- 1 year ago
10 October 2022
Serendipity has played a big part in Dave Pearce’s life and, in many ways, his story reads like a movie script – one where doors open in front of a young man seeking new adventures in faraway places coupled with interesting career opportunities. As he steps through each door, another door opens.
The role chance – or serendipity as he likes to call it – has played in his life is not lost on Pearce, but as he looks to the impact he wants to make in his new role as Takeda Oceania General Manager, he refers to what he calls “conscious serendipity” – the ability to maximise opportunity in your life and the lives of others.
It’s been almost six months since Pearce arrived in Australia to take on the Oceania GM role and, while still settling in, he brings deep experience and is already pondering the legacy he wants to leave behind. But to tell his story, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Born in South Africa, Pearce finished school the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison and went on to study pharmacy. After university, he did as so many young South Africans do – sold his car and went to London seeking fame, fortune and adventure, landing a job as a pharmacy technician with the NHS.
“I’ve never worked so hard in all my life,” quips Pearce. “The hospital where I worked had the biggest HIV clinic in the UK and the top oncology service, so patients would come in and get shopping bags full of treatments.”
With his pharmacy degree not recognised in the UK, he sought to leverage it by taking a medical information role at Sanofi which later found him sitting opposite the first health economist employed by the company at a time when health technology assessment was making its first appearance in the UK – and his interest was piqued.
“The idea that the government would make a judgement call on how well a medicine works and how much it costs is, at its core, a very simple principle, but it resonated with me,” he says. “I was doing a business degree at the time but started a Master’s in health economics – and fell in love with it.”
A world of adventures
After graduating, Pearce moved to Wyeth as its first ‘health outcomes’ employee and loved the products and fast-paced environment, but underneath a hunger to see more of the world resulted in him backpacking overland via India, Nepal, and China to Australia, where he again worked with Wyeth. Pearce describes his Asian journey as “life-changing”.
“You saw people in situations that we in developed countries wouldn’t know how to handle, but these people were very happy and content,” he says. “It was a really amazing experience and gave me a perspective as to where I fit in, what I think about the world, and how I could contribute to equity, fairness and diversity.”
In Sydney, Pearce also met his now wife Fiona and the young couple travelled together through South America before Pearce returned to Wyeth in London, only to find it no longer the fast-paced environment he loved. Serendipity stepped in when a friend pointed out an ad for a Head of Market Access job at GSK. By now with such strong experience in the area, Pearce successfully applied and found the move satisfied his desire for new challenges.
“I spent almost eight years at GSK and loved it,” he said. “The CEO, Andrew Witty, had a philosophy to be strong on the science, to do the right thing, and access, access, access. This resonated with my values of fairness, equity, and especially access.”
The need for understanding
Pearce’s unique access knowledge was not lost on GSK nor the wider industry, and he found himself seconded to the UK industry association as a technical expert advising on its next five-year agreement with the Government – an experience he now refers to in the context of the pending review of Australia’s health technology assessment (HTA) processes, and the Strategic Agreement which recently came into effect.
“You need to take a step back and think about the department, the technocrats, the politicians, and how you balance the different perspectives,” he says. “You need to be very clear about what you want and not have a shopping list, but rather two or three things that are going to be really impactful.”
Pearce also advises industry to be consistent with its messaging and to maintain a united front if it wants to secure the best possible outcome.
Takeda is the largest rare disease company in Australia if not the world, says Pearce, with products funded on the PBS and the National Blood Authority (NBA). It gives the company exposure to two different HTA processes, and Pearce says each has its benefits.
“The NBA team is accessible, collaborative and transparent, and you can have a conversation. Having seen HTA in the UK change over the years from where NICE was accessible to more barriers being put up, you need to find a balance between a process that is clear and understandable, fair and consistent, as well as being able to have a reasonable conversation.
“The PBAC has a very efficient but heavy process, whereas the NBA has procurement but is more accessible. Both sides could learn about balancing accessibility, valuation, transparency and consistency. I’m not saying one is better than the other – it’s probably somewhere in the middle.”
From London to Singapore
After his secondment to the UK industry agreement, Pearce took a short-term role looking after GSK’s emerging markets in Europe and the Middle East before the company offered him an APAC role based in Singapore. Along with his Australian wife, the couple was eager to move closer to Australia but a year after arriving in Singapore, serendipity once again prompted an abrupt change in course.
Bumping into an acquaintance who mentioned his company – Takeda – was setting up a new business and looking for a Head of Access for Emerging Markets, Pearce’s interest was once again piqued.
“Opportunities to set something up from the start are very difficult to come by,” he says. “I hadn’t intended to move but when I got to Takeda, I could feel the company’s values of integrity, fairness, perseverance and honesty, and could see how they were applied in decision-making every single day.”
After executing multiple launches across many emerging markets, Pearce was again looking for a change when his boss – then Head of Commercial – asked if he would be his successor. Pearce agreed, only to find himself in the job just one month later – the timing clashing with the start of the Covid pandemic, which in itself presented a raft of new challenges.
Yet after two years of Singapore’s strict lockdowns, the Pearces – Dave, Fiona and their daughters – were eager to return to Australia. Once again, serendipity paved the way when former Takeda Oceania GM Brad Edwards moved to an APAC role, providing Pearce with an opportunity to secure his first country leadership role while also moving back to Australia.
“It worked out perfectly,” he says. “Takeda Oceania was a logical choice for me, both for professional and personal reasons, and there’s something special about being in a local operating company. That sense of team and local accomplishment is fantastic.”
As he now looks to make his own mark on the ANZ operation, Pearce clearly brings a skillset and depth of experience that will benefit not just Takeda, but also the wider Australian and New Zealand pharmaceutical industry – especially given his decades of market access successes. Yet he is also turning his attention to the 100 people who work here and determining how he can ‘create’ serendipitous opportunities for them.
“My career and my life have been punctuated by serendipity, but through conscious serendipity, we don’t have to leave those sliding door moments purely to chance,” he says. “You can give people the time and space to have the discussions and make those connections that are going to have a meaningful impact.
“You can make all those random events less random while still embracing what is more and more a random world.”