Content provider for

Leonard Schleifer
CEO
Regeneron

30 November 2022

You have worked in the biotechnology industry before the world knew it as such – what has changed and what has remained the same since you founded Regeneron in 1988?

I did indeed found Regeneron in 1988, which makes me the longest serving CEO in the biotechnology industry. I have seen it shift in the most dramatic ways, especially in recent years, but some things are constant. The number one immutable aspect is that biotechnology has innovation at its very center. It is there to use science to make patients feel better, live better, and live longer - and this will never change. Another ongoing aspect is the industry’s contribution to the economy – in our company we say, “do well by doing good”, and what that translates to is job creation, tax contributions and support for local communities. 

Technology has changed – using monoclonal antibodies is now a routine part of the industry, and many other elements that were considered groundbreaking back in the day are now both common and affordable. Another difference from the ‘80s or ‘90s is drug accessibility. It used to be faster and cheaper to access medication (including with better reimbursement), whereas now, there are many intermediaries in the process, rendering it much more complex and less efficient. This is interlinked with financing, which behaves cyclically, and has shifted so much and so often. I started Regeneron with a million dollars, which seemed like a fortune at the time; now, it takes hundreds of millions on day one and billions if a drug is to be taken from inception to market. 

At the end of the day our industry’s biggest constant is its power. Yes, it is difficult; yes, it takes years, decades even to develop new medicines. The end justifies it all, and if we look at our recent pandemic, when together we saved millions of lives, the life sciences industry’s power is nothing short of miraculous. 

The industry must walk a sensitive line between profitability and fair pricing, as well as fair access to medicines – what is the right place for this line in the United States, where the cost of healthcare is so high?

This is a precarious game, and there are abuses in some corners of the industry.

 

The reason prices are higher in the U.S. is because payers have been willing to pay the price of innovation, and this is the reason we have certain medicines at all in the first place.

 

The solution is not to lower prices to the levels of Canada or Europe, but rather to ensure fair distribution of cost. In tough economic times it can be difficult for governments to decide how to allocate funds and the issue we are discussing has been a policy trap that no one has been able to fix yet. But there are truisms we are dealing with; capital is agnostic, and if you take away incentives it will simply fly away to other industries. Policy makers can make or break the system. 

What is your current strategy regarding R&D and which are the main therapeutic areas and unmet needs that Regeneron is looking to address?

We have taken the reverse approach to most of our peers. They tend to look at where the markets are, whether there is an outbreak of diabetes, heart diseases, Covid-19 and so on, and then they chase it. But doing that, in our view, means you are ultimately doomed to fail; it is simply not the way science works and we must follow the science. When we picked VEGF to treat macular degeneration, it was showing us where we could make a difference. This approach has taken us into 10 major therapeutic areas. Dupixent helped us change how we treat allergic diseases, which expanded further into other areas of immunology and inflammation. Oncology has also been a crucial focus for us, we have a broad portfolio which we believe can change the course of many cancers in the future. We are particularly excited about how we can better understand the immune system and amend it to fight cancer. Finally, we have sequenced millions and are growing in human genetics, seeking to answer questions about how genetics affect various diseases in a personalized way.

 

Changing or altering people’s genes to cure them used to be the stuff of science fiction, but we are making it a reality. 

 

What is next in store for Regeneron, and what should our readers understand about the life sciences industry?

We are growing at a very fast pace and continue to do so, including by continuously recruiting new members to our teams. We aim to continue marrying a deep understanding of biology and science to take previously fatal diseases and turn them into curable illnesses. I believe that as an industry we all need to come together and make the public understand that medical miracles don’t just happen, and will only continue happening if society values them. 

  • Share on: