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Revealing Secrets through a Lifetime of Lessons with Carsten Thiel

Throughout the lengthy span of a professional career, countless hours are spent participating in a melee of activities, problem solving within extenuating circumstances, and developing the skills needed to excel in a variety of situations. Working professionals sometimes find themselves in unfamiliar territory, requiring critical thinking skills, intuitive action, and swift judgment to navigate the uncharted waters that are often associated with professional endeavors. Not only are these practical skills necessary in order to thrive within a professional environment on a long-term basis, but a strong moral compass is often needed to dictate the actions that will foster long-term positive effects, and maintain ethical guidelines professionally, and personally.

As working professionals find themselves fully immersed within the scope of their professional endeavors for more hours weekly than any other activity, occupational experiences amount for a large portion of life’s monumental moments. Together, this myriad of professional experience culminates in a manner that transcends the office, often spilling over into other areas of one’s life. Sometimes, lessons learned within a professional setting can be applied to almost any other life situation. Other times, the confidence gained from upholding strong ethical principles within a working environment can make it easier to participate in similar ethical practices within all other potential environments. Finally, life-changing events within a work environment can create lasting effects, shaping one’s personality in a profound way.

As a world renowned leader within the realm of biopharmacy, Carsten Thiel has certainly amassed occupational experiences that have shaped his personality, his approach to life, and his strong moral compass. With vast experience as a leader, CEO, and visionary for multiple global biotech companies, Thiel has garnered firsthand knowledge within each niche part of the pharmaceutical industry, and has taken part in many stages of a company’s life cycle. As a result of this astounding level of involvement, Thiel has been privy to a variety of situations that have created lasting effects on him.

Born in Berlin to parents in the medical field, young Carsten Thiel became interested in biology, medicine, and the study of DNA at a very early age. Excited by the concept of DNA providing a genetic roadmap for every living creature, Thiel excelled within the various scientific disciplines within his primary education. Following his initial studies in the field of Chemistry in his native Malbrook, Thiel pursued an exciting opportunity to gain experience within an Anglo-Saxon learning environment by enrolling at the United Kingdom’s University of Bristol. While there, Thiel studied Biochemistry, and received his Bachelor of Science Degree.

After the completion of his illustrious undergraduate education, Thiel received a coveted spot at the prestigious Max Planck Institute For Biophysical Chemistry, an elite German organization focused on research. His acceptance to the Institute itself was impressive, and Thiel never wavered in focus throughout his studies. Working toward earning his PhD in Molecular Biology, Thiel focused on the role of proteins in turning healthy cells into cancerous cells. Upon receiving his PhD, and the completion of his formal education, Thiel was faced with his initial professional dilemma, one that would change the trajectory of his career forever, and perhaps, provide a life lesson for the budding professional.

Accepted to Harvard University’s post-doctoral research program, Thiel was provided with the opportunity to delve into research on a professional scale, a natural career trajectory for any scientist, biologist, or chemist. By accepting this prestigious opportunity, Thiel would have followed in the footsteps of his peers, most of whom pursued a field of academia upon the completion of their formal studies. Simultaneously, Thiel was also provided with a promising occupational opportunity at the forward-thinking pharmaceutical juggernaut, Hoffman la-Roche, an exciting prospect in a totally perpendicular occupational direction. In his first professional act that would prove to set the tone for his exciting career, Thiel chose to follow his instinct, recognizing the unique experiences he would garner as a result of joining an innovative team at Hoffman la-Roche. At a young age, he learned the value of pursuing projects that are exciting, enthralling, and somewhat intimidating, and he went on to bravely pursue ventures of this magnitude throughout the remainder of his career.

Thiel accepted the position of Communications and Product Manager, and began the journey of developing his leadership skills. Within this role, he was often spearheading projects with team members, most of whom were older, and possessed more experience. Often, Thiel was the youngest member of his team, and initially faced internal difficulty in parlaying his leadership status. Thus, Thiel swiftly learned to communicate with his teams effectively, and recognized the benefits of valuing the unique skills brought to the team by each individual. Succeeding within his initial role, Thiel welcomed additional opportunities, responsibilities, and advancements that would allow him to grow as a leader. Focused on a macro-level manner of thinking in regard to his career, Thiel recognized the way in which his experiences built on top of each other.

Before long, Thiel was provided with the all-encompassing opportunity to spearhead the market launch of the company’s initial foray into the diet marketplace, via new drug Xenical. While Thiel had previous experience marketing toward medical professionals within the medical sphere, this was his initial experience in dealing with the general population, in terms of marketing a product. Refusing to be daunted by this momentous task, Thiel once again entered unchartered territory without hesitation.

