July 14, 2008
Headliner: Vertex's Craig Millian
Craig Millian left Pfizer, where he was the US commercial lead for Lipitor, for Vertex Pharmaceuticals in January 2006. It was a big leap from marketing the industry's biggest drug ever to signing on with an up-and-coming biotech that doesn't yet have a drug on the market, but Millian wanted to be part of building and integrating a commercial model to support the company's “outstanding” pipeline.
“Most companies that have products have established ways of doing things and certain assumptions,” he says. “Vertex didn't want to emulate established commercial models—it wanted to design a model that complements its vision and culture and that's customized to market opportunities.”
In June, Vertex sold the rights to future royalties for HIV treatment Lexiva to GlaxoSmithKline, which co-developed the drug with Vertex, and Millian notes that cash allows increased investment opportunity. Vertex is banking heavily on hepatitis C treatment telaprevir, currently in phase III development.
Vertex leads the global development plan for telaprevir and holds development and marketing rights in North America. Johnson & Johnson and Vertex will collaborate on development and commercialization of telaprevir outside the US. Mitsubishi Pharma holds development and commercialization rights to telaprevir in Japan and certain Far East countries. “There is no doubt in our mind that we're going to take [telaprevir] to market ourselves in the US,” Millian says. “There's no reason we can't be hugely successful in launching this ourselves in the US and competing effectively. The goal is to develop a sustainable leadership role in hepatitis C.”
Millian is proud of the team he's assembled and of the progress they've made in building and integrating commercial capability.
“We've done a good job uncovering customer insights and establishing strong relationships with key stake holders in hepatitis C,” he says. “We're integrating the commercial piece into the overall fabric of Vertex. The company has been research oriented. We had to build internal understanding and interest in what we do as commercial people, and I'm proud that our scientists and other colleagues accept us and see that we are just as passionate as they are.”
Kurt Graves, Vertex EVP, chief commercial officer, and head, strategic development, praises Millian's leadership ability and his drive to innovate. “He's a key architect and a great relationship builder,” Graves says. “Everyone likes to work with him.”
Todd Ungard worked on Lipitor at Pfizer with Millian, and he left to join Vertex as director, marketing, to keep working with Millian. “Many leaders give lip service to building teams,” he notes. “Craig has invested in it, and I followed him here because that's hard to find.”
Millian holds a bachelor's in finance from University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from New York University. The intersection between science, healthcare and business drew him to pharma nearly 20 years ago. “I've been fortunate to work in areas that were a matter of life and death,” Millian notes. “Vertex is going after some of the most deadly diseases and looking at transformational medicines that can radically redefine treatment. Those are the types of brands that have appealed to me. I've taken pride in the brands I've help build and the impact they've made in patients lives. I believe in what I do and that it makes a difference.”
Millian thinks there are misperceptions around motivation in pharma. He says transparency and avoiding spin are priorities for Vertex, and it's going to define success in terms of helping patients. “One goal is to become truly patient-centric,” he adds. “We're going to measure success in sales and market share and also in how we're impacting patient lives. We're aiming high—we're aspiring to help eradicate hepatitis C. That may sound corny, but it motivates me and the people within Vertex.”
VP, customers & markets, Vertex
US team leader, first for antifungals and then Lipitor, Pfizer
Various to US team leader, Arixtra, Sanofi-Synthelabo