Gilead's Meyers on making deals and finding unmet patient needs

Without naming specific companies, James Meyers, Gilead Sciences' new EVP of worldwide commercial operations, said that the primary criteria for an acquisition is that it needs to address an unmet medical need.

James Meyers, Gilead Sciences' new EVP of worldwide commercial operations, has watched the drugmaker's commercial organization grow from a 19-person sales force selling HIV medicines to a 2,300-person global team behind the world's most successful drug launch.

This month the drugmaker promoted Meyers to EVP of worldwide commercial operations. He has also been named an officer and a member of the senior leadership team.

Meyers joined Gilead Sciences as one of the founding members of its commercial organization in 1996, as a regional sales director. At the time, Gilead was a 200-staff biopharmaceutical company based in Foster City, California, that few people outside of San Francisco knew about. Meyers was the company's third commercial employee and the first to be based outside Foster City, in New York.

See also: The commercial carousel continues to spin: Gilead's head of commercial departs

“I'd been in the pharmaceutical industry for about eight years with larger, well-established East Coast companies, and what attracted me about Gilead was the chance to create a commercial organization from scratch,” he recalled. “The first time most of our customers heard about Gilead was through that initial team that we hired when I came onboard. That's something you don't really get to do if you're joining a Johnson & Johnson or Merck.”

When Meyers joined the company, it had a 19-person sales organization focused on HIV therapies. Meyers now manages more than 2,300 employees in a company that specializes in four therapeutic areas — HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and pulmonary arterial hypertension.

“Everything we do today, we had to learn sometimes the hard way and evolve, adapt, and get better at it,” said Meyers.

See also: Competition may threaten Gilead as market leader

When the company expanded its business to include cardiovascular therapies in the mid-2000s, he helped create operational systems for commercial contracting and recording rebates and chargebacks from payers, which were previously not required in the HIV market.

“Control the controllable,” said Meyers. “Economic conditions, competitors, and prices may change, but we need to make sure we're doing the fundamentals correctly, that we're built for good and bad times.”

Now Gilead is one of the most well-known drugmakers in the world, reporting $38.8 billion in revenue in 2015, up 68.3% for the year thanks to the runaway success of its hepatitis-C therapies Sovaldi and Harvoni.

In the last twelve months, Gilead Sciences has launched five products — HIV drugs Genvoya, Odefsey, and Descovy; hepatitis C medication Epclusa; and Vemlidy for the treatment of hepatitis B. Meyers said the company is planning the launch of another hepatitis C treatment, which has an FDA decision date in 2017. The experimental drug is a triple-combination regimen of sofosbuvir, velpatasvir, and voxilaprevir for patients who failed treatment with a direct acting antiviral.

The experience Gilead got from marketing Sovaldi, which launched in late 2013, has allowed the company to reach “an entirely different level of partnership with the major payers in the United States” that can help it advance in other markets such as oncology, he said. Gilead markets Zydelig, which is used to treat certain hematological malignancies.

See also: As predicted, Gilead strikes hep.-C pact with CVS

Meyers hopes to tackle the challenge of medication access, as he now manages commercial operations in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

When asked about whether Gilead plans to make any acquisitions soon, he replied, “There could be.”

Without naming specific companies, he said that the primary criteria for an acquisition is that it needs to address an unmet medical need. That's how Sovaldi became part of the Gilead portfolio. Gilead acquired Pharmasset in 2011 for $11 billion.

“We would like to get novel products and push the science and the field forward,” said Meyers. “So our particular interest will be in companies or assets that have those attributes.”

At the end of the day, he said his role is staying in tune with how decisions made at the corporate level impact patients. And that's what motivated him to enter the pharmaceutical industry.

“It's different from selling Pringles and peanut butter,” he said. “It's more substantive and something I enjoy, although I do like Pringles.”

This story has been updated.

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