As a visionary within the realm of biotechnology, Carsten Thiel’s leadership, expertise, and professional experience has been parlayed into the successful launch of various high-profile medical products, such as Strensiq, Prolia, Vectibix and Neulasta. Not only has he spearheaded the market launch of many medical breakthrough therapies, but his direct involvement has improved the lives of thousands of patients. With medical ethics at the forefront of his decision making, Thiel’s convictions often called for the revamping of existing medical protocols, and overhauls that resulted in more cohesive patient care, and an all-encompassing provider-patient relationship.
Born in Berlin, Carsten Thiel was an exemplary student, and eventually studied chemistry in Marburg. Wanting to experience a traditional Anglo-Saxon educational system, Thiel later attended the University of Bristol in the southwest of the UK. Throughout this time, he studied organic chemistry, and later focused his specialization in biochemistry, after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree. To finalize his formal education, Carsten Thiel attended the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, where he completed his PhD in Molecular Biology.
Upon matriculation, and completion of his educational journey, Thiel entered the workforce within the innovative realm of pharmaceuticals through his first position at Hoffman La-Roche, a leading global forward thinking biotechnology firm. Initially, as a Communications and Product Manager, Carsten Thiel utilized his previously perfected scientific knowledge, innovative thinking, and interpersonal skills, in order to advance his status within the company. Soon thereafter, he was offered increased responsibility in the scientific marketing, and established key account management. Flourishing within this role, Thiel’s professional successes snowballed swiftly. Perfecting many roles within the biochemistry field, Thiel leveraged his vast experiences to provide unparalleled customer service, utilized his medical expertise to bring product from testing to viable markets, and maintained personal integrity within the pharmaceutical sector.
After only a few years within an international leadership position, Thiel’s successes landed him the responsibility of spearheading the launch of a new weight loss product called Xenical. Though he had amassed pertinent experience within the realm of marketing vitamins and fine chemicals to medical providers, this was his initial foray into marketing for the general masses. Thus, Thiel took great care in carefully constructing a realistic and credible communication to prescribers, protecting the product’s reputation via a more steady gaining of traction, rather than focusing primarily on larger promises, and a riskier swift market surge. In essence, he had a choice in regard to the type of launch that would truly benefit customers in the long-run, thus resulting in a steady incline for Xenical.
On a comparative note, historically, weight-loss products were often marketed with large-scale promises during their initial launches. Undoubtedly, this led to a huge increase in initial sales, with some clients desiring extensive results, though unwilling to adhere to a lifestyle change in conjunction with the weight loss product. Obviously, weight loss products work best in conjunction with an active lifestyle, and healthy diet. Thus, by making large-scale claims, including those that tout a product’s ability to counteract against a sedentary lifestyle, a product’s reputation may be tarnished even within the first few months, as disenchanted customers do not see the results they were promised.
Recognizing this risk as being potentially more detrimental than a slower launch, Carsten Thiel stayed away from lofty promises throughout the initial launch phase of Xenical. Instead, he focused on launching this product with the right stakeholders, and the particular subset of customers who would benefit most from the product, and were devoted to utilizing it in conjunction with healthy lifestyle choices. Though this method, devoted to a slower building of sales through the building of a positive reputation, may not have been the most popular option within the business of pharmaceuticals, Thiel utilized his expertise to convince Roche’s leadership to follow suit. As a result, the product sold over one billion Swiss Francs within its’ initial year in circulation, a number that would be considered a wild success by any standards.
At times, Carsten Thiel’s leadership role within the biochemistry industry required him to lead by example, make difficult choices for the betterment of patients, and focus on long-term success of a product, rather than an initial splash. With Vectibix, a new treatment for patients with colorectal cancer on the verge of marketplace approval, researchers discovered a biomarker that would allow physicians to determine whether the particular treatment would produce a likely positive result for patients, or essentially not be effective at all. Thiel challenged his team to think about the implication of this new evidence for the already completed launch campaign, because this could have meant for some individuals to experience likely no benefit from the new therapy. For these individuals, already living with colorectal cancer, this would not only potentially hurt their financial standing, but also provide a false hope, and subsequent let down. At the time, however, moving forward with the launch of the product would have been par for the course in oncology.
Carsten Thiel proposed an entirely alternative launch for this product, believing in the need to educate providers, customers, and all involved parties prior to accepting treatment via the new therapy. Thiel’s pitch, then, requested providers test each potential patient with the biomarker test, in order to determine efficacy rates prior to administering therapy, only recommending the therapy to patients who tested favorably. This method would obviously incur greater upfront costs, including the need to acquire a standardized testing method, ensuring this test was available for all practitioners, training physicians to utilize the testing methods, getting the tests paid for, and then finally, garnering only half of the revenues for the successfully utilized product.
This method, however, would allow for physicians to provide innovative care, being able to communicate efficacy with a patient prior to administration of a therapy, providing certain positive hope prior to starting treatment. Additionally, this method would allow researchers to garner further understanding of tumors, and because they would only be working with individuals who would respond to the treatment, garner specific scientific data and focus, rather than sifting through the pool of individuals who did not respond to the treatment for usable data. Finally, Thiel also recommended a tertiary long-term benefit of following this innovative patient-first launch of the product, lying in the trust this method would built within the medical community, and general population, yielding a positive reputation for the company, which would garner loyalty, trust, and long-term financial success of the company.
