Amgen’s Lybrand: a mover and a shaker

By Megan Brodie 1 year ago | In People
  • 1 year ago
Amgen Aussie ex-pat Sean Lybrand in Zug, Switzerland, where he now lives.

25 January 2023

Sean Lybrand describes himself as a “mover”. He means in the physical sense, having moved himself and his young family multiple times across multiple continents since leaving his home state of Queensland several decades ago, but Sean Lybrand is a mover in more than one aspect of his global life.

Lybrand recently took on a newly created role at Amgen helping establish a unit focused on improving access to healthcare in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). It marks a new direction for the company and, for Lybrand, the culmination of a career dedicated to bringing medicines to populations.

“Having the ability to essentially create a start-up organisation inside a big, well-established pharmaceutical company in areas that I both enjoy and am passionate about – that was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up,” Lybrand told MedNews from his home in Zug, Switzerland.

“Being based here in Switzerland is convenient as a lot of the stakeholders who address global healthcare are in or around Europe, such as the World Health Organisation, City Cancer Challenge, and the IFPMA. Europe is probably the best place to have direct, high-level in-person engagement as opposed to arm’s length.”

Zug is a long way from Queensland where Lybrand grew up and completed his university degree. It was only a need to fund his desire to step into a PhD program that Lybrand took on a job with MSD, fully intending to return to academia once his financial situation was more secure.

“Somebody I respected greatly said at the time, oh, you’re moving to the dark side,” he recalls. “That’s always stuck with me. I didn’t think it was the dark side, and I still don’t. I’m now 20 years into a two-year hiatus from working at a university and I still love it.

“The fact is that this is an incredibly productive industry. I’m very fond of saying, the only day that’s better to have cancer than today is tomorrow because that’s the speed of change. I feel I’ve been much more productive working in the pharmaceutical industry in terms of my contribution at scale to society than I ever would have made as an academic.”

An Aussie and international career

Lybrand’s career at MSD was, as has been much of his career, relatively international. Just three years after starting, the Lybrands moved to Pennsylvania, but just two years later they found themselves moving back to Australia while Lybrand worked a regional APAC role.

After more than four years commuting to Asia and too much time spent away from his young family, Sean sought a country leadership team role within Australia, expecting this would be relatively easy to find given his broad regional and global experience, yet he found not everyone valued such experiences.

“Everybody says moving overseas is important and will help your career, but when I came back to Australia, I looked at a number of different companies and found Australian hiring managers quite parochial,” he says. “I had one person say in an interview, you’ve been out of Australia for quite a long time, how are we going to use your connections?

“While I had expected that an overseas posting would be something that was considered a net benefit, when interviewing, I didn’t always feel it was seen that way.”

Michael Cloonan, GM of Biogen ANZ at the time, clearly recognised the advantages and appointed Lybrand Head of Market Access.

“I really wanted to sit on a country leadership team as I’d never done that, and I wanted to have P&L responsibility,” Lybrand says. “The Biogen role blended health economics, business skills and policy change, and that’s subsequently what I’ve done as I’ve moved towards being a leader in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I did feel that my international experience was very good for me in terms of pattern recognition, and it helped me realise I was the one who needed to adapt to the business environment.”

Lybrand again thought his Australian stay would be short-lived as he anticipated another global move, but instead moved in-country to Amgen as its Director of Value, Access and Policy. The role provided him with a challenge that kept him in Australia for another five years.

“One of the important things for me is being a finisher, not just a starter,” he says. “From my personal values perspective, I like to see things through. You see a lot of people jump careers every 18 months to two years, particularly in global roles, but in health economics and policy roles, relationships are really important.

“Stakeholders appreciate longevity and the Head of Access is often one of their key company interactions. Having known engagement is something I believe they value, and something I value as well.”

‘Medicines are for the people’

In 2020 the Lybrands were again on the move, relocating to Switzerland.

“We wanted to move while the children were younger so they could become part of a society,” says Sean. “I’d seen many expats touchdown and take off within two to three years, and that wasn’t what I wanted. I felt my Pennsylvania experience was quite unrequited after only two years.”

Sean’s most recent role enables him to embody a quote from MSD founder George W. Merck that has always been core to his career philosophy, ‘Never forget that the medicines are for the people, not the profits’.

“Access to healthcare for LMICs is a strong part of my experience dating back to my Merck days where I started vaccination programs in Bhutan, among other places,” he says. “The ability to help steer Amgen in a new direction that I was both familiar with and passionate about was one of those experiences that seldom comes one’s way.

“Every company has the potential to take their medicines and send them into a country and say, there you go, but unless a healthcare system is built up around the use of those medicines, countries will simply not be able to use them or worse, use them temporarily.

“A number of organisations that I admire are taking more of a healthcare system strengthening approach with medicines as a component. One of those is the City Cancer Challenge, which has a locally focused approach to improving the healthcare system at a city level as a stimulus for broader and subsequent country changes.”

Amgen is working with City Cancer Challenge on supportive cancer care in Paraguay with plans for programs in other regions. Lybrand says cancer care is complex and one of the major barriers to better outcomes in LMICs is therapy abandonment.

“If we can help improve the process for people undergoing cancer treatments and keep them on therapy at the right dose and frequency, then the ability to improve their outcome is much higher,” he says.

“As an industry we’ve moved from corporate philanthropy through CSR to ESG and to me, organisations like ours and other bigger companies should, and often do, support better global healthcare as a part of doing business.

“Pfizer recently announced it would provide a portfolio at no profit pricing for low- and middle-income countries. They’ve taken a principles-based approach that access should be as egalitarian as possible. It doesn’t solve the problem of access in LMICs, but it certainly makes the potential to have a better health outcome greater than what it otherwise would be.”

More than just medicine

Lybrand says along with providing affordable medicines, healthcare systems need strengthening to ensure the potential to use those medicines is not compromised – an area he is clearly passionate about.

“I really want people to care deeply about the mission of our industry – deeply enough to be able to navigate inconsistencies and think in a mature way about healthcare systems and the relationship between stakeholders,” he says. “For example, I never want government to be red and us to be blue, or vice versa. I am sometimes disappointed that it ends up that way when ultimately our aim is similar – better health outcomes for the population.

“We have to be able to accept that our industry sells medicines and governments are the purchasers of our medicines. We can work with our external stakeholders and prove our industry is not just about the sale of medicines, but the provision of health outcomes. That’s a really important difference for me.

“I made the choice coming from academia in how I wanted to be within this industry, and I’ve had a great career. Ultimately, people are the most important asset for our business and relationships between stakeholders matter. It’s multi-stakeholder relationships that contribute most effectively to better health outcomes.”

For now, the Lybrands have no plans to return to Australia, Sean once again wanting to finish this new job that he has just started.

“To return home sooner than I had planned would be a little bit of a failure in my mission for myself and for my family, which has nothing to do with Australia and everything to do with me and what I want out of my career,” he explains.

Clearly, this Aussie ex-pat and global mover has big plans, and big goals. When he does consider this particular job complete, no doubt more people globally will have better access to healthcare, and hopefully the world will also see better health outcomes as a result.

©MedNews 2023

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