When Jeff Winton joined Irish biotech Alkermes last year, his first order of business was to build out its public affairs function. Since then, he’s reorganized the group and added functions like social impact and brand reputation divisions.
The biotech has undergone changes in recent years, Winton said. Alkermes, headquartered in Dublin with U.S. offices in Boston and Ohio, shifted from providing technologies to other pharma companies to developing and commercializing its own drugs.
Its two products on the market treat addiction and mental illness. Its addiction drug Vivitrol hit the market in 2010 and the company’s schizophrenia treatment Aristada won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2015.
With these products, and more in the pipeline, Winton said Alkermes’ executive team recognized that a more formal public affairs function was becoming absolutely necessary.
“We’re at a critical juncture now that we’re commercializing products on our own,” Winton said. “When we launched our first product, our second product and now we have a number in the pipeline, what we needed was decidedly different than when we were basically a developer of another company’s technologies.”
The appointments include former investor relations co-head Eva Stroynowski being promoted to VP of product and R&D communications; Nikki Levy expanding her role as VP of patient engagement to lead the social impact function; and Matt Henson being named executive director of the new corporate brand and reputation team.
Winton is also adding comms staff to focus solely on oncology, an area into which the company wants to expand. Alkermes has an immunotherapy drug in phase I trials.
However, Alkermes isn’t forgetting its roots as it pushes into cancer treatment. Because the company’s products treat high-profile disorders like opioid and alcohol addiction and mental illness, Winton said the company needed a team that is specialized and can plan for what’s next.
“Working in opioid addiction, which is arguably this generation’s biggest health crisis, we are front-and-center of the debate going on in this country,” he said. “For a company our size, we get a disproportionate amount of attention from outside shareholders because we’re working in opioid and alcohol addiction. It was necessary to put something different in place, not only to react, but to peek around corners, to be futurists so the company can determine what we might be dealing with next week, next month or next year.”