Within the realm of marketing weight-loss products, many companies employ the tactic of creating bold claims, which, in reality, are impossible to achieve without a total overhaul of lifestyle, diet, and stringent exercise. Seemingly out of thin air, many companies create the illusion of guaranteed results, with minimal effort. Upon perpetuating these lofty claims for the purpose of creating an initial market buzz, and garnering high initial sales, these products often leave average consumers disappointed by less-than-stellar results, as most dietary product consumers are not able to adapt to the excessive changes that would assist in the product’s efficacy. Thus, knowing these factors, Thiel chose to move forward with a different approach, one that would undoubtedly less initial sales, but would warrant a higher consumer satisfaction rate, proving to be financially beneficial for the company on a long-term basis.

In what would be his first occupation lesson to transcend his job title, Thiel learned about the benefits of maintaining ethical principles, even in the face of adversity, for the betterment of a project, a situation, or a problem. Thiel was able to apply these principles to his first foray into the dietary marketing world, and grow confidence in leading a team in the direction of his choosing. In the case of Xenical, Thiel’s patient-first approach was met with some recourse from various parties, who were more concerned with hitting initial target numbers with bolder claims aimed at a wider audience, rather than focusing on more effective results via marketing toward only a specific subset of individuals. Despite this initial pushback from some team members, Thiel believed in his ethical convictions, and in the benefits of garnering a positive long-term reputation for the company versus an initial spike in sales that would lead to a less-than-stellar reputation for the company.

With Thiel sticking to his moral guidelines, the product was brought to the market with his desired marketing schematics, and was received extremely positively by consumers. Marketed to the subset of consumers that would be most likely to garner the product’s intended results, the product was well received, and earned the company a positive long-term relationship based on satisfied consumers. Additionally, within the span of one year, the product earned in excess of one billion Swiss francs, rendering it a professional success. For Thiel, not only was his first foray as a team leader for a global product launch, but a lesson about the importance of maintaining integrity that could carry over into any aspect of life. As a leader, Thiel honed his confidence in leading with integrity, and following a plan of action that he has determined to be the most successful. Additionally, this experience solidified Thiel’s patient-first approach throughout his career, a concept that would continuously remain at the forefront of his career in the pharmaceutical industry.

In the coming years, Thiel was faced with similar ethical dilemmas, which shaped his outlook on the field of pharmacology, and his outlook on putting people’s safety, wellbeing, and happiness above all else. While working on bringing a new colorectal cancer medication to market, Thiel was faced with a dilemma when a biological marker was discovered that could identify the efficacy of this treatment prior to administration of said treatment. Upon this discovery, Thiel was faced with yet another professional dilemma that would provide life lessons outside of the scope of Thiel’s professional life.

Essentially, the discovery of this genetic biomarker could alert prescribers to the eventual efficacy, or lack thereof, of the proposed treatment prior to administering the treatment. With this type of proactive knowledge, prescribers could screen patients prior to recommending the treatment, and only recommend the treatment to patients that would benefit from the treatment. Of course, this method would disqualify some patients, and hinder the sales that could be seen without the proactive genetic testing. In addition to saving consumers money, the testing would allow patients the confidence of knowing that their treatment will likely produce positive results. Of course, within the realm of oncology, especially at the time of this discovery, biomarker testing was not the status quo, and thus, Thiel’s idea was met with some push back. Building upon his previous experiences with medical ethics via his curated launch of weight-loss product Xenical, Thiel drew upon those experiences to vouch for what he believed was the right thing to do.

His method was approved, and the treatment was brought to market, with initial resources dedicated to teaching Oncologists how to administer the test, how to prescribe the treatment to only viable consumers, and how to market this treatment in a progressive, transparent manner. Not only did his method garner financial success for the company’s upon the treatment’s initial market run, but once again, Thiel’s transparent practices garnered a positive long-term reputation for the company. On a long-term basis, Thiel believed that slowly building confidence within the general market allowed for companies to succeed, rather than creating an initial splash based on looser morals, followed by an inevitable decline in the public’s trust. As with most interpersonal relationships, Thiel understood that trust should always be the cornerstone, foundation, and building block of the relationship.

Once again, Thiel’s patient-first approach was proven to be successful financially, within the pharmaceutical market, and within the hearts of consumers, who developed a trust for the treatments that were a part of Thiel’s portfolio. These instances shaped Thiel’s abilities as a leader, and enabled his confidence in his own leadership style. With many years of pertinent experience leading teams of industry specialists, Thiel learned the most effective ways to ensure the successful launch of products, while maintaining high moral standards. Thiel successfully integrated these lessons in his private life, and parlayed his leadership into successful ventures.

