GSK’s Claus Jepsen gives advice from a two-decade career

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GSK’s Claus Jepsen has mentored many talented people during a two-decade career, but who is his guiding star?


What do you do?

I am the Global Commercial Lead for Benlysta (belimumab) – a systemic lupus medicine. My team is responsible for establishing a global commercial strategy for local implementation. A critical part of this is harnessing the key learnings and best practice we collect, ensuring that we continue supporting patients, living with lupus worldwide, to the highest standard possible.


How long have you been in pharma?

I started working in the industry as a national sales manager in Denmark over 20 years ago. During my last 13 years at GSK, I have had the opportunity to work on three different continents in several countries – from Denmark to Vietnam to the US – and across a range of therapeutic areas including neurosciences, respiratory and now immuno-inflammation.


What are your career highs and milestones?

I am proud to be part of an organisation that is committed to developing innovative new medicines and making them as accessible as possible, so more patients can benefit, no matter where they live in the world. A great example of this is in my current role – there is currently no other approved medicine for lupus, so we have a unique opportunity with Benlysta to help meet an unmet need for patients.


What drives you?

I’m motivated to solve difficult problems in a way that will bring real benefit to patients. I’m a firm believer that what we do is only of real value when it leads to better patient outcomes – everything else is just stepping stones in between. I’m also passionate about nurturing and developing talent. I love to coach and mentor my colleagues and was incredibly proud to develop a candidate to succeed me as General Manager in Vietnam.


What’s the best piece of careers advice you’ve ever been given?

Activate the power of the organisation and learn from the experience of others. There is an endless amount of knowledge and resource at our fingertips within GSK, whether learning from colleagues or via training, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use this to our advantage.


How do you turn the challenges you face into opportunities?

Working in such a highly-regulated industry we face continuous challenges, particularly in relation to how we engage with healthcare professionals, which is increasingly attracting scrutiny from governments and regulators. At GSK, we’ve now evolved our commercial operating model in a way that we believe will help us better meet the needs of healthcare professionals and patients.


What changes have you made?

Firstly, we’ve removed any perceived conflict of interest between GSK and prescribers by stopping payments to external healthcare professionals, for speaking on our behalf about our prescription medicines. Secondly, we are investing in new digital ways of engaging with healthcare professionals to maximise our customer experience and build trust – interacting when, how and where they want it.


What do you see as the current state of the pharma industry?

The industry has become more complex over the past few years and, therefore, to successfully bring medicines to market, we need to be nimble and efficient, continually reviewing and adapting our ways of working to ensure we meet the changing expectations of our customers and society as a whole. The changes to our operating model have been challenging to introduce, but they’re now fully embedded globally and there are strong indications that our new patient and healthcare professional-centric approach is working well.


What advice would you give to a person entering the pharma sales industry now?

Be clear on why you want to enter the industry and never lose sight of that. For me, the guiding star will always be the patient and the knowledge that what we are doing is making a real difference to each individual.


What does the future hold for GSK and your role within it?

Our pipeline in immuno-inflammation is very promising. In lupus, we are currently progressing with the development of a subcutaneous formulation of Benlysta which, if approved, will provide an alternative treatment approach for some patients. Outside lupus, we also have a broad portfolio of innovative immune-modulating therapies in clinical development across a range of diseases, focused on trying to alter the course of disease and induce sustainable remission for patients.


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