Q&A with Kasha Witkos, SVP, Head of International Region, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

Witkos discusses his accomplishments in his first year as SVP, Head of International Region, and his long-term goals to help maintain Alnylam’s leadership in RNAi.

Alnylam (Cambridge, MA) is an RNAi therapy company whose ONPATTRO® (patisiran) became the world’s first approved RNAi therapeutic treatment in 2018. Since then, the company’s RNAi therapies GIVLAARI® and OXLUMO® (lumasiran) have been approved. Alnylam continues to advance a pipeline of innovative RNAi-based drugs in four therapeutic areas: Genetic Medicines, Cardiometabolic Diseases, Infectious Diseases, and Central Nervous System (CNS) and Ocular Diseases.

Kasha Witkos joined Alnylam at the end of 2020, along with commercial director Tolga Tanguler (interviewed by Pharmaceutical Directorhere). Witkos began her medical training at the Medical Academy in Wroclaw, Poland, before transferring to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she earned her degree in genetics. Prior to Alnylam, she held several rare disease business positions at Takeda and its former organizations (Baxter, Baxalta, Shire). Here, Witkos talks to Pharmaceutical Director on his accomplishments in his first year as SVP, Head of International Region, and his long-term goals to help maintain Alnylam’s leadership in RNAi.

Pharmaceutical Director: What motivated you to join Alnylam Pharmaceuticals?

Witkos: I joined Alnylam Pharmaceuticals a year ago and am responsible for Europe, Canada and Japan. With a background in science and genetics, I have always been interested in the concept of gene silencing. Being able to pass it from plants to animals to human health is truly fascinating. As a company, we can impact many potential disease areas – and patients in need – through gene silencing, and that’s what got me excited and attracted to Alnylam in the first place.

The corporate culture is also something unique, nurtured by our “Challenge Accepted” mindset. As a company, we have faced – and like any company, we will continue to face – many challenges, but we believe patients shouldn’t have to wait for hope, that every ‘no’ brings us closer a bit more of a “yes”. “Pioneering science combined with the right mindset and innovative culture is very powerful.

Pharmaceutical Director: What have been your main priorities since your arrival?

Witkos: When I arrived, I wanted to build on the strong foundations already in place and maintain the collaborative culture that has been built over time. At Alnylam, we have big ambitions with our P5x25 mission and aim to become one of the top five biotechs globally by 2025.

Our goal is to bring new medicines to patients suffering from more widespread diseases such as hypertension, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, gout and Alzheimer’s disease. We intend to leverage our learnings from rare diseases and apply our innovations to develop new first-in-class or best-in-class medicines for targeted disease indications.

Pharmaceutical Director: Alnylam hopes to achieve a corporate profile rarely achieved in the biotechnology sector. What are the biggest risks to achieving these ambitious goals?

Witkos: You are right. We are firmly focused on growing our portfolio and our pipeline. We are committed to our P5x25 strategy while maintaining a focus on patients: what are their needs and how can we improve their outcomes?

As we grow the business to achieve these ambitions, it is essential that we maintain the values ​​and culture that make it such a special place to work: our “biotech grain”, our drive for success and our focus on innovation. throughout the organization.

Excitingly, Alnylam retains many qualities of a startup and we work with an entrepreneurial spirit. We now have the opportunity to influence and improve outcomes for thousands of patients around the world, but we must also carefully consider our roadmap to growth. We must retain and protect the values ​​that set Alnylam apart, but also plan for the evolution of our business and the impact it might have.

Pharmaceutical Director: You talk about growing and scaling Alnylam to achieve your ambitious goals. What does this mean for the culture of Alnylam?

Witkos: Recognizing the contribution of culture, we invest in its construction and formation. We know that our collaborative, patient-focused and innovative mindset drives how we act and deliver to patients, so we work hard to ensure our new hires understand and embrace it from day one.

If you want to be part of an organization that aims to change the trajectory of health care, you are by nature a person who “changes the world”. We think we do a great job of making sure our culture works and that’s the reason for our success. We’re consistently recognized across Europe as a great place to work and last year our team in Switzerland was ranked #1 Best Small Place to Work. Our internal culture survey highlights positive feedback from employees in various areas, including how we live and live by our core values, how we embrace a patient-centered mindset, our sense of community and camaraderie, as well as our pride and motivation in the work we do. . Of course, there are also areas that we need to strengthen and develop. It is therefore essential to understand the perspectives and experience of our employees to help us achieve this.

Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is integral to our work in fostering a culture that supports individual and business success.

Pharmaceutical Director: What is your long-term ambition for the Alnylam culture in the DE&I space?

Witkos: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion isn’t a right thing to do, it’s a right to do, and it has a clear impact on our continued success as we grow and evolve. We are committed to embracing and embedding DE&I across all functions and building a globally inclusive, bias-free company where everyone can fulfill their potential. Our employee resource networks focus on different aspects of DE&I and all of our employees are eligible to be part of these networks. DE&I begins with our leaders and is the responsibility of every member of the organization. Being curious and learning about diversity makes us better colleagues, better managers, better leaders and better people.

As an organization committed to meeting the needs of patients, it is imperative that our activities reflect the diverse world in which we live. We also know that if we want to keep innovating, we need to bring together people with diverse perspectives and lived experiences, who can respectfully challenge, challenge, and maintain the status quo. It is up to us to be attentive and to listen, and to be able to speak when necessary.

The DE&I also presents some practical aspects, for example, our goal to increase recruitment and retention of clinical trials among ethnic minority communities, in order to generate data that is more reflective of the entire patient populations we aim to reach. with our transformative therapies. We are guided by our philosophy of patient access: no patient should have to wait for hope.

Pharmaceutical Director: How will Alnylam maintain its leadership in RNAi with so many large and small companies interested in this field? What strategic changes have you observed with the arrival of a new CEO?

Witkos: Alnylam’s new CEO, Dr Yvonne Greenstreet, has been with Alnylam for six years and has played an important role in the development of our corporate strategy and culture. So we don’t expect a change in direction. She brings a wealth of experience, having previously worked in various markets and areas of the pharmaceutical industry, including medicine, R&D and regulatory, which gives her a unique and comprehensive perspective.

Alnylam is still the only company to have both developed and commercialized RNAi therapy, and that is something we can be very proud of. More broadly, the growth of RNAi therapeutics is a validation of the pioneering work we have already done. Patients are waiting for treatment and we are confident in the potential of our pipeline to meet their needs with a whole new standard of care.