Impressively, in 2010, Thiel accompanied a few peers on their initial trek across the Alps in Europe. Spanning a total of five days, and reaching summits as high as 6,000 feet, the initial trek spawned from a bet that Thiel made with a peer who dared to question Thiel’s ability to complete the mission. Never one to back down from a challenge, Thiel not only accepted the invitation, but summoned additional peers to join him on the adventure, and successfully completed the exhilarating quest. Perhaps drawing from his previously accepted challenges that ended positively, Thiel confidently looked forward to pursuing this physical challenge.

Utilizing previously perfected skills, and the many lessons about personal integrity that he learned from his evolving career, Thiel was able to create an atmosphere of camaraderie, support, and a mutual admiration for completing a goal together. These sentiments parallelled many of the goals within his professional scope, where working as a team to accomplish a large-scale goal was key to the success of the entire team. Not only did the participants complete their trek across the Alps, but they turned this excursion into an annual mission, building upon their previous accomplishments annually.

Another crucial lesson that Thiel mastered throughout his illustrious career was the concept of being flexible, often reworking previous plans in the face of various outcomes. Of course, this ability translated seamlessly within Thiel’s private endeavors, including raising two children alongside his wife, a task that requires constantly being able to think on one’s feet, ebbing and flowing with the changes of family life. Tasked with the product launch for an innovative product launch initially aimed at providing care for women suffering from fractures related to bone loss, Thiel began to see a distinct pattern emerge within the initial trials of the treatment. According to initial trials, Rheumatologists were not seeing the desired results on their patients, but were referring the product to Oncologists, who were seeing desired effects on their patient populations.

Armed with this new insight, Thiel immediately recognized the benefits of revamping the target consumer with this product. While the product reacted in a manner that was not planned for initially, Thiel’s quick thinking in pivoting the product’s marketing, allowed the new treatment to provide aid for a consumer subsection that did not have many effective treatment options to date. While others may have doggedly attempted to continue on a failing trajectory, Thiel parlayed his previous experiences into shaping a brighter future for the product. This quick thinking not only garnered success for the product, but also assisted countless patients with limited options. From this experience, Thiel understood the idea that a positive result can be borne from an accidental event, and learned that in business, and in life, the ability to recognize these such positive results is crucial.

Throughout his evolving career, Thiel held many roles within the pharmaceutical industry, and drew valuable lessons from each position. He understood the notion of leading by example, and the need to be knowledgeable in every facet of the pharmaceutical industry in order to be credible. Thus, at a pivotal point in his career, Thiel accepted the role of Pharmaceutical Representative, garnering firsthand knowledge regarding face-to-face interaction between Pharmaceutical Representatives, and potential prescribers. For Thiel, being able to effectively lead a team meant that he needed to understand the roles of each member of the team. By engaging in all of the roles of the team, including that of Pharmaceutical Representative, Thiel knew he would gain valuable insight that would be helpful to him on a long-term trajectory.
Living in Southeast London’s Blackheath neighborhood, Thiel spent roughly one year pursuing meaningful prescriber relationships for a cardiovascular product, and gained insight regarding effective ways to build relationships between pharmaceutical companies proud of their newest innovations, and prescribers who have seen multiple product offerings within a short span of time. Thiel learned the value of building humanity-based relationships with prescribers, and the ways in which those relationships, based on mutual trust and respect, can then successfully build into partnerships. Through this humbling experience, he developed empathy for peers in similar roles, which allowed him to effectively coach these peers throughout future endeavors.

Thiel was able to apply these lessons within all matters of life, recognizing that the most convincing way to coach others is by having experienced their specific role, bringing empathy, pertinent expertise, and insider knowledge to the task at hand. According to Thiel, garnering professional empathy was somewhat of a culturally different experience from his native country’s professional expressions. Remaining open to the cultural differences within a professional environment, however, allowed Thiel to foster new skills, understanding, and sensitivity within his future field of expertise.

Impressively, in 2010, Thiel accompanied a few peers on their initial trek across the Alps in Europe. Spanning a total of five days, and reaching summits as high as 6,000 feet, the initial trek spawned from a bet that Thiel made with a peer who dared to question Thiel’s ability to complete the mission. Never one to back down from a challenge, Thiel not only accepted the invitation, but summoned additional peers to join him on the adventure, and successfully completed the exhilarating quest. Perhaps drawing from his previously accepted challenges that ended positively, Thiel confidently looked forward to pursuing this physical challenge.

