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Meet Shawn Tomasello – Speaker at #BIOCEO20

Theresa Brady
Theresa Brady
January 23, 2020

As a new college graduate in the early 80’s, Shawn Tomasello knew one thing for sure. She wanted a career in an industry that would constantly change; one that would keep her on her toes; allow her to always be learning.  At a career fair during her senior year, she discovered Pfizer Laboratories—or Pfizer discovered her. She accepted an offer and never looked back.

Tomasello Shawn
Shawn Tomasello, Corporate Board Director

A speaker at the upcoming BIO CEO & Investor Conference Feb 10 -11 in NY, Tomasello will share her vast experience in the biotechnology industry, particularly how she assembled teams throughout her career that successfully brought novel therapies to the marketplace. 

The biotechnology industry was not even a term when Tomasello began her career. But Tomasello has always had the ability to see what was just beyond the horizon. “I’ve always had a strong instinct for things that were going to make a difference. In the early days at Pfizer, it was the launch of a new class of arthritis pain medication and the first calcium channel blocker. Then I went to Miles to launch the first quinolone. I was there a few years when the birth of biotech was making a big splash.”

Tomasello saw the writing on the wall while others may have missed it. She agreed to join a start-up that had so little money, she agreed to a pay package that was less salary plus stock options. That exciting and vibrant company was called Genentech. “It was very small with no money—at that time, the company was not even a glimmer of someday being an oncology company. Its focus was cardiovascular and endocrinology” she noted.  “At Genentech, I worked in the field on a shoestring budget. Back then it was recombinant DNA that I was so excited about. I thought, I think this is really going to work. I stayed there for 17 years. My last job was leading the oncology Rituxan® team which then was approximately 64% of the company’s revenue.”

Her next stop was another small company that was to become a leader in cellular immunotherapy: Celgene.  When Tomasello joined Celgene, it had approximately 300 employees. It now has almost 9,000. The company was working to commercialize what they thought would be a blockbuster called Revlimid®.  It had yet to be approved by the FDA. Reluctant to leave Genentech, Tomasello went to visit Celgene and came away thinking “wow this has the potential to become  another Genentech!”

So she was on her way to the next biotech adventure. “I went to Celgene because I thought the whole immune modulator class was going to make a big difference especially in liquid tumors. I knew that I had a lot to offer so I just stayed the course.”

Hired as the VP of Sales and Training for Celgene, Tomasello would leave the company 10 years later with the title of President of the Americas.  What was next for the serial visionary?

One day while working for Celgene she got a call from Pharmacyclics asking if she would be interested in becoming the company’s Chief Commercial Officer. With a pretty good understanding of Pharmacyclics’ lead asset, IMBRUVICA® and recognizing that about 30% of the employees had once worked for her at previous companies, Tomasello joined the company and within a year the company was sold to AbbVie for $21 B.

Although Tomasello decided to retire at this point (why not?), she could not resist the exciting science of cell therapy and she wanted to be part of that history. This time she joined Kite Therapeutics as the Chief Commercial Officer. Within three years, the company was sold to Gilead.  

Tomasello’s enormous success can be partly explained by her ability to assemble the right teams.  She consistently focused on finding pioneer, problem solvers with a passion for their work.  One tried and true method she recommends is to create two important teams that can work seamlessly together.  The first is the medical affairs team that can scientifically engage with providers and payors to set the stage for innovative therapies and/or new markets. The goal for this team is to communicate a credible scientific platform about how the innovative therapy the company is planning to bring to the market could change the current standard of care. It’s important to demonstrate how the innovation might change but improve treatment patterns or standards of care.  Closer to the approval, the account management team should be hired to integrate into the business model and coordinate resources for target institutions. 

“You have to create that scientific awareness ahead of time when you are making a market and/or embarking on something incredibly novel. You start disease state education and awareness with the appropriate teams ahead of your product launch.”

In cell therapy the teams are unique and diverse in expertise. This team should consist of a cell therapy account specialist, medical science liaison,  market access expert, manufacturing, a supply chain expert, a legal resource and even an IT person because someone should be able to talk to the IT department for every account to support a positive provider and patient experience upon launch.

Tomasello explains that it is incredibly  important to put a market access leader and team in place early that works hand-in-hand with the medical affairs team because the idea of creating a credible value-based platform about an innovative therapy has to be delivered not only to the providers but also to the payors. So, these two teams have to work beautifully together with clear and compliant roles and responsibilities. And they should have relationships and access to the payors so they can get in there and talk about the possibility of the therapy for the future compared to the current standard of care. The point is to bring payors along with the innovation so they aren’t surprised by it at launch.

“The ideal setting is that all stakeholders  are aware of and waiting for the therapy at launch and prepared to provide access for their patients.”

Tomasello will be speaking on the panel, Commercialization Strategies for Communicating Evidence of a Therapy’s Value.