Kiattipong /
21 May 2019Big Pharma

Shire Pharmaceuticals: A culture of excellence

Amid a spate of merger and acquisition activity in the life sciences space, in March 2018 came the news that Japan-based Takeda was considering plans to acquire biopharma company Shire.

Allergan had also put its hat in the ring for Shire, but in April, announced it wouldn’t move forward with a deal.

Takeda had its eyes on the prize—more than eight months and a series of revised proposals later, Takeda’s £46 billion ($59 billion) acquisition of Shire was approved by both sets of shareholders.

The votes to approve the deal followed Shire’s multiple rejections of offers, after concluding that Takeda was continuing to “significantly undervalue the company and Shire’s growth prospects and pipeline”.

"I always stress the quality of patent applications, not the number. You can fall in love with big data and start forcing number rather than quality." - James Harrington, Shire

Fast-forward to January this year, and the deal has completed. Combined, Takeda and Shire will be among the top ten drugmakers by revenue.

Takeda is still rolling out the changes across its organisation and LSIPR wasn’t able to speak to its IP lawyers.

However, we did speak to James Harrington, the former senior vice president and global chief IP counsel for Shire, about Shire’s rise to prominence as an attractive acquisition target. Harrington will serve as an advisor for Takeda until June 2019.

Behind the scenes

Harrington is a fan of big data. During his nearly 15 years as chief IP counsel at Shire, He has used statistics to varying degrees in every aspect of IP management—from litigation to portfolio management.

This forensic approach and the quality of the company’s patents meant that, for more than ten years, Shire operated without a litigation loss.

“You can use algorithms to pick where you should file your lawsuit, what jury you should pick and which outside counsel to choose,” he explains.

Analysing the success rate for lead trial counsel, likely outcomes in a given jurisdiction and the trial judge’s history were all par for the course for team at Shire. At the time of acquisition, Shire was perfecting the use of data to pick a jury.

Harrington says: “We measured everything, from patent prosecution to budgeting to personnel reviews.”

Data should always be used carefully, he warns.

“I always stress the quality of patent applications, not the number. You can fall in love with big data and start forcing number rather than quality,” he explains.

Shire would conduct stage gate reviews, to check the potential IP at all stages of drug development.

“We had a very stringent patent prosecution process in which we’d conduct mock trials between a generic and the brand so we could identify the weaknesses in our portfolio beforehand,” says Harrington.

Shire would then use data analytics and other options to pick outside counsel and work on strategy. Behavioural scientists and consultants on judges would also be brought in to “leave no stone unturned”.

“Some companies don’t monitor quality regularly and are more concerned with numbers. Shire certainly wasn’t in that realm of thought,” he adds.

A relentless focus

Data will feature under the company’s new owners, too. Harrington expects Takeda to continue using the behavioural profiling he developed to help hire legal personnel.

“It’s a challenge you always have. Top departments hire technically good lawyers and it’s rare that their legal skills prevent their advancing. We find it’s always the behavioural skills so, if we can use data to predict those who have strong emotional intelligence, we can hire better,” he says.

At Shire, not only were potential future employees interviewed by a psychologist, the company also had a full-time career coach and a psychologist available to work with lawyers in the department.

“We developed a mentoring and development programme, unique to the legal department,” says Harrington, who adds that he believes Takeda will continue to operate it.

“One of the best ways to retain people, and for their career development, is their ability to network and build a network. It’s very difficult to do that if you can’t attend classes. Training and conference attendance should be one of the last things you cut out of the budget,” he says.

Harrington also implemented a culture aimed at attracting—and retaining—diverse talent.

“I’m a huge supporter of flexible working and I like to lead by example. It wasn’t unusual to see me leaving to coach football games. I made it clear that it was not only accepted, but I expected people to take advantage of the policy and not feel as if they were going to lose out on anything,” he says.

When the former IP counsel built his leadership team, he made it clear it would feature equal numbers of men and women; if qualified applicants couldn’t be found internally, Shire would need to hire from outside.

“Initially, it didn’t go so well,” admits Harrington. “But, most of the time, I’d have the team meet without me and they’d have to iron out decisions. It worked. Before the Takeda acquisition, the leadership team loved working together.”

He adds that this sent an “incredible” message to the rest of the department.

Harrington is also very aware of the need to attract millennials into the company, which Shire had a “relentless focus” on.

“Companies need to evolve to attract millennials or you’re going to lose a lot of valuable employees,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing for pharmaceutical companies. Millennials want a sense of purpose and we can give them that.”

It’s with this group in mind that Harrington stresses the need for everybody to defend their company’s reputation.

“If you make a decision, don’t ask yourself just whether it’s legal, ask whether it’s ethical. If that decision came out in a newspaper, would you be ashamed?” he concludes.

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