The triumphs of GSK’s Kristin MacLaren

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

30 June 2021

There will be more than a few tears shed at GSK next week when the company’s Head of Communications, Kristin MacLaren, walks through the departure gates at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport en route back to the US.

After more than a decade in the local pharma industry, MacLaren has had a huge impact on the local policy scene, first as a policy manager at Medicines Australia then later in a range of roles at GSK for Australia and New Zealand, and she leaves a legacy any seasoned industry veteran would be proud of.

While MacLaren’s rather large shoes are being more than capably filled by her delightfully talented colleague Angela Hill, the loss of MacLaren’s passion and experience in the Australian government affairs and policy scene – particularly in vaccines – will be sorely felt.

However, as she moves to GSK’s Research Centre in North Carolina to take on a Director of Global Primary and Speciality Care role with a focus on COVID-19 therapies, Australia can be proud of the role it has played in her career path as MacLaren takes her immense talent and experience to the global stage.

From NYC to Bungendore

A native of Ohio, MacLaren studied law in New York City where she met and married her US-Australian husband. The young couple continued to live and work in NYC until the Global Financial Crisis prompted a move to Australia in search of a quieter life.

“We lived in Brooklyn,” she says. “New York City is an amazing place but an exhausting place and we needed a change of lifestyle.”

Setting up home down a dusty dirt track five kilometres out of the NSW country town of Bungendore about a half an hour’s drive from Canberra certainly provided a change in pace and enabled the fresh-faced young lawyer with a strong interest in public policy to apply for and secure a Policy Manager position at Medicines Australia.

“Brendan Shaw was CEO, Liz de Somer Regulatory Manager, Andrew Bruce Director of Policy and Jim Crompton Head of Reimbursement,” she says. “It was a small organisation but if you wanted to dig in, to get into the weeds and understand how access to medicines and vaccines worked in Australia, there was no better training ground nor more passionate people to work with.

“I was totally immersed in this world. It satisfied my hunger to learn and I just loved it but working with all the member companies and getting to know them, their values, culture and portfolio mixes, it was clear to me very early on that I would love to work for GSK.”

And so it was that after two years, yearning again for the buzz of city life, the MacLarens packed up their country cottage and headed for the city lights of Melbourne so Kristin could take up what she calls her “dream job” as GSK’s Head of Government Affairs and Policy.

Under the wing of David Herd, himself already an industry legend, she mastered the role while also taking on secondments and positions that enabled her to grow, including Senior Brand Manager, Vaccines and later, Head of  Communications ANZ. Yet while her career continued to power ahead, on a personal level MacLaren was facing challenges that meant life was not always a bed of roses.

Tragedy and triumph

An inability to fall pregnant meant that while her career excelled, MacLaren was at the same time enduring the emotional trauma of trying to conceive.

“I went through round after round after round of unsuccessful IVF attempts and then we had this miracle baby,” she says of her now three-year-old daughter. “We never anticipated ever being able to have a second child but then we had another miracle baby in our second daughter, who is nearly two.

“The thing I’m most proud of through this chapter of my life is that I was able to continue to grow in my career while having such personal tragedy and triumph in my day-to-day life. To be able to have done both was remarkable and I’m really proud of that.

“To be able to reach my career goals and to build my family despite all the challenges, if there’s nothing else I remember about these years, it will be that, and I’m really proud of GSK in the way it supported me in my career. I was a lawyer developing in external advocacy and government affairs and even took a cross-functional move into marketing all while taking maternity leave, building my family and managing my personal life.”

Value of Vaccines

Kristen and I first connected after I read a Public Summary Document on the company’s Shingrix vaccine, rejected by the PBAC in 2018. With the patience, intelligence and enthusiasm for which she is renowned, she took the time to explain how applying the same cost-effectiveness calculations for drugs that treat illnesses to vaccines that prevent illness was a “reverse equation” that unfairly valued these important preventative therapies.

It wasn’t hard to become infected with MacLaren’s passion for vaccines, and I was soon flying to Melbourne for the launch of GSK’s Value of Vaccines report in 2019 – a report MacLaren both researched and authored.

“The thing I’m most proud of is the Value of Vaccines work and sticking up for the community, sticking up for policy settings that mean prevention counts,” she says. “There’s a lot of technical stuff underneath that, and I love the technical stuff but at the end of the day, we needed to shine a light on what was going wrong and what wasn’t being talked about in terms of how Australia was valuing prevention.

“I’m really proud that we gave it the energy it needed. GSK has a pipeline of amazing vaccines to come but it’s not enough on its own. Within GSK there’s such a personal professional motivation to find a way to get vaccines into Australian arms and to ensure they are not just left on the shelf.

“Certainly there is still more work to do and if I have any frustration in leaving, it is that this is not resolved but I really do believe that through the challenges that everyone has faced through COVID, that we all understand intrinsically the value of prevention more than we ever have.

“If you ask politicians, if you ask the community, if you ask the restaurant owner down the street, they would say we didn’t consider the impact COVID would have on our livelihoods and the operation of our economy. It’s not how we measured the value of prevention.

“Hopefully through the policy work that we’ve done, it’s quite clear we have a world-class system and don’t need to throw it all out but there are key things that we could do, very actionable things, to value prevention much more so than we do now.”

Flexing her creative muscle

As MacLaren looks forward to her new role in the US, she is excited about the opportunity to work on the companies two Covid therapies, sotrovimab and otilimab, exercising what she calls her ‘creative muscle’ in finding new solutions to problems.

“In moving to this next role, I’ll get to keep flexing and growing my creativity muscle,” she says.”I need that for my professional growth and development, to think about the challenges and the opportunities and other markets.

“It’s never been more clear how important our work is and just how unstoppable we are as an industry. When we put our brains, our energy, our resources together, we can achieve anything and I feel really thrilled that the next step in my career is supporting this emerging science and helping to communicate it.”

Brava Kristin (Trace) MacLaren. You will be missed.

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