The road to oncological advancements is one fraught with difficulty, with Big Pharma often having the stereotype of being profit-driven rather than patient-driven. However, this has always been the furthest thing from Carsten Thiel’s mind.
With over twenty five years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Thiel’s commitment to patient-driven care within the industry has led him to become President Europe of EUSA Pharma, a fairly new pharmaceutical company focusing on oncology and rare disease, which recently announced an exclusive development and commercialization agreement in Greater China.
Seeing rapid growth since its founding in 2015, EUSA Pharma brought Carsten into the newly-created role of President Europe because of his substantial senior level pharmaceutical company experience.
A native of Germany, Thiel was born in Berlin and was given the spark of interest in medicine from an early age. Both of his parents worked in the medical field, and Thiel proved himself to be apt in the scientific disciplines during his primary and secondary education.
In particular, he became fascinated with DNA and its ability to be viewed as a genetic roadmap for every living creature, foreshadowing his interest in the mechanics of the human body and career path pursuing cures for its ailments. While a degree in biology would seem to be the logical choice for someone with interests in genetics, Thiel desired to make a difference by developing and new and better drugs for the healthcare industry, and thus decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry.
Initially attending the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany, he made the decision to broaden his horizons and enrolled at the prestigious and highly selective University of Bristol in England, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. A research university, Bristol put an emphasis on academics rather than vocation, leading to a higher ability to perform critical thinking.
Already naturally gifted in that respect, Thiel used his time as an undergraduate to hone that skill while also gaining vast technical knowledge, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. Post-undergraduate career, Thiel returned to Germany after being admitted to the renowned Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.
The society has a world-leading reputation as a science and technology research organization and in his time studying at the Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Thiel began the first of his focused work on oncological issues researching the role proteins play in turning healthy cells cancerous.
The earning of his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the Max Planck Society saw the end of Thiel’s time as a research student. Although he was accepted to Harvard University’s post-doctoral research program and had the chance to further contribute to cancer research on that path, his instinct and practicality told him he could help more people and make a bigger difference by entering the corporate pharmaceutical workforce.
He accepted a position instead at the pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-la Roche and immediately began his work within their communications and marketing department. Knowing how prestigious and influential a position at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world could be, Thiel spent the next two years working hard to prove himself as a capable employee and rational leader.
His efforts proved very effective as he was quickly seen as an incomparable asset and was awarded the position of global business leader for Xenical, the trade name for the oral lipase inhibitor orlistat. Initially discovered and developed as a treatment for dyslipidemia in 1983, in 1994 Roche realized the drug’s true value is in its ability to aid in weight loss and obesity prevention, and they selected Thiel to spearhead efforts in the distribution of the drug both in the U.S. and globally.
He met this challenge with aplomb, and by 1998 Xenical had been granted a marketing authorization by the European Commission for sale of the drug through the EU and the U.S. quickly followed suit with the FDA approving the product to be sold with a prescription in the next year. Recently, orlistat has also been found to inhibit the thioesterase domain of fatty acid synthase (FAS), an enzyme involved in the proliferation of cancer cells but not normal cells, a discovery that may not have been possible without Thiel’s dedication to getting the drug’s FDA and EC approval.
With that, Thiel made a vertical leap in the company but a more focused career transition, becoming the Country Manager and Regional Director for the company’s market in Slovenia. This would mark the start of his decades-spanning career in the pharmaceutical industry focusing on the European market, including over a decade at Amgen in various positions such as Oncology/Hematology Franchise Head for Europe and General Manager CEE (Central and Eastern Europe), General Manager for Germany, and VP, Head of Europe.
During this time, Thiel assisted in the production and marketing of countless oncological drugs, proving his devotion to patient-first care in the pharmaceutical industry long before such practices were the norm.
One such example of this was during the development of a new treatment for patients with colorectal cancer. As with Xenical, he and his team were working on getting the product approved and ready for the mass market, when just before the project was about to come to fruition a wrench was thrown into the gears. They received word that there was a biomarker that could be utilized to distinguish between patients that would respond well to the therapy, and patients that would not have any discernible response.
Posed with an ethical dilemma, Thiel had two options: he could continue as planned and market the product for everyone, allowing people to figure out with usage later down the line whether or not the product would work for them. Alternatively, they could be transparent in the discovery of the biomarker, calling for practitioners to test each patient in order to determine their predicted response to treatment.
While the prior method had the potential to elicit greater profits, the latter was clearly the more ethical path, as well as more innovative in the eyes of Thiel. In an oncological treatment plan where time can often be of the essence, saving time by pre-determining a patient’s response to their cancer treatment could prove to be vital to a patient’s recovery. By providing advice, understanding, and knowledge for both customers and practitioners, Thiel proved to be ahead of his time in terms of patient-first care.
Most recently, Thiel’s position as President Europe at EUSA Pharma has continued his ability to forward oncological advancements in the pharmaceutical world, saying the company “has made great progress building a strong oncology and rare disease business in just a few years, and I am honored to lead the expansion of its commercialization activities in Europe.
The Company has brought together a compelling portfolio, and I am excited at the prospect of helping EUSA achieve its ambitious plans for these specialist products.” The company recently announced in a press release an exclusive deal with BeiGene for the development and commercialization of the orphan biologic products Sylvant and Qarziba within Greater China.
This agreement simultaneously expands EUSA’s global product offering while also broadening BeiGene’s portfolio, and with Thiel at the helm we can only expect similar mutually beneficial deals to come the company’s way in the near future, furthering oncological developments for a patient-driven future.