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Our view of the Life Sciences and Drug Development Industry today and in the future

Technological advances in the 21st Century have enabled exponential steps in scientific human biological discoveries accompanied by significant advances in software and hardware developments that have steadily and increasingly moved the emphasis for healthcare toward the individual. The Biotech and Pharma industries are now collaborating across a spectrum of digital transformations with Technology companies. The Pharma drug development world has been slower to adopt the fast-paced technological advances and in recent years is faced with a relatively lightening-speed of progression with the need for adjustment in the approach to drug development on many levels. These changes have pressured Senior Management to review whether they have the correct strategy and the appropriate talent and skill set in leadership to draw from.

No longer is it acceptable to start a drug development program with a view to `one treatment fits all´. The more comprehensive scientific understanding of the pathobiology of acute or chronic disease driven by the Biotech evolution supports a diagnostic approach, which if successful, enables a personalized approach to treatment with improved therapeutic response and fewer side-effects. The field of Oncology has led the way in the diagnostic approach having some advantages related to tumour markers being an extraneous abnormality to normal physiological and anatomical function and thus more amenable to diagnostic targets that isolate the tumour. The road to diagnostic discovery in disease areas outside of Oncology is much tougher due to the nature of most non-oncological diseases, although aberrant, being integral to normal bodily function. Although the bar is high, with the appropriate talent and leadership the goal is not impossible.

Further advantages emerge operationally with a targeted diagnostic approach to inclusion of the appropriately identified patients in a clinical trial of an experimental therapy, due to reduction in the number of patients required to show benefit and shorter timelines for recruitment resulting in significant cost savings.

Regulatory Authorities are a unique component of the drug development industry to ensure an acceptable benefit:risk ratio for new therapies. As opposed to being considered a challenge, Regulatory Authorities are open to collaboration on improving end-points for approval of novel therapeutics for challenging diseases where the ability to demonstrate a meaningful clinical difference in an area of unmet medical need is hampered by inferior measurement tools that are predominantly subjective and exposed to significant variability. This collaboration will be data-driven and can be further supported by the technological advances in mining large datasets with the use of bioinformatics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). This effort will require committed investment and collaboration involving the drug development industry (Pharma and Biotech), academia and clinical care specialists to improve the success rate of bringing meaningful treatments to patients. Although the task may appear daunting initially, it makes economic sense for the industry in the long term. With reimbursement strategies by payers setting high standards across the globe including the pricing adjustments and reimbursement trends taking place in the US, demonstrating value for investment in the healthcare industry is an essential for patients now and in the future.

The additional advances in medical technology (MedTech) including digital wearables, consumer driven medical devices for home care and self-directed diagnosis, discovery platforms for new therapies, efficiency of manufacturing for both large and small molecules, diagnostic tool capability at the molecular and cellular level is driving the industry to new heights and fast. The leadership talent pool across the industry needs to stay abreast of the dynamic interplays and collaborations that are fostering significant innovation in the field.

Additionally, the Healthcare industry needs to remain mindful of its carbon footprint. In building strategies and fleshing out ideas for the future it will be important to take account of environmental, social and corporate governance goals.

Challenging disease areas for Drug Development

Cancer treatment remains a significant challenge despite important advances in chemo-, radiation-, hormonal- immune- and targeted therapies.   As a result of therapeutic advances some tumours have transitioned from having a definitive poor prognosis to becoming manageable chronic diseases.  However, there a number of solid tumours with poor initial response or loss of response to current treatment regimens. The regulatory path for new drug approval is well-versed with tailoring of new options such as the use of minimal-residual-disease or metastatic-free-survival as therapeutic advances are achieved for certain tumour types. Exploration of therapeutic targets for the tumour microenvironment (TME), both cellular and non-cellular, is playing an important role in understanding cancer treatment resistance in tumours with strong protective stromal signatures and which carry some of the worst prognoses (e.g. pancreatic adenocarcinoma, ovarian cancer, glioblastoma). Additionally, observation of the influence of chemo- and radiation therapy on the TME is shedding important light on potential mechanisms for the loss of tumour response to treatment.

The scientifically driven task of developing disease modifying therapy In the areas of neurodegeneration such as Alzheimer´s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the Leukodystrophies and Huntington’s disease, remains extremely challenging. Although the scientific effort is producing some important breakthroughs in discovery; the pathobiology of these diseases is complex and defining a clinical trial design for testing new drug therapies that can clearly demonstrate clinically meaningful improvement using validated clinical trial endpoints is a significant challenge. This effort requires collaboration with Regulatory Authorities in carving out approval paths that meet the unmet need. Pre-emptive data collection in support of surrogate biomarkers that can predict clinical benefit, if available in time, may alleviate some of the strain on timelines and cost for testing of therapies in, sometimes large, pivotal Phase III trials. For disease areas where there is no established regulatory path, conducting groundwork in validating reliable tools for measurement of meaningful clinical benefit in and gaining an understanding of the heterogeneity of disease course across patient populations, is fundamental to moving the field forward in getting novel therapeutics to patients of high unmet need.

Moderate to severe inflammatory chronic diseases brought about by autoimmune or immune mediated disorders including the arthritides (e.g. rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthropathy), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), psoriasis, multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis) all require manipulation of the immune system to control the inflammation and modify the disease with the aim of preventing irreversible end-organ damage. There is a fine balance in avoiding intercurrent serious infection while modulating the underlying inflammatory process. A high benefit:risk ratio is the objective for novel therapies that are more targeted in controlling inflammation accompanied by a lower risk for serious infection. Improvements in patient immune profiling at both the cellular and molecular level through further understanding of the disease pathobiology will enable a more personalized approach to therapy. in addition, continued development of clinical trial endpoints in the diseases that require more objective quantifiable clinically relevant measurement tools will support the development of safer and effective therapies in these challenging disease areas where heterogeneity in patient populations is a factor.