With Carsten Thiel spearheading this innovative launch, there were many who were on board with his conviction. Naturally, however, there were also individuals who were not keen on changing the existing structure of pharmacology, citing costs, required training, and limited initial revenue. For Thiel, he saw this as a pivotal moment within his career, and an opportunity to change the infrastructure to focus more on the patient. I chose to forge ahead with my convictions, breaking through the resistance. In the end, the results were phenomenal, and further confirmed that my method resulted in the best overall scenario for all involved. We became the market leader with this particular therapy, garnering respect from the medical community for taking a patient-centric launch approach. Not only were sales revolutionary, but the long-term trust gained by the company was priceless. Doing the right thing on the behalf of the patients set forth a new standard within the realm of oncology, and provided Thiel with a great sense of pride in his work.
Since the time of this example, which was over a decade ago, the practice of medicine has changed dramatically, partially as a result of the innovative thought process of leaders like Carsten Thiel. Now, it is standard practice for Oncologists to provide patients with a comprehensive workup of tests, narrowing down therapies that each individual would scientifically be most likely to respond to.
Throughout his time with Amgen, Thiel was faced with a similar situation, one that called upon his patient-first approach to medical marketing, and the pharmaceutical industry. With a comprehensive launch strategy for a new treatment for women suffering from bone loss and fractures, the entire approach had to be revised to provide the most effective results for the target patients. For roughly one in five of these patients, hospitalization, and even subsequent death, are a harrowingly reality as a result of hip fractures. Thus, Amgen had a transformative treatment ready to launch. After an initial few weeks, Thiel reviewed physician data, and realized that physicians were not initiating this treatment to their patients, who had stopped taking their medication, potentially because specialists had no feedback from GPs about their ongoing therapy and its challenges. Previously, insurers and specialists were not aware of the issues and shortcomings of existing therapies. By pivoting educational efforts to focus on a different patient subset, Thiel was able to provide treatment options to individuals who were previously not considered for his therapy and at high risk of fractures and disability. For example, a woman in her 60’s, who had previously experienced a fracture due to postmenopausal osteoporosis, and had discontinued her medication due to side effects, would have been previously overlooked by the system. Now, with Thiel’s assistance and leadership, the same patient’s medical provider could revisit the patient’s situation, and provide an alternative solution that would address her health in a more effective manner. By adapting his approach to marketing this particular product, Thiel was able to parlay the medical benefits of the therapy for a particular subset of patients that would most effectively benefit from the therapy. In this case, remaining humble, and recognizing that a situation was ineffective, allowed Thiel and his team to change their approach. As a result, this product is now the leader in osteoporosis care, providing countless patients with an effective medical solution to their ongoing needs.
In another humbling experience, Thiel proved that in order to be medically successful, sometimes, empathy and compassion play a large role in the effective launch, and administration of a therapy. In 2015, Thiel’s life changing experience began after his company launched a product that would provide therapy for hypophosphatasia, a genetic degenerative bone disease that begins manifesting itself in utero. Essentially, babies born with this particular disease do not have proper bones, developed no functional ribcage, and therefore, cannot breathe without venilation support. Thiel’s company acquired a breakthrough treatment for this condition, in the form an injection that needs to be administered three to six times per week.
As the success of this innovative treatment was directly correlated to patient compliance, it was crucial for all injections to be successfully completed in a timely fashion, and vastly beneficial to begin this treatment as early as possible. Thus, this meant introducing this treatment to many young people, and committing to multiple injections for a population notoriously needle-phobic. With Thiel’s desire to help people, these barriers had to be overcome in order for the treatment to be successful. Thus, he began exploring alternative methods to ensure that all patients would receive the treatment in a successful manner.
In the case of a 7 year old boy who was unwilling to partake in the treatment, due to a strong needle phobia, Thiel´s team introduced an innovative psychological concept to assist the young patient on a subconscious level. Utilizing the “buddy concept”, the nurse team brought in another patient, a younger girl who was actually visiting the family, and provided the treatment to the younger girl in the boy’s presence. Seeing the younger girl not only tolerating the treatment, but thriving throughout the process and being unabashedly brave elicited a similar response in the boy. In the traditional “if she can do it, I can do it” fashion, the boy was able to parlay his newly found confidence into a successful initial treatment, overcoming his biggest barrier. This approach had lasting effects on Thiel, who recognized the importance of the human factor within medicine, and the importance of treating each individual in a caring manner, in order to provide the best outcome, in conjunction with sound medical treatment.
In addition to creatively and humanely resolving the young patients’ reservations, Carsten Thiel and his team also implemented changes to allow patients to maintain their therapy in the comfort of their own homes, normalizing the process even further through the use of technology. With a direct link for therapy replenishment available via a WiFi connection, Thiel’s team innovated the process for patients, as well as their home care providers, and allowed all parties involved to lead a daily life, without the need for lengthy travel to overtake their time. This combination of innovative technology, ethical practices, and biotechnol
ogy at its’ finest resulted in a remarkable product, patient experience, and forward movement within the medical field.
With leaders like Thiel at the helm of pharmaceutical companies, the teams of professionals were able to successfully create a symbiotic relationship between business success, patient satisfaction, and medical ethics. As a result of these various groundbreaking experiences, Thiel learned quickly to rely on his instincts, ethics, and convictions, utilizing a patient-first approach to guide his decision making. His vast experiences have resonated with him, clearly evident in his approach to leadership.
As medicine and biochemistry continue to advance, and technology continues to play a larger role in the realm of medical care, it is important to remember the human element. After all, the core of medicine lies in bettering the lives of people. With such grounded and focused leaders like Carsten Thiel, the future of patients everywhere is safe and sound.