Utilizing previously perfected skills, and the many lessons about personal integrity that he learned from his evolving career, Thiel was able to create an atmosphere of camaraderie, support, and a mutual admiration for completing a goal together. These sentiments parallelled many of the goals within his professional scope, where working as a team to accomplish a large-scale goal was key to the success of the entire team. Not only did the participants complete their trek across the Alps, but they turned this excursion into an annual mission, building upon their previous accomplishments annually.

Another crucial lesson that Thiel mastered throughout his illustrious career was the concept of being flexible, often reworking previous plans in the face of various outcomes. Of course, this ability translated seamlessly within Thiel’s private endeavors, including raising two children alongside his wife, a task that requires constantly being able to think on one’s feet, ebbing and flowing with the changes of family life. Tasked with the product launch for an innovative product launch initially aimed at providing care for women suffering from fractures related to bone loss, Thiel began to see a distinct pattern emerge within the initial trials of the treatment. According to initial trials, Rheumatologists were not seeing the desired results on their patients, but were referring the product to Oncologists, who were seeing desired effects on their patient populations.

Armed with this new insight, Thiel immediately recognized the benefits of revamping the target consumer with this product. While the product reacted in a manner that was not planned for initially, Thiel’s quick thinking in pivoting the product’s marketing, allowed the new treatment to provide aid for a consumer subsection that did not have many effective treatment options to date. While others may have doggedly attempted to continue on a failing trajectory, Thiel parlayed his previous experiences into shaping a brighter future for the product. This quick thinking not only garnered success for the product, but also assisted countless patients with limited options. From this experience, Thiel understood the idea that a positive result can be borne from an accidental event, and learned that in business, and in life, the ability to recognize these such positive results is crucial.

Throughout his evolving career, Thiel held many roles within the pharmaceutical industry, and drew valuable lessons from each position. He understood the notion of leading by example, and the need to be knowledgeable in every facet of the pharmaceutical industry in order to be credible. Thus, at a pivotal point in his career, Thiel accepted the role of Pharmaceutical Representative, garnering firsthand knowledge regarding face-to-face interaction between Pharmaceutical Representatives, and potential prescribers. For Thiel, being able to effectively lead a team meant that he needed to understand the roles of each member of the team. By engaging in all of the roles of the team, including that of Pharmaceutical Representative, Thiel knew he would gain valuable insight that would be helpful to him on a long-term trajectory.
Living in Southeast London’s Blackheath neighborhood, Thiel spent roughly one year pursuing meaningful prescriber relationships for a cardiovascular product, and gained insight regarding effective ways to build relationships between pharmaceutical companies proud of their newest innovations, and prescribers who have seen multiple product offerings within a short span of time. Thiel learned the value of building humanity-based relationships with prescribers, and the ways in which those relationships, based on mutual trust and respect, can then successfully build into partnerships. Through this humbling experience, he developed empathy for peers in similar roles, which allowed him to effectively coach these peers throughout future endeavors.

Thiel was able to apply these lessons within all matters of life, recognizing that the most convincing way to coach others is by having experienced their specific role, bringing empathy, pertinent expertise, and insider knowledge to the task at hand. According to Thiel, garnering professional empathy was somewhat of a culturally different experience from his native country’s professional expressions. Remaining open to the cultural differences within a professional environment, however, allowed Thiel to foster new skills, understanding, and sensitivity within his future field of expertise.

Since this article was previously written, the world has been turned up on its end. The coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented feelings of anxiety, countless lives lost, and uncertainty as to the future of the country and of the world. As we learn to live in this “new normal,” Carsten Thiel has taken this not as a setback, but as a drive to push ahead. While some may waver during these trying times, falling prey to amoral standards in the interest of self preservation, Thiel has pressed forward with renewed invigoration for his occupational field in a time when it is needed most. His company EUSA Pharma, for which Thiel remains head of European commercialization efforts, has ensured that it remains dedicated to helping make a meaningful difference in patients’ lives. Instead of remaining inflexible in their company’s main focus of researching and developing medicines for rare diseases and oncology, they have extended their commitment to bringing innovative medicines to include those affected by the global health crisis at hand. Through his company’s pivot from rare disease and oncological matters to the health crisis at hand, Thiel has remained true to his previous lessons learned of ethics within the pharmaceutical industry and strong leadership in the face of tribulations while applying them to every aspect of his life.

