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When a doctor starts strategizing for the pharma industry

Published 25 August 2021 in Leadership • 5 min read

Having left his position as a hospital physician, Thierry Fumeaux is now involved in the strategic development of pharma start-ups. He continues to pursue his goal of helping patients, now contributing to bringing efficient treatments with a competitive advantage to the drug market.

When Thierry Fumeaux turned 55, he carried out his resolve – made ten years earlier – to reroute his career as a specialist in internal medicine and intensive care medicine.

Having observed colleagues in the twilight of their careers, he had anticipated he might need fresh challenges when he hit the same age, but he was keen to keep contributing to patients’ health. After parking his interest in running for a hospital CEO position, because it lacked the creative license he craved, he landed two part-time jobs at biotech start-ups. He recognizes that juggling two gigs is “a challenging situation”, given that part-time is, well, rarely that.

“My main challenge is to use my 20-something years’ experience as a hospital physician who has done an Executive MBA positively in the companies.”

And that translates into keeping the patient at the center of all efforts, he explains. “Many medical start-ups think they have a fantastic solution, but haven’t sufficiently defined the problem they want to solve. They have the key, but don’t know which door to open for the patient.”

Fumeaux says this is not the case for the companies he is working for, which have a well-defined, patient-targeted strategy. He wants to crack this for these start-ups during one of the most fulfilling phases in his professional life, and doing so “in an economically sustainable way so that all stakeholders are happy.” No small feat.

“You have to balance this interest in patient health with having a competitive edge. You might have an excellent drug for a disease, but if the market is overcrowded or if the drug isn’t different enough from the others, you can kiss goodbye to it.”

As Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at clinical-stage, pharmaceutical firm Kinarus AG, Fumeaux coordinates clinical trials for a drug that, notably, holds hope in the treatment of COVID-19, among other disease targets. A key element of this is about helping the patient and keeping her safe with a simple oral therapy.

There are many ways, he says, that drugs can be useful for treating COVID. Either you try to avoid the virus entering the body, or you try to kill the virus once it’s in the system, or you decrease the body’s reaction to it. You don’t want to do the latter too much, as the patient also needs to defend himself, but you have to strike a balance so as to avoid side effects.

At Kinarus, we have a drug that combines several of these mechanisms. And that’s the newness of it
Thierry Fumeaux

But COVID isn’t the only thing pharma is fighting: “Once you have a drug that can moderate inflammation in the body, there’s a long list of what you can do with it – including treating multiple diseases.”

Targeted medicine – early days for a very promising field

His second role is as CMO of Acthera Therapeutics, which is making headway in turning nanoparticles into the vehicle of choice to deliver drugs in a targeted way to patients. His hands-on hospital work has given him the emotional impetus to pursue this goal.

“In oncology, older patients sometimes cannot have treatment at all because of the adverse systemic effects of the dose required.” Nanoparticles can change this.
“When you administer a drug to fight a tumor in a patient, for instance, only a small amount of the drug goes to the tumor and the rest goes to other parts of the body, potentially causing ill effects.”

Nanotechnology has the ability to widen the therapeutic window, the space where you have enough of a positive effect and an insignificant negative one.

The potential of nanotechnologies is huge, and across many therapeutic fields. “As an example, they protect the messenger RNA, which if just injected into blood is destroyed immediately. It’s not new – it’s the technology behind the Moderna COVID vaccine – but we are working to enhance and improve it. The nano-particle is the vehicle, and the drug is the passenger – think of it like that.”

The Moderna COVID vaccine: An example of the potential of nanotechnologies

‘Feeling trapped is no good for me. I like to be in a moving field’ 

In between drawing a line under his career as a physician and becoming CMO of two start-ups with very different agendas, Fumeaux completed an EMBA, to give him a new managerial skillset to complement his formal medical training.

His two CMO roles require a lot of strategy skills and he has had to learn how to win the game of strategizing in the pharma industry. “You can have a fantastic strategy, but if you haven’t defined your target market well, or if people don’t think your product is interesting, or investors don’t find it attractive enough, then you remain alone with your ‘best solution in the world’,” he says.

Since completing his EMBA, Fumeaux feels like he’s in a “huge practical exercise”, lapping up the energy he receives from working in two start-ups.

“I’ve been quite adaptive all my life. Feeling trapped is no good for me. I like to be in a moving field. Yes, I have lost the safety net, but I have the support of my family and I am now very much experiencing working for fun.”

If he has the opportunity in the future to start a business, that might be the next challenge. For now he is quite content working in “coherent and cohesive” teams of five to seven people. “And although I am not a founder, I certainly feel like one,” Fumeaux says.


Thierry Fumeaux

Thierry Fumeaux

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at Kinarus AG anf at Acthera Therapeutics

Having left his position as a hospital physician, Thierry Fumeaux is now involved in the strategic development of pharma start-ups. He continues to pursue his goal of helping patients, now contributing to bringing efficient treatments with a competitive advantage to the drug market.


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