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Working Life: Dr Rav Seeruthun, Medical Director of Roche UK

Published on 14/12/17 at 10:50am sat down with Dr Rav Seeruthun, Medical Director of Roche UK, to discuss his career thus far and the lessons learnt along the way.

You’ve had a varied career – can you give me a brief overview of your professional progression through the years?

My career has unfolded in three distinct parts. The first was in the NHS: I trained at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in Paddington and then spent quite a long time working in the NHS. It’s quite rare that people do that – most people spend less time and migrate into the industry relatively early. I then went down to Kent and did hospital medicine for a while, and actually did a lot of casualty work which gave me a good view on how to deal with patients at some of the most difficult times of their lives.

I then went onto a GP training practice in Ashford – I practiced as a GP for four years. I then moved into the pharmaceutical industry by joining a smaller-sized company, Organon, which was quickly bought up by Schering Plough, and I’ve now spent about nine years in the industry. The common theme for me has been to always work and partner with patients or the public.

What made you make that change in direction to move into the pharma industry?

The first reason is that I really wanted to be able to make a change in a broader way; I felt that it was really valuable seeing patients on a regular basis, but I understood that I couldn’t influence the entire public.

Secondly, I’d spent a long time both in training and in practice, so how could I use my medical skills to still work with patients, and put them to wider use? The natural place to migrate to was the pharmaceutical industry. I describe it as a bit of a jump off a cliff because I didn’t really know much about the industry; it’s actually one of the reasons I’m really happy to be doing something like this: when you’re working in the NHS, your interactions tend to be limited to the promotional teams – there was little interaction with the wider industry.

Was it a challenge compared to the work you had done before?

In the last year of my NHS career I was, single-handed, running a practice – speaking to 90 patients a day, and therefore going into even a small-sized pharma company was very different. I think you have to take a bigger picture view of the way you can influence and work with healthcare professionals and patients, because you obviously lose direct patient contact.

What medical value can a medical affairs department bring? What value and leadership can physicians who’ve seen patients in many parts of their careers bring into the pharmaceutical sector? It’s a completely different world, and I would say the biggest challenge I had was in understanding that.

A lot of physicians and healthcare professionals have only ever worked with other professionals, and understanding and working with people who’ve not been medically trained is a completely different journey.

Before heading into the pharma industry, you stood as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Labour party. Can you tell me about this move?

I was practising as a GP in Maidstone, and healthcare there was a major issue – they were planning to close the maternity unit at Maidstone Hospital. One of the things that I campaigned on was that having local maternity services was incredibly important, so I was bringing my patient-centricity through to that role.

Patients are members of the public, so I think that all politicians have a duty of care to think around their interactions with the public and their healthcare. I believe in the NHS and am a big believer that it should be funded correctly, and that actually bridges into what I do now – I believe we have to partner the NHS more effectively with pharmaceutical companies going forward.

You’ve served at a number of pharma firms in the past – what was it that attracted you to Roche?

What attracted me, first, was that I knew Roche for its innovation, even from my GP days. I knew it from Herceptin and Genentech, and all of the developments with monoclonal antibodies. I was aware of the company and it was somewhere I really wanted to have a future.

I’d say the things that stood out for me were the innovations, and once I’d joined, the thing I really learned was that we’re a company that really invests in R&D. That really married well with my reasons to come into the industry.

How have you been able to progress so much within the company over the past few years?

I’ve had a non-linear career journey and been somewhat brave in my decision-making; after I joined as medical lead for breast cancer, I decided to go back to school in 2013. While working, I did my executive MBA at Judge Business School in Cambridge, and it sparked my interest in the value of working in the commercial part of the organisation. Roche responded very positively, and very quickly I transitioned to the Integrated Franchise Leader role, which has profit and loss responsibility. I started in pipeline and then moved over into respiratory and then rare diseases.  After two years of a commercial role, I was asked: “What do you think about being Medical Director?”

And you have served as UK Medical Director at Roche for a year now. How have you found the role so far, and how does it differ from your previous professional roles?

I’m really enjoying the role. I’m enjoying working with the breadth and diversity of the people – the department is approximately 150 people, so the biggest challenge I’ve had is in understanding the scope of the role. It is what I would call a traditional Medical Director’s role – that includes quality, safety, regulatory, compliance, medical information, and medical affairs. I wasn’t as aware of these things before I came into the role, and another thing that I’ve absolutely learnt is to surround yourself with great people to make sure that we have that breadth.

What do you find most rewarding or enjoyable about your work?

There are two things for me: one is a common theme, which is around patients. For me, the most rewarding aspect is when we have feedback from patients directly. It’s quite rare because our main customers are healthcare professionals, but we do get feedback that tends to be quite public because of the great work we’ve done in breast cancer, or the work we’re doing in cancer immunotherapy, or the work we’re soon to be doing in multiple sclerosis.

The second thing is working with healthcare professionals. Within the NHS it was quite difficult to influence; it was absolutely brilliant in that consultation room with that one patient, but now I have the ability to talk to therapy area experts and opinion leaders from all areas, and work in partnership to shift the environment.

Is there anyone within or outside your work that has been a source of inspiration to you throughout your career?

The General Manager of Roche, Richard Erwin, was the guy who asked me to do my current job, and it was a bit leftfield because I was a Franchise Leader, I’d come from Medical Affairs, and I’d already said I was really interested in becoming a General Manager. He sat me down and asked, “What is the value that you bring to patients?” I think he’s really been a great mentor for me going forward, and has helped shape this role. It made me realise that you don’t need that linear career path – in fact, having a non-linear career path and making brave career decisions is actually really valued.

Alongside Richard, I would count my classmates at the EMBA at Judge Business School. I graduated in 2015, and my open mind-set now to how I work, individually or with my teams, has very much been driven by the fact that my social network now includes a whole bunch of people who are not from the pharmaceutical industry. It’s really stretched where I think the future will go in healthcare.

What do you think is the key to your success and motivation on a day-to-day basis?

I honestly think that my day-to-day success has been based around patient centricity. The phrase I like most that I see at Roche is: “Doing now what patients need next.” This company takes risks but we take them for patients, and that’s exactly the kind of company I want to work for, because you can’t create innovation unless you take risk.

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