When the World Health Organization first announced COVID-19 was officially a pandemic, scientists, along with the labs and companies they work for, sprang into action. Rather than let the political divides of their various nationalities prevent collaboration, countries around the world have been working together to develop vaccines and treatments for coronavirus and its disease COVID-19. In the pharmaceutical and scientific world, fierce competition to be the first to bring exciting developments to the world can foster secrecy and division within the community, but for Thiel this was never an option. Whereas usually the first step after a discovery or advancement would be to begin working on an article to publish in a scientific journal, Thiel advocated for foregoing these typical standards in favor of bringing the information straight to their peers and colleagues who can use it with immediacy. Utilizing his previously developed moral code of a patient-first pharmaceutical approach, he was adamant in his stance that the company should work together with the world community of scientists, doctors, and pharmacists to ensure they were doing everything in their power to fight the pandemic.

Thiel and his colleagues were aware that while a vaccine was desperately needed, their strengths lay in developing treatments. They could have let ego drive their decision making, completely switching course and beginning the development of a vaccine so that they could be the heroes of the pandemic, but from his previous marketing experience garnered in his impressive career Thiel knew that sometimes broad strokes could be the biggest mistake. As with his work developing the weight loss and colorectal cancer drug, he and his company knew they would be better served playing to their strengths and working to develop something within the realm of what they had previous familiarity with. Although less talked about than the development of a vaccine, the use of antibody treatments to prevent cases and reduce symptoms of COVID-19 was one Thiel and his colleagues knew they would have much more success in developing.

Antibodies are proteins the body makes to fight infections. A vaccine works to make your body create antibodies capable of fighting diseases, but an antibody treatment introduces the antibodies to the body in what can be a faster and more effective solution. There are two ways science has found to introduce antibodies to the body, the first being through convalescent plasma. Convalescent plasma is antibody-filled blood plasma from patients who have recovered from the disease and has been used previously to treat the 1918 flu pandemic as well as the MERS and SARS epidemics. Thiel knew that though this method could also be used to treat COVID-19 patients, there would never be enough donated plasma available to treat everybody, but thankfully his company had already been working extensively on monoclonal antibodies, which are made in a lab to specifically target an infection. Thiel’s empathy he’s evolved through decades of patient-first pharmaceutical work told him that while the development of a vaccine was paramount to stopping the pandemic, there were multitudes of people suffering and dying who already had the disease. Although antibody treatments do not stop the pandemic itself, Thiel argued that if one can be developed that has the ability to consistently prevent deaths it could lower the mortality rate and render the virus much less deadly.

Thiel’s company had previously developed a monoclonal antibody called Sylvant that was approved by the Federal Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to treat patients with the rare disease multicentric Castleman disease. In a stroke of ingenuity and wisdom, the idea was purported that one could try repurposing the antibody treatment as a therapy for COVID-19. Exactly one week after the coronavirus was pronounced a pandemic, EUSA Pharma announced they would be conducting a trial for the drug at a hospital in Italy. Even though they are based in the UK and have a headquarters in the United States, Thiel’s work as head of European commercialization efforts has seen their young company truly become a global brand in a short number of years, and because of this they were able to get right in the center of the action at the time in northern Italy. Administering the drug to COVID-19 patients who had developed severe respiratory complications, the interim results showed remarkable promise. Over three quarters of the patients in the study showed improved or stable conditions after receiving the treatment, and all patients experienced a reduction in systemic inflammation.

The trial was such a remarkable success, there are now plans for a larger clinical trial to occur in the United States. Thanks to Carsten Thiel’s dedication to finding the most advantageous solutions for both his profession and his patients, the world of biopharmaceuticals continues to be one of ever-growing ethical standards. For Thiel, the idea of helping those in pain is the guiding light in his professional career, whether that be from a rare disease, a cancerous growth, or a devastating pandemic. Since his time began at EUSA Pharma, Theil continues to be inspired by those who work day in and day out to develop treatments for such diseases, but remains steadfast in his belief that he is using his own personal talents to his best ability on the business side of biopharmaceuticals.

As cases of the coronavirus continue to climb in countries across the world, the biopharmaceutical industry has seen massive changes in a miniscule amount of time. Biotech companies near and far are pivoting to fight the disease, working around the clock and in unprecedented numbers to develop treatments and vaccines. Thiel’s position has never been more important, and while this might cause some to waver in resolve, it has only served to further motivate him. His sense of self, strong ethical convictions, and perseverance have been honed and developed extensively through decades of professional moral victories, leaving him ideally positioned to take on a pandemic. As EUSA Pharma continues to pursue groundbreaking achievements within the biopharmaceutical realm, having Thiel at the helm of European commercialization efforts means they are able to utilize his over 27 years of experience, learning from those that challenged him most. The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down, and Thiel certainly won’t either.

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