who came to J&J through the Centocor buyout in 1999. "Many women may not want to go to higher roles or may not think they can. I feel that's where we can make the biggest impact. Not only for women, for candidates in general at that mid-stage career level. I feel that there are many more people who would be great leaders but don't make it for reasons we can impact.

"Women tend to think they can't go further when in fact they can. Sometimes it's a question of opening up their minds to that. Mentoring could give them the confidence. I think that mentoring women and men at that stage of their career can be very, very powerful, get them in touch with what they want to do and what their strengths are."

Dillon says the complexity of the human immune system, and the never-ending challenges involved in devising better treatments for ailments like rheumatoid arthritis triggered by its malfunctions, always requires her best game.

"It's fascinating how complex the regulation of the immune system is, and how the immune system is so profoundly important in so many different diseases," says Dillon. And that keeps her focused on the future.

"We set the bar on what we are trying to achieve very high. In order to be successful in the next 10 years, we have to deliver more than the current drugs do. That's true in every field. How that translates in rheumatoid arthritis drugs, whether biologics or orals, we need to have deeper remissions in patients. Even with biologics out there the percentage of people with durable remissions is extremely low. It could be as low as 5% and could go as high as 20%. The majority are incomplete on efficacy and durability." New approaches with different targets and treatments should change that.

"I never stop," she adds. "I love what I do. It's absolutely the best job in the world, and I'm privileged to work with the people I work with. It's a hugely talented and amazing team. The folks who run our clinical development group, the research team, is second to none. It's a privilege and an enormous amount of fun. There's always a learning curve, always something new, exciting and invigorating."

For more:
Janssen's Remicade attacks inflammation to beat depression
J&J, GSK waltz into PhIII trials for rheumatoid arthritis contender
Janssen inks $800M discovery deal for Molecular Partners' small protein tech
J&J's Centocor buys RespiVert

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

Sue Dillon, Janssen
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