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When conducting interviews my natural curiosity can result in a surplus of interesting content that often doesn’t fit with the overall theme of the final published article. When situations like these happen, I often proactively create articles for an online section called — From The Cutting Room Floor. One of my favorite examples of a cutting room floor article being able to provide valuable insight came from an interview with George Golumbeski, Ph.D., SVP of business development at Celgene. During the conversation I asked how a formally trained scientist moved into the area of business development. While his response of it being “one of the best business decisions he ever made” was fascinating, it wasn’t a fit with the overall M&A theme of the July 2015 cover story — even as a sidebar.
In the September 2016 issue of Life Science Leader magazine, I wrote a three-part article involving three executives from GSK. Similar to other interviews, these executives were very conversational, resulting in the creation of five additional (soon to be available) From The Cutting Room Floor articles. However, during the layout of the September 2016 issue, we encountered a rare situation. Two original sidebars, fully intended to be included in the final article involving Luc Debruyne, president of GSK’s global vaccines business, just couldn’t be squeezed into the issue due to space constraints. So instead of making these sidebars cutting room floor content, we decided to include them as part of this blog.
The Value Of Employee Ambassadors
When Luc Debruyne was appointed president of GSK’s global vaccine business in 2013, he was immediately impressed by one particular program – the ambassador program for the Rotarix team which manufactures the live oral-suspension rotavirus vaccine. Every year, people on the manufacturing shop floor can submit to be selected as an ambassador for the vaccine production unit. About 10 people are selected to participate in a Gavi (a global Vaccine Alliance) mission in Africa. “They visit a village where GSK has a vaccination program with the vaccine that they are involved in producing,” Debruyne explains. “When they come back, they explain to the rest of the team how the number of doses produced translates into the number of babies protected. They even have a map to show which village they helped to protect.” Debruyne believes these types of initiatives provide GSK employees with a real sense of purpose. His hope is to expand the ambassador program to every GSK vaccine manufacturing unit. The cost of putting 10 people on a plane to travel to a country to see the impact they are having is a small price to pay compared to the value gained from such an experience. “Bringing back insights and sharing with the rest of the team creates energy,” Debruyne affirms. “These ambassadors help their colleagues realize that they aren’t producing vaccines, but they are helping protect the world’s children and the elderly, and what is more important than that?”
Do You Think Beyond Your Manufacturing And Quality Processes?
“When you think about vaccines, to truly make a difference requires having the end in mind,” says Debruyne. “While we continue to invest in platforms that will someday change the way vaccines are made, today the process of getting vaccines to where they are needed still requires cold chain transportation.” While safe vaccination involves having skilled people who can administer, in the developing world it’s not all that straightforward. “There is so much more we can do to ensure safe vaccination.” According to Debruyne, for a GSK vaccine to be released from a factory it will have passed 600 different quality tests. “We put a lot of effort to produce and ship the vaccine in a safe and high-quality way. Yet often in the developing world, vaccines end up being stored in refrigerators that do not operate correctly,” he laments. “We need to redefine what it means to supply aid when it involves temperature-sensitive medications. We shouldn’t just give people a fridge, but teach them how to operate it, as well as the importance of keeping it in good working order, so vaccines aren’t being stored improperly or adding to disease problems.”
Unlike pharmaceutical R&D, in vaccines about 40 percent of profits are put back into improving the robustness of the manufacturing process. This is because many of the vaccines being used today were developed with nearly 30-year-old technology,” he explains. While he believes vaccine manufacturers need to continuously invest in upgrading shop-floor technologies to improve manufacturing processes that ensure reliable supply, he advocates that all vaccine manufacturers should consider putting some of that funding toward proper training of vaccine administrators that reside at the very end of the cold chain. “What good are 600 internal quality checks if at the end your vaccine is being stored in refrigerator that doesn’t work?” he asks.