The cardiovascular outcome trials (CVOT) conducted in the past decade have been dominated by safety studies for new therapies in the treatment of patients with Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Encouragingly, the sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors and the long-acting glucagon like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RA) showed cardioprotective benefits in addition to improvements in glucose control. Despite, major advances in the management of risk factors for CVD over the past 3-4 decades with a selection of effective lipid-lowering agents, antihypertensives, glucose lowering drugs in addition to healthy lifestyle modifications, CVD remains the leading cause of death worldwide. There are several confounding factors influencing this observation ranging from non-compliance with, to lack of access to, long term medication and healthy adjustments in lifestyle. The traditional CVOT of previous years are necessarily very large to demonstrate a clinically meaningful benefit over standard of care and therefore, time consuming and expensive to operationalize. Of note, the state of affairs as we currently know it may be tipped with emerging data from the COVID-19 pandemic indicating a concerning increased risk of CV events in the aftermath of infection.

As headhunters with expertise in the Life Sciences & Healthcare industry, our clients range from start-ups in the most preliminary stages, to local boutique players, Swiss-based market leaders, through to large, well-known international companies in both the public and private sectors.
The Life Science clients that we serve encompass organisations in wide-ranging sectors:

  • General Management
  • Commercial Pipeline, Commercial, Sales & Marketing 
  • Product Management
  • Quality Management
  • Digitalization
  • Research and Development
  • Regulatory
  • Market Access
  • Biotechnology
  • Medical Devices and Diagnostics
  • Laboratory Diagnostics & Techniques
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Contract Research Organizations (CROs)

Within the field of the life sciences and healthcare, like several businesses, there are many challenges. What is specific to the Healthcare Industry is the involvement of patients with significant unmet medical need in which environment there is an extra level of performance required regarding safety and efficacy that is regulated to varying degrees by independent Regulatory Authorities regardless of whether the end-product is a therapeutic, diagnostic, robotic intervention or digital wearable.  These aspects of the Healthcare Industry bring with it an element of complexity that requires an experienced, talented pool of people with the appropriate skillset capable of handling ambivalence, uncertainty, complications, stakeholder issues and risk:benefit ratios in the context of human health. Each one of these challenges requires diverse leadership capabilities.

The way in which the leadership roles are defined is constantly adjusting, with new job progressions and structures emerging as technological advances progress.  It is essential to find the appropriate, dynamic leadership to succeed in this environment.

Executive Search
Wirz & Partners as leading executive search firm is using experienced specialists with an in-depth understanding of the scientific processes and cross-functional nature of the business is required to provide guidance to company leadership in making clear what skills, attributes and values are required going forward.

Wirz & Partners utilise their expert team / Headhunters to reach deep into the industry in both a local and global manner. It is in large part this headhunting experience and expertise that allows our specialists to recognise the exact criteria required by the best leaders. A large number of our headhunters gleaned their information and experience first-hand within the industry as former top executives and as such we have an unparalleled confidence in their insight. We are able to leverage their international experience, especially in emerging areas of innovative specialization, to execute upon multiple Healthcare and Life Science engagements successfully and efficiently.

Customer Satisfaction
Our satisfied clients include not only some of the more prominent and well-known pharmaceutical companies but also include innovative companies in Biotech, MedTech, Digital Health and Data Mining start-ups in Switzerland and abroad.

Thanks to our market leading executive search activity, we have successfully placed top executives and industry specialists  across a breadth of the industry. From our headhunter experience it is clear that one of the key components to delivering success within the Life Science and Pharmaceutical industries, particularly in the current transitory period, is having the right leader in the right place at the right time. We help the organisations that we work with to hire and retain the best leaders for the job to ensure that the organisations we work with remain prepared for the future.


There is a long list of organisations and businesses that consider our advice and input as theirs mentors and executive search advisors essential to planning their future business in addition to identifying trends within leadership and management. These are relationships and experiences that provide us with unique insights into business needs and requirements. We are able to draw upon the wide range of experience of all of our specialists in a collaborative manner to deliver the best leadership consultation and functional practices consistently and effectively every time. More and more frequently our differentiation is data driven, analysis of which provides us with the requisite advantages to predict the market and future trends. We use this knowledge to garner our unique insights and proactively look at data from stakeholder surveys, use knowledge of executive moves and apply this to the many candidates and assignments that we monitor constantly.


Wirz & Partners are a prominent and well-respected Market Leader in the field of headhunting and executive search. Our clients are very important to us and our commitment to them and their business means that we pledge to provide experienced executive search specialists, with access to industry leading processes and methodology.  This enables clients to move their business forward on making talent acquisitions with the appropriate fit for their specific needs.

For the Pharmaceutical and Contract Research Organisation industries, Wirz & Partners know that success in the future relies on present day innovative ideas and strategies.  In order to achieve this, companies need to hire the best people with the talent and skill set to lead on the cutting edge.   Wirz & Partners use innovative and best-practice-management in recruitment in the support of companies meeting their business goals. For any company leaders in this field it is important that they have the networking, influence and negotiation skills required to manage all stakeholder and business interests successfully, even when these interests don’t seem immediately compatible.  A key advantage of Wirz & Partners is our ability to stay ahead of the growth momentum and dynamic change that characterizes this challenging, fast-evolving and competitive field and to understand that potential leaders who have the motivation, talent and skill to achieve great results with the support of their team are in short supply.