Company: Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Title: Senior vice president, head of medical affairs
There is a quote Alnylam’s Jing Marantz, M.D., Ph.D., believes applies to where pharma finds itself right now—and to the way individual people should navigate through the industry.
“There is this Einstein quote that goes something like ‘If I only had one hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining 5 minutes solving it routinely.’”
It applies to pharma because the science of genetically validating drug targets has a success rate almost double what it was in the past. Companies have so many more choices of which diseases to tackle and how to tackle them.
“We are living in a world of riches,” says Marantz, a senior VP at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. “How do we make those decisions? How do we pick targets that work for us?”
For people, it applies to what they can and will do with their careers. When she mentors, she explains that people need to figure out not only what makes them happy but also what they are good at.
“Then they need to figure out what is important to [them] that [they] don’t want to change and what choices they are willing to make that open other options,” Marantz she during a recent telephone interview.
For Marantz, figuring that out for herself involved working through an extended education and then a series of jobs that gave her a wide base of experience—and eventually led to her current position as head of medical affairs for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Alnylam.
“I would like to say it is part of a grand plan, but it isn’t,” she says laughing.
Each step along the journey added a new layer to help her solve the problem of which career to choose. Medical school in China gave her the knowledge, while her doctoral work in the U.S. taught her “the value of failure,” as many of her experiments missed their marks. The often-solitary work in a lab helped her figure out she had a “yearning to work with people.”
That took her to business school, after which she did a short stint in the security industry and then spent several years as a management consultant. All of that brought her back where she belonged, in applied science.
“I wanted ownership, and that took me to Millennium,” Takeda’s oncology unit in Boston, Massachusetts, where she remained for more than a decade, in part because she loved the “cohesive culture.”
Then Marantz did two-year stints each at Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Biogen and Alexion Pharmaceuticals, moving steadily upward, before taking the top medical affairs spot at Alnylam in 2018 as it was on the cusp of winning approval for Onpattro, a medical game-changer.
The treatment won the first-ever approval for a small interfering ribonucleic acid, or siRNA, sometimes called a gene-silencing treatment because of its ability to halt the production of disease-causing proteins. It is approved for patients with polyneuropathy caused by hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis. The drug comes with a $345,000-per-year price tag after discounts, as well as a money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work.
As Alnylam prepared for that launch and rolled out the drug, Marantz quickly built the medical affairs unit from 50 to more than 130 people. Her team works with patients, physicians and payers. The idea is to create a virtuous cycle of educating them about Alnylam’s treatment and then getting feedback that will help the company improve the drug and the treatment experience for those involved.
Her team, which has four women vice presidents, must be careful listeners, something she believes women are particularly good at. She also sees listening as a skill that helps make women great managers and leaders.
She has also become a dedicated believer in taking the long view, a piece of advice Marantz gives to those she mentors—that and to try to disengage enough to see things from another person’s point of view.
With Alnylam’s Onpattro approval and two more drugs on the horizon, Marantz says the pace of work is fast and furious at the biotech and her employees can sometimes feel overwhelmed.
“With the explosive growth, there are so many problems. Sometimes we’ve had so many processes and not all of them are the right processes,” and that can be frustrating, she says candidly.
“If your day sucks, that affects your life, but if you step back and see what we have done, take a long view of what you have accomplished, you can see that you have made the right choices,” she contends.
“As I get older I have learned I can see things from another person’s point of view,” Marantz says. “I have learned to work with people that are quite different by focusing on common ground.”
And that can become the solution arrived at in the final five minutes.