Title: Chief Medical Officer
When Kate Knobil began her career search after becoming a pulmonologist, she thought she might become an academic researcher like her parents. However, as she looked for a job, she was attracted to pharma.
“I found that the best opportunity for me was actually in a respiratory oriented pharma company, Glaxo-Wellcome, at the time,” she said. “It was very academically oriented, data driven and much more respectful than the academic setting I had come from. And I’ve never looked back on that decision as anything but the right one.”
Her first job at GSK was in the respiratory group, working in development and supporting medical affairs in the U.S. While she had discovered she had much to learn about drug development and how pharma companies work, an early defining moment in her career came in 2001, when she worked on the GSK launch of Advair for COPD in the U.S. As she worked on the rollout, she said the realization that the drug would help millions of people was a watershed moment.
"That feeling has had a huge impact on the rest of my career. What we do in the pharmaceutical industry should always be focused on how it benefits patients,” she said. “… That was a long time ago, but I’ve kept that feeling with me.”
She rose through the ranks at GSK and eventually was tapped to go to London headquarters to lead the European respiratory group. She admitted to being concerned that she didn’t have enough experience, but she ultimately decided to go. She said she realized that what seemed like taking a career risk was more about getting over her personal discomfort. It’s a lesson she has not only incorporated into her own career but has passed on to others since she became a mentor.
“I find when I speak with women especially, when they’re presented with an opportunity, women more often go to, ‘Well, I’m not qualified for that,’ or, ‘That’s a big step, there are other people more qualified than I am.’ It seems like women want to be overqualified before they put themselves up for a position, whereas a man might say, ‘Well, I might not have all the experience, but I can do that.’ So I encourage women to think that way, too. Don’t wait to be 100% qualified before putting yourself forward,” she said.
When Knobil came back from the U.K., she was offered the opportunity to go to China to build a late-stage clinical group. This time, she took the decision in stride, noting, “If you can learn to step out of your comfort zone, you’re much more likely to do it again in the future. It’s like flexing a muscle that you may not know you have. Once you do it once, it’s much easier to do the second time.”
When she came back to the U.S. after China, she was offered a new challenge as head of the global health outcomes group. Knobil said it was a great opportunity to focus on the patient again.
“The evidence we generate around our medicine is not just to please the regulators, it actually has to be meaningful to patients and to the physicians who prescribe them and to the healthcare systems that are going to be paying for it. We really hadn’t had that mindset in this company before that,” she said.
Now as global CMO with responsibility for patient wellbeing across the pharmaceutical, vaccines and consumer business units at GSK, Knobil sits on the Global Safety board, the Scientific Review Board and Portfolio Investment Board and is a director of ViiV Healthcare. Outside GSK, she works on boards and in organizations including the National Academies of Science and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute to advocate for patient centricity and a value-oriented healthcare system.
When asked to relate her best career moment so far, she struggled to choose just one.
“Launching a really important clinical medicine was a defining moment, understanding different culture and how much impact you can have when you step out of your comfort zone was also a defining moment, moving into global health outcomes was another one and now this role. They all add up to what I am today,” Knobil said. “And I’m still not at the pinnacle of my career. I still have a lot to give."