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Profile: Dr. Deborah Dunsire, Millennium Pharmaceuticals CEO

Home/Profile: Dr. Deborah Dunsire, Millennium Pharmaceuticals CEO

Profile: Dr. Deborah Dunsire, Millennium Pharmaceuticals CEO

I have met Dr. Dunsire several times.  She is an incredibly impressive woman!  Tall, elegant, uber- intelligent–yet personable and approachable.

I first met Dr. Dunsire at a reception for multiple myeloma patients who had agreed to volunteer to become members of a new patient advisory board Millennium Pharmaceuticals was starting two years ago.

As she “worked the room,” I noticed something important about her:  She listened.

I will never forget the next time I ran into her–literally.  It was at ASH in New Orleans, December of 2009.  I was taking notes during a poster session which featured a new, experimental drug being developed by Millennium.

I noticed Dr. Dunsire out of the corner of my left eye, as she spoke with a small group of researchers and myeloma docs.  I turned back to continue working, only to hear “Hello Pat!  How are you?”  from behind.  It was–you guessed it–Dr. Dunsire.  There was no way she could have seen my name badge, and I didn’t know anyone from the group she was with. 

I have trouble remembering my own name, let alone someone I met six months earlier.  Do you think that left an impression?  You bet!

I ran a link to an article about Dr. Dunsire earlier today on Myeloma News.com.  It was short and didn’t do her justice–so I found this story on Fierce Biotech.com, proclaiming her one of the top 10 women in biotech.

I believe it!  If she ran, Dr. Dunsire would get my vote for President of the United States! 

Deborah Dunsire – Top 10 Women in Biotech
August 30, 2010 — By John Carroll

Deb Dunsire
Name: Deborah Dunsire
Current Company: Millennium, the Takeda Oncology Company
Title: President and CEO

Profile: Deborah Dunsire’s life has been a long and successful journey to the top of the biotech industry. The Africa-born daughter of Scottish parents grew up to become a doctor and eventually chief of Novartis’ North American oncology business, where she turned her passion for healing into a career centered on a string of major cancer drug launches. And when Millennium went looking for a new CEO, it found just what it was looking for in Dunsire, who quickly revived flagging sales of Velcade as she started to remake the company’s pipeline.

Dunsire’s success at Millennium proved a boon to investors, who picked up a big premium when Takeda bought out the company for $8.8 billion. And she’s stayed on, still pushing to be the best there is in the world of oncology; still striving to do well in business by doing well for cancer patients. Dunsire likes to say that excellence is a habit. Routine success has become her habitual reward.

1. What do you think has contributed to your success in this industry?

The most important factor has been working with great people me for them of them for me and learning from all of them! My medical training is a big help but there is no real course that trains you in biotech drug discovery and development–it’s an apprenticeship, so learn from everyone! I’ve also benefited from being willing to step outside my comfort zone and risk failing by trying new things–moving out of clinical into commercial roles, moving internationally, and taking on feedback. I love learning and growing and this industry demands a lot of that! I feel I have also been blessed to work on great medicines that turned out to bring radical improvement to patients. Not everybody gets that experience, no matter how good they are.

2. What advice would you give to women just starting out in biotech?

Be passionate about your work and the fact that through the biotech work we do we can change outcomes in human health. Always focus on how you can advance progress to that goal through your work, and look for ways to innovate to make your company faster and more effective. Get broad exposure to as many of the major strategic areas for a biotech as possible, including discovery, development, commercialization and financing. Never lose sight of the fact that real progress is made through deep understanding of emerging science. No matter what your role in a biotech, you must be deeply interested in the quality and focus of the science in the enterprise. Be optimistic but grounded–there will be many disappointments, but learn from failure and rise up and do it better.

Fierce Biotech.com is primarily an investment site.  But they run some in-depth stories about players in the drug and biotech industries.  Here is a link to their home page:  Free Daily Biotech Industry Newsletter.

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat