Servier, armed with Shire cancer drugs, builds out vision for U.S. future

PHILADELPHIA—France’s second-largest drugmaker, Servier, is in 150 countries. But it hasn’t had a presence in the U.S.—until now.

Since buying up merger-bound Shire’s oncology business for $2.4 billion, the company has been working to define its presence in pharma’s largest market, starting with the appointment of former Shire executive David Lee as U.S. CEO. And nearly one year after the deal’s close, Lee and Servier have a “vision” plotted out for the future.

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One big part of that vision? Doubling the size of the oncology business within the next five years, which will involve “some inorganic growth to help build this portfolio,” Lee said in an interview this week at the BIO International Convention. “We really want to look at late-stage assets or potentially commercial assets,” he said.

Expanding current drugs Oncaspar and Asparlas is also on the agenda. “We believe that there are quite a few indications” Oncaspar could move into beyond its current use in acute lymphoblastic leukemia—including, potentially, some in the solid-tumor arena, Lee said.

But even in its current uses, Lee sees room to grow. Over the past few years, the drug has changed hands multiple times; Baxter picked it up shortly before spinning it off as part of Baxalta, which was later acquired by Shire before the Servier sale. But many of Servier’s new sales reps and executives—Lee included—have stayed with the drug throughout that journey, meaning they’ve got plenty of experience.

“What we’ve been able to convey is that this is a permanent home for this product,” Lee said. Because Servier is governed by a nonprofit, “we can never be acquired. We’re fully independent. There’s finally a nice home for these patients and our sales team.”

RELATED: Servier picks Shire executive to run U.S. business being built out of deal for Shire’s oncology unit

Servier is also hoping the nonprofit aspect can help it stand out from its peers from a corporate image perspective, especially when it comes to patient centricity.

“Because we’re governed by a nonprofit … we can really do what’s right for patients,” he said, adding that in its nine short months of existence, Servier has already set up a patient expert council to provide input on everything from marketing to clinical trial design.

“We’ve gotten a lot of great insights from them already,” he said.

Focusing on survivorship, to help people feel supported after they finish therapy, is another goal of the company’s. “It seems like once they’re done with treatment, everything goes away,” Lee said.

Servier has some internal goals, too, such as making the company a great place to work and helping it stand out from the serious competition in the Boston area. After all, it’ll need to both develop and retain talent to bring the company’s vision to life—and Lee knows just how rare it is to get the chance.

“I had the opportunity to start a U.S. organization from scratch,” he said. “Having been in a few companies, there’s never that opportunity to be able to go to the U.S., the largest pharma market, and say, ‘I’m going to build this.’”