Developing a medicine to treat a life-threatening disease and bringing it to the market remains the ultimate dream for many scientists. This story became reality for the medicine caplacizumab. Bio-engineer Dr. Tinneke Denayer and her team played a crucial role in this achievement. They developed the caplacizumab medicine to treat patients with the life-threatening blood-clotting disorder aTTP (acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura). This medicine was recently also launched on its first market. To further support her practical experience with the relevant theoretical knowledge, Tinneke took the Executive Development Programme at Vlerick Business School. She finished the programme at the end of last year.
FROM SCIENTIST TO COMMERCIAL LAUNCH LEADER FOR CHINA & EMERGING MARKETS
“In 2001, Ablynx was founded as a small biotech company in Ghent. Over the years, we evolved autonomously and exponentially, and became one of the most important biotech companies in Europe. On 18 May 2018, following an acquisition, we became part of Sanofi, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. On 1 October 2018, we launched our lead Nanobody product, caplacizumab, on the German market. This was an exceptional milestone, as it was the first time ever that a Nanobody product was commercially launched.
I joined Ablynx ten years ago as a scientist in the Pharmacology R&D department. Around three years ago, I transitioned to the caplacizumab commercial team as the Senior Project Leader for caplacizumab. In this position I was leading a cross-functional team that was responsible for the pre-launch development activities: all the steps that need to be undertaken prior to launch and to get a product to the patients. At that time our main focus was the EU, US and Japan. Caplacizumab is now launched on the German market, and soon other markets in the EU and as well as the US will follow. Furthermore, leveraging on the global footprint of Sanofi, we want to bring caplacizumab on the market in other parts of the world, such as China and the emerging markets (including Eurasia, Middle East, Latin America and Russia). For these latter markets, I was recently appointed as commercial launch leader within Sanofi.
In previous roles, I had already gained some hands-on leadership experience and followed a number of project management and strategy courses. As my business insights at that time were mainly based on an on-the-job learning experience, I wanted to further complement my knowledge and the Executive Development Programme at Vlerick seemed like a perfect fit for this. The programme overview was very comprehensive with a good balance in the modules.”
EYE-OPENER AND CONFIRMATION
“Was my first impression correct? Absolutely! The module about general management was a good refresher course. The one on strategy proved to be a real eye-opener, and at the same time it was also encouraging to get confirmation of my way of working. Every module was supported by a theoretical package, case studies and guest speakers invited from the industry, making it all very tangible and practice-oriented right from the start. The quality of the finance module was very good, and was further supplemented with a real-world business simulation exercise.
If I would need to highlight another module, it would be New Business Development, which I followed as my EDP elective. We were taken stepwise through all phases of a business plan, from development to validation up to implementation, supported by theory, work tools, case studies and the inspiring testimonies of entrepreneurs. On top of that, we were called for action ourselves and had to prepare a specific business case and pitch it. After the module, we received a take-home folder with all the relevant business tools, a very handy overview which I consult regularly.”
AN INSPIRING NETWORK
“It is very inspiring to listen to the career paths of your fellow students. Our EDP group was diverse, with people from different sectors of industry and government, as well as entrepreneurs. I had the opportunity to be surrounded by three people from the same sector as mine. Together we formed a sounding board: a sub-group in which you brainstorm about each other’s in-company project. Everyone has to develop their own project over the course of the programme, alongside the modules, and deliver a final presentation at the end. Together we formed a dynamic and tight group of great people − and even now we are still in contact.”
INTENSIVE, BUT PRODUCTIVE
“You should not underestimate this programme. It is quite a challenge to have this combined with your day-to-day job. It is essential to prepare thoroughly before each module to achieve an optimal output. But what you get back in return is so worth it: the new constructive business insights flavoured with a lot of enthusiasm, positive vibes and a new network. I envision this EDP as a building block for the rest of my career.”