In 1974, Matthew Emmens began his first post-college job as a Merck sales rep. Of his 600 peers, only one was a woman. So, for Emmens, CEO of Shire Pharmaceuticals, to be named Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) Honorable Mentor for 2006—in recognition of his long-term support for the advancement of women in the industry—this is a telling memory.
“I grew up at a time when there were hardly any women [in the industry],” he says. “[Now] women add a dimension to companies and decision-making just by being women, and that difference is very helpful.”
After a 17-year grounding at Merck, Emmens cofounded AstraMerck and went on to become its CEO/president, before switching to EMD Pharmaceuticals as president. Nancy Wysenski, Emmens' successor at EMD, describes him as a “perceptive” leader. “He created an environment of trust and then took opportunities to hold up the mirror for you so that you could discover for yourself how to manage a situation,” she says. “He was just phenomenal in that regard.”
Fostering different values and viewpoints comes naturally to Emmens: “I learned early that people who think in different ways and who work together come up with better solutions. Having experienced that in management structures over the years has only reinforced that belief.”
Coming up with solutions would be a valuable trait for Emmens' next role as CEO at Shire, which he joined in 2003 at a time when the company was “a bit distressed over being challenged by generics and had a number of businesses throughout the world that could be made more efficient.” Fortunately, Emmens—who paid for college working as an auto mechanic—likes “putting things together and restructuring,” and Shire, he says, had the assets and ability to go and do the things that needed to be done.
The to-do list included acquiring a Massachusetts biotech (now Shire Human Genetic Therapies), consolidating sites and strengthening Shire's pipeline.
When Emmens came on board, the company's pipeline basically consisted of Fosrenol, its treatment for hyperphosphatemia, which was in late-stage development. Fosrenol received a non-approval letter in 2003. To add to Shire's jitters, its flagship project, ADHD drug Adderall XR, was (and still is) under challenge from generic competitors.
Under Emmens' leadership, Fosrenol has since been approved, while the company has been successful in its defense of the ADHD franchise. “We have brought up safety issues regarding our citizens' petition that should be thought through before somebody goes and tries to make a generic,” he says.
Shire has also diversified into other disease areas, and research is promising for orphan diseases like Fabry disease and Hunter syndrome, for which Elaprase is in Phase III trials.
Emmens feels his biggest success is having put together an experienced team that has “refocused the company in a changed environment to the point where we feel, and the equity markets feel, that we are extremely well positioned to be competitive.”
His future goals are just as ambitious. “We have set an internal aspiration to grow the company in the mid-teens, or above top and bottom line, by the end of the decade,” Emmens says. “We want to be the leading specialty pharmaceutical company—a company that focuses on some of the more rare diseases and specialist physicians.”
Of course, challenges loom, especially contention over the safety of ADHD medications. But Emmens has faith in the value of these products and is convinced that, over time, “the pendulum will swing back more to a benefit-versus-risk or balance-of-product viewpoint that is more helpful.”
The assistance Emmens has given his peers over the years is less debatable. “Matt Emmens exemplifies the essence of the HBA Honorable Mentor award, with his ongoing support of the advancement of women in the healthcare industry and at Shire,” says HBA president Debra Newton (also president of Newton Grey).
And Emmens is honored by the accolade.
“I have really enjoyed the progress women have made in the industry and what they have added to the industry,” he says. “I have enjoyed even more that they have gotten into management positions and contributed on the teams that are going to drive the industry forward.”
EMD Pharm.—pres./CEO (1999); Merck KGaA—head, global Ethical Pharm.(2001)
AstraMerck—VP, sales & marketing, then pres./CEO