Charles Holmes and Ignacio Tuduri on the Allergan AbbVie vision for the future – post-merger
Aleksandra Jones | | Interview
In May 2020 Allergan merged with AbbVie, the global research-based biopharmaceutical company. We caught up with Charles Holmes, Associate Vice President, Head of Global Marketing, Eyecare at Allergan, who is based in the UK, and Ignacio Tuduri, Vice President, Global Marketing at AbbVie, based in Chicago, Illinois, USA, to ask about the integration, their experience in the field, addressing unmet needs in ophthalmology, and current and future projects.
Tell me about the recent AbbVie-Allergan merger…
Ignacio Tuduri: The merger has given us an opportunity to invest in science in the long term, and look for new solutions in areas where unmet medical needs still exist. It allows us to diversify our business and expand our global footprint in many areas: ophthalmology, immunology, hematologic oncology, and neuroscience. Our R&D funding capacity will be increased, and Allergan’s heritage in eye care means that we are expecting to be bringing new “firsts” to this market. We’re very happy about how the integration has gone – it was a seamless process and a great success.
How are you hoping to address unmet needs in ophthalmology?
Ignacio: We have a busy pipeline of transformative solutions for different areas of eye care: glaucoma, retina, dry eye... We are focusing on launching products that actually fulfil existing needs for patients.
Charles Holmes: Indeed! Patient burden in retinal conditions, such as DME, is very significant, with patients having to travel regularly for intravitreal injections. Now, in a pandemic, with social distancing requirements and a number of lockdowns limiting appointments, there is a tremendous number of patients waiting for a limited number of eye care specialists.
If you look at glaucoma, patients are still battling the same challenges of topical medications they encountered 30 years ago, when I entered the ophthalmic industry; people struggle with red eyes, ocular surface issues; they don’t want to carry on applying their eye drops.
And that is why our future solutions have to be truly transformative. We’re aiming to fix universal issues that ophthalmology patients have faced for decades.
How are you planning to succeed?
Charles: Allergan has been in ophthalmology for around 70 years and has built amazing relationships, earned physicians’ trust, and brought many great products to market. AbbVie is a bigger company, with more scientists and more R&D capabilities. We have new assets available in the AbbVie cupboard that could potentially be repurposed for ophthalmology.
Our focus on eye care – preventing vision impairment and blindness – won’t change, but we are focusing even more on addressing problems arising from the world’s population growing and aging, as well as issues to do with increased screen use, time spent in air-conditioned environments, and less time spent outdoors. These challenges are going to be even more widespread in the post-pandemic reality. And we are not solely focused on the established markets; we include emerging economies in our plans and recognize common themes and specific challenges in different parts of the world.
What current or upcoming projects are you working on?
Charles: I’d like to talk about an important social impact program called Keep Sight. We have been working in partnership with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and Sightsavers to prevent sight loss – predominantly from glaucoma – around the world, through training healthcare professionals and sustaining and reinforcing screening systems.
Working with Sightsavers, we have already been able to screen 12,000 people out of a goal of 35,000. Because of COVID-19, it is difficult for patients to visit screening centers, so attaining this number has been a big achievement for Keep Sight. We are also looking at clinic optimization in developing countries; we know that they are overburdened with patients, so we are working with healthcare professionals on creating and implementing systems that will be able to help more people be seen.
How did each of you get into ophthalmology?
Charles: This question takes me back to when I was a young teenager, aged 12 or 13. My grandfather had diabetes and suffered from DME. At that time I had no clear idea of what diabetes meant, but I noticed that the biggest issue for my grandfather was its impact on his vision. Later, I worked in a hospital and when I saw patients coming into the ER with eye conditions, it always made me very nervous – I realized how vital vision was.
These feelings were at the back of my mind when I landed a job at Alcon, where I spent 17 years working in the ophthalmic space, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The understanding of how to save people’s sight – be it with antibiotics for corneal diseases, IOLs for cataract patients, or surgical solutions for glaucoma – has been a revelation. I then moved to Bayer and spent a further 10 years focusing primarily on retina, and I recently joined Allergan to be able to work on all aspects of ophthalmology. My three jobs in 30 years have all been in ophthalmology, and it has been a labor of love. I am very passionate about what I do.
Ignacio: I am trained physician, specialized in neurology. I spent a few years working in a hospital with focus on Parkinson’s disease and moving disorders, before moving to industry – first on the medical side, and then on the commercial side of the business. My neurology background has really helped me get to grips with ophthalmology quickly. It’s been really exciting to see what impact Allergan has made in ophthalmic communities – and it makes me very proud to be part of its endeavors.
What is your leadership style?
Ignacio: My motto is: “Surround yourself with experts,” and there is certainly no shortage of excellent, highly-skilled specialists working alongside me. I believe leaders have to be very transparent, with communication channels around them wide open. I start from a deep reflection, but keep things real – I believe in a strong connection between strategy and execution.
We want our employees to really enjoy the professional atmosphere – it helps them develop and grow. We need our colleagues to enjoy what they do while working as hard as they do.
Charles: One common thing that I’ve noticed coming from legacy Allergan to the newly merged company is patient centricity. For the leadership at Allergan patients have always come first, regardless of anything else – and Ignacio absolutely shares this mindset that whatever we do, it has to be right for the patient. In a business like ours, it is crucial. In fact, it is the only way forward.
How can you help physicians deal with post-pandemic backlogs?
Charles: The best thing we can do as a company is to continue to provide products that physicians need for their patients; fortunately, we haven’t suffered any shortages, outages or supply chain problems. We are now able to interact one-on-one with our customers, ensuring that we help them keep clinics working efficiently. We will continue to work with healthcare professionals to ensure that patients around the world receive the right treatment for them, saving their vision and livelihoods.