Executive Vice President & CMO, UCB, Iris Loew-Friedrich discusses the importance of a purpose-driven culture to employee engagement
Caring for people – patients and colleagues – coupled with the science are the twin elements that form the foundation of Professor Doctor Iris Loew-Friedrich’s approach to her role. And this aligns neatly with the vision of her employer, global biopharma company UCB, and provides a platform for collaboration both within and outside the organization.
A physician by training, Professor Loew-Friedrich started her professional life at the Frankfurt University Medical School and has always tried to combine patient care with high-quality research. Today she is Executive Vice-President Development and Medical Practices and Chief Medical Officer at UCB, where she provides global strategic leadership across a range of areas.
“I still very much consider myself a physician, so patient care is really at the center of what drives me – and more generally it’s care for people: people living with diseases and also people in our company, in my organization and people in our industry are what motivates me very much.” This approach chimes with the way UCB articulates its vision: “Inspired by patients. Driven by science.” Professor Loew-Friedrich is confident that this “really sends out a message about who we want to be.”
Culture is a key driver
She explains: “I think culture is the key driver and so creating a culture that gives colleagues a sense of purpose and the opportunity to make a meaningful impact is important. At UCB, we have one central question that we ask all the time: how will what we do make a difference for patients living with severe diseases? It’s the value-creation topic that is at the center of all of our work.”
And, of course, this vision resonates especially within the Medical Affairs function.
“Our mission in Medical Affairs is to drive the continuous modernization and integration of data from multiple disciplines and sources. Then we need to translate them into actionable insights with scientific integrity, efficiency and transparency so that we optimize the patient and healthcare professional experience. That’s a mission behind which we can all align. We try to ensure that all colleagues in our Medical Affairs practice understand how each of them contributes to this mission and we combine this with forming a culture of high-performing teams.
“Everybody is focused on the same purpose of creating value for patients. On top of this, we try to ensure that we are an organization that cultivates learning, innovating and high performance and all of that integrated with opportunities for personal development, recognition, and rewards. It is the entire package that is required to attract the talent for the future and to maintain and develop that talent in our organization.”
Moreover, continuous learning is key to fostering agility and adaptability, according to Professor Loew-Friedrich. “As the environment keeps changing so quickly, the ability of an organization to be agile and to adapt is very important and so these are important traits that we’re looking for when we are hiring talent – a mindset to innovate, to grow, a mindset of continuous learning.”
How can the organization attract this type of talent? “We aim to create the sense of purpose, the sense of belonging, and key opportunities for personal development and growth. In line with our practice thinking, we are trying to establish communities of colleagues who either have the same role in the organization or who work in the same geography or who are engaged around the same patient population. So, our communities are aligned on common themes and we see that as a major driver of identification with the Medical Affairs organization and a source of inspiration and learning.”
Leadership for Loew-Friedrich has always been about empowering people to have maximum impact in a team environment. “I consider myself very much as someone who creates opportunities and empowers people. I believe you cannot be a leader without being passionate about what you are doing. Of course, we need to be very objective in our decision-making.”
Asked about the key capabilities to be developed within Medical Affairs as we move towards value-based medicine, Professor Loew-Friedrich is clear: “From my perspective the biggest topic is probably around creating and mastering medical insights. The second area of focus is collaborating very broadly for evidence generation.
“In terms of generating and mastering medical insights, I think we have already plenty of data available but how do we then use the data to truly generate insights? For me, this means that it’s not about just generating outputs and results, but really going one step further and distilling meaningful insights, providing context and ultimately driving impact. “On the second topic – collaboration for evidence generation – I think we have plenty of opportunity to join forces with academia or other institutions outside of our industry to invest our joint resources into the acceleration of the advancement of medical science. If a medicine gets to a patient in its first indication, there is a vast opportunity in terms of further knowledge and insights being generated: how can we get to the best ideas and how can we turn them into a true win-win situation that will create value for patients? This is where I believe we can collaborate closely with academic institutes, patient advocacy groups and other stakeholders to really get to the best possible outcome.”
Professor Loew-Friedrich points out that collaboration will be enhanced by advanced technology. “What I am seeing for the future is that we need to launch artificial intelligence capabilities – so that we use the data to simulate scenarios that will very objectively inform the next steps and ultimately enhance patient care. One of the big topics around collaboration for evidence generation is building on the strengths of human intelligence and artificial intelligence and establishing seamless interaction between both.”
How can we measure our performance in this new world? “Performance management is a topic that we continuously need to evolve and that is not as easy as it sounds. We’re trying to move away from very simple, quantitative measures – number of scientific exchanges, number of publications, impact factors – to measuring the quality of our analytical skills and the insight generation. Getting to meaningful qualitative measures is not an easy task. And I understand it’s not only difficult for UCB, it’s a challenge for the entire industry.”
Finally, the new operating model elevates Medical Affairs from a supportive role into a strategic decision-maker and trusted scientific partner: how is this change manifesting itself within the organization? “We are moving towards an integrated model that provides the Medical team the right space to be a trusted scientific and strategic partner ‘eye-to-eye’. What we need to continue to enhance is leadership and business acumen of our medical colleagues. This is not only about scientific leadership and leadership in insight generation, it’s also leadership in the most classical sense of providing direction, engaging and inspiring colleagues – inside Medical Affairs and beyond. That’s a work in progress and a key competency that we continue to strengthen in the organization.”
Prof. Dr. Iris Loew- Friedrich: Career Path