Life in pharma like ‘opening a million doors’

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Companies, People, Regulatory
  • 3 years ago

21 April 2021

When Bayer’s Country Medical Director Dr Eduardo Pimenta first told his parents he wanted to move from his medical clinical/research job to work for a pharmaceutical company, his cardiologist father questioned why his son was moving “to the dark side”.

Yet Adjunct Associate Professor Pimenta says his father is now not only one of his strongest supporters, immensely proud of what his son has achieved, but also a huge convert to the benefits pharma companies offer patients globally.

“I’d have to say it is a very shiny, light side,” Dr Pimenta told MedNews. “Now my Dad loves what I do. When the paper for Vitrakvi was published I sent it to Dad and my sister, who is a paediatrician, and they thought, wow, this is amazing.”

“They can see how beautiful and amazing the drug discovery process is. Patients are living longer nowadays and one of the reasons is the pharmaceutical industry. We do a lot of great things and I really try to promote the wonderful things we do.”

Born in Brazil, Dr Pimenta said his father’s medical career had a huge influence on his own decision to pursue medical training then, along with his future wife, a nephrology paediatrician, to complete post-doctoral studies in the US before the young couple returned to Brazil.

Just as his father specialised in cardiology, Dr Pimenta initially pursued an academic career studying hypertension but with making a living in research an ongoing challenge in Brazil, a chance opportunity for a clinical and academic research position in Brisbane saw the couple farewell their families and move to Australia in 2009.

Dr Pimenta’s first move into pharma was in a diabetes medical position at Boehringer Ingelheim but with his heart still firmly set in cardiovascular medicine, an opening for a Senior Medical Advisor saw him change to Bayer, opening new doors which the doctor couldn’t wait to explore.

Medical family on the move

That was 2014 and while Bayer’s Xarelto had just been launched, soon the Pimentas – now with son Lucas in tow – both accepted positions working in Bayer’s cardiovascular research campus in Wuppertal, Germany.

“Going there was very exciting,” Dr Pimenta says. “When you join the industry and learn of all the pathways you can follow, it is like opening millions of doors. I’d always wanted to work in a global position and in early clinical research. Lucas was only three years old and it was the right time.”

The family stayed in Germany for two and a half years before returning to Australia in 2017, Dr Pimenta citing the harsh German climate as one reason for the return but also the constraints of working in early phase research.

“In preclinical, only one to two per cent of molecules will actually go on to become a product on the shelf,” he said. “In phase one and two trials, less than 10 per cent of molecules will make it to market. You devote a lot of passion to the research but you need to be very tolerant of frustration.”

Back in Australia, it wasn’t long before Dr Pimenta was promoted to Country Medical Director, the top medical role in Australia and New Zealand, putting him on the executive team and leading a team of medical professionals.

“What I love about the job is having a group of people purely focused on making products available to patients,” he said.

“The medical team all joined the industry because they have a bigger purpose – to ensure our new medications reach patients. Being a doctor, looking after the patients is what I really enjoy but looking after the team is equally important, making sure that they thrive and develop professionally and are able to do their best.”

The future is bright

Dr Pimenta says the most exciting part of his job is the ability to offer options for patients who, 20 years ago, had no options.

“Medical people live and breathe science every day, that’s what we do,” he says. “The most rewarding thing is when you talk to doctors and they want to get access to new medicines as soon as possible.

“When I was doing my training, we thought in 2050 we might have the ability to put a drop of blood in a machine and have it tell you what medications you can take. It is 2021 and that is already starting to happen. A lot of doctors still think this can only happen in sci-fi movies but it is already a reality with tumours – it’s happening now.”

Dr Pimenta said the age of precision medicine is coming fast and Australian systems need to evolve rapidly to cope, pointing to Vitrakvi as being the start of a new era of medicines, while Bayer also has a number of cell and gene therapy projects in its phase 1 pipeline.

“At the moment, very few medications submitted to TGA are precision medicines but in 10 years it is likely to be more. The system needs to get ready for this influx of precision medicines. The future is determining the value of medication, particularly when it offers a cure for a disease.

“Then the question is, what are the savings? You need to see the entire value of the medication because you are not talking about improving quality of life, you are talking about curing diseases.

“Some of these patients go into 100 per cent regression and there is the potential for them to be cured. This is the future where we don’t talk about age or tumour location, only the genetic mutation, and not only in oncology but in other diseases as well.”

Dr Pimenta says providing access to new therapies continues to be a challenge, with the industry’s focus on reducing the lag between when new drugs are registered in Australia and when they are reimbursed the right focus.

“We try to create mechanisms to help like compassionate access but we also need to make the system sustainable. Compassionate access is not the solution to equitable access.”

While he has now been Country Medical Director for two years, Dr Pimenta says his family has no immediate plans to move again, having developed a strong appreciation not just for the Australian lifestyle and climate but also its medical system. Still, he says life never goes according to plan.

“When we finished medical school we had a plan, and that plan is completely different to what actually happened, and that’s great,” he says with a smile. For this doctor, pharma life is a world of opportunity and he’s determined to make the most of it.

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