Sylvie Gregoire - Women in Biotech 2012

Sylvie Gregoire
Company: Shire ($SHPG), Human Genetic Therapies
Title: President
Industry experience: 20+ years
Focus: Genetic therapies for rare diseases

Sylvie Gregoire's work has taken her around the globe and into a range of jobs covering many aspects of biopharma. And the long, winding trail from clinical research to manufacturing, regulatory and more led her to the helm of a fast-growing division of Shire, one of the most widely respected companies in the industry.

After getting her doctorate in pharmacy, followed by graduate work, it was natural to progress into clinical research. There was a lengthy stint in research with Merck ($MRK), which led to a regulatory affairs position in Brussels. Then she moved to Biogen Idec ($BIIB), first at the Paris office and then at headquarters in Boston, where she continued to gain experience. She went on to work with Tillman Gerngross as CEO of GlycoFi, which Merck snapped up for $400 million in 2006. And after a short stint as executive chairwoman at the small cap company IDM Pharma, she made the leap to Shire to run the Human Genetic Therapies division based in Lexington, MA.

It was a critical time for Shire. The move in 2007 came just two years after the company had acquired TKT to set up the division on rare genetic diseases. David Pendergast stepped aside after the transition was complete, and Gregoire found herself tasked with a mission to swiftly grow the division, which was just launching its second product, Elaprase.

In many ways, her timing--and Shire's--couldn't have been better. At the time, developing new therapies for rare genetic diseases was considered a growth area. But in a very short time span, rare diseases would become one of the hottest fields in the industry, attracting big players like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Sanofi ($SNY), which bought the rival Genzyme.

"When I arrived it was clear that there was a lot that could be done," Gregoire says. But they needed more investment in production capacity, and Shire footed the bill for that as well as the $521 million buyout of Germany's Jerini, gaining a late-stage orphan drug, Firazyr for hereditary angioedema, which the FDA approved in the summer of 2011.

The focus has been on fast growth every step of the way. Just months after Gregoire took the reins at HGT, she set out with a plan to double the sales contribution of the division from 15% to 30% of Shire's revenue by 2015. But she didn't have to wait that long.

The division has grown from $330 million in revenue to $1.4 billion in 5 years. Its staff has swelled into the thousands and operations, in 8 countries in 2007, have now extended into 29 countries. Shire HGT has continued to expand production with new facilities in Lexington, MA, gaining regulatory approval earlier this year that cleared the way to beef up production of the Gaucher disease drug VPRIV, an enzyme replacement therapy, as well as Replagal for Fabry disease. Sales of both products, along with sales of Elaprase, grew markedly in 2011. Firazyr, which is already available in Europe, is now expected to help grow revenue in the U.S.

More product deals followed the Jerini buyout, with a decision late last year to tie up with Atlas Venture on financing rare disease drug developers. There's also significant work under way to treat Sanfilippo syndrome and other ailments, as HGT works on a pipeline of experimental therapies. And just days ago HGT announced a discovery deal with Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine, or TIGEM, that will explore new therapies for 13 rare diseases.

Gregoire's success at HGT has been an integral part of the Shire success story. Shire CEO Angus Russell has been credited with creating a case study in growing and diversifying a global business, and he's quick to credit the success in rare diseases as a key part of the company's transformation. After building on the company's success with ADHD drugs, Shire also recently added a new division on regenerative medicine on the West Coast, planting the flag in another region of the world as it added on a new revenue generator.

About a year ago Gregoire began to divide her time between an office in Paris, facilities in Nyon, Switzerland, and the Lexington, MA, headquarters. But what would be unworkable at many companies comes easily at a place like Shire, where the executive team and operating units are scattered around the globe and pride themselves on their ability to shift from France to corporate headquarters in Ireland, offices in London and East and West Coast facilities in the U.S.

"Living and working in multiple countries gives you a perspective that is incredibly valuable for running a business," Gregoire says. And that's particularly true for a biotech company working on a pipeline of experimental therapies and growing sales around the world.

It's helped to have important mentors along the way, starting with a university professor who encouraged her to leave her native Canada and get her doctorate in pharmacy in the U.S., one of a handful of Canadian pioneers who took that route into research. Elizabeth Stoner, a clinical research executive and prostate cancer expert at Merck, was also a role model with a "fantastic management style." And then there was Biogen Idec, a company that was keen on giving its up-and-coming staffers a shot at various positions so they could develop a range of management skills. She moved from regulatory to manufacturing and then business development. "There were all kinds of opportunity."

That experience has helped shape her own management style. And looking back to the early years when she was exploring every facet of the business, she's quick to encourage the younger people she talks to to look at their first job as a first step in a journey that can lead to many interesting experiences.

"If you're interested in the healthcare field and the pharma industry--bringing drugs to patients, and that's the purpose of this industry--then any entry point is worth looking at," Gregoire says.

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

Sylvie Gregoire - Women in Biotech 2012

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