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Passion for purpose: Claus Zieler

An intense passion for his company’s purpose is the driving force for Claus Zieler. Because, for Astellas Pharma Europe, the goal goes far beyond operating a successful business – indeed, it’s ultimately about improving the health of people across the world.

Claus doesn’t have to look far for motivation when it comes to getting up for work every day because “health is the biggest gift that we have,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “At some point in our lives, we, our friends or family will all be patients. And, when we get to that point, we want to be able to access the best and most innovative treatment and care available.”

The value that science can bring by helping patients live a better life and improving health outcomes underpins the company’s ethos and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. You only need look at the how quickly industry and scientists came together to develop an effective solution for COVID-19 to understand how powerful science can be, Claus says. “In essence, the course of the pandemic was altered by making these vaccines available on a large scale to patients across the world,” he explains. “And that purpose is very much at the core of the pharmaceutical industry.”

“We are very much focused on cutting-edge technology and turning that innovative science into value for patients.”

Now an established industry leader, Astellas Pharma was originally formed in 2005, the result of a merger between two Japanese companies. Today, Astellas is present in more than 80 markets across the world and, having pioneered in the areas of transplantation and urology, is now moving into difficult-to-treat and highly specialised areas, such as oncology, and cell and gene therapy. “We are very much focused on cutting-edge technology and turning that innovative science into value for patients,” Claus says.

With a diverse background in health – initially training as a molecular biologist before moving into the pharmaceutical industry 30 years ago – Claus has worked in multiple therapy and functional areas across four continents, for companies including Schering AG, Bayer and now Astellas. His passion for travel and culture has enabled him to finesse his language skills and he speaks six languages fluently – from his native German to English, Flemish, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Now, as President of Established Markets – encompassing Europe, Canada, Australia and Israel – a role which Claus took on in January this year, moving from Singapore where he headed up International Markets for Astellas, he feels he can truly stretch his wings. “I love crossing boundaries,” he reveals. “And I mean that not only in the geographic sense, but also in the functional sense, having been fortunate to work across commercial, production, R&D, general management, sales and marketing across many diverse countries and cultures. From my time as a sales representative in Ecuador to launching a new product in Japan that changed standards of care in stroke prevention, for me, it is truly exciting to be able to look at a business through the lens of diverse cultures and perspectives.”

Challenging the status quo

If there’s one thing Claus learned in his time traversing the globe, he explains, it is how to be adaptable. “When you work in countries as diverse as Brazil, Germany, the US, Japan, you observe how certain things are done differently. It makes you question and challenge your own status quo and gives you a sense of how many roads lead to Rome. As a leader, it is important to foster an environment that enables people to listen and learn from these different perspectives.”

When it comes to how Claus sees himself within the company, he reveals it is a duty he takes very seriously. “An organisation is only as good as its leaders,” he says. “And organisations will reflect – consciously or unconsciously – the behaviour and values of their leadership. That puts a great responsibility on our shoulders because it means we must walk the talk and ensure the values and principles we want the organisation to represent are reflected in our leadership behaviours. To use a well-coined term, culture really does eat strategy for breakfast.”

With this focus, it comes as no surprise that a key priority for Astellas is its dedication to transparent and sustainable practices. “As a society, there is a collective realisation that we cannot continue to exploit the planet we live on, because then what is left for the next generation?” he asks. “So, we need to find more holistic ways to bring improvements to patients’ lives. In Astellas’ case, that has several facets. First, we are contributing to sustainable growth by making investments in environmental pollution and waste management, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 30% by 2030, switching to hydroelectric power and other renewable energy sources, as well as exploring new opportunities in green and sustainable chemistry.”

Second, Astellas is working to deepen the company’s engagement in access to healthcare – supporting hospitals, governments, medical societies in many different initiatives, including disease education and support for vulnerable populations through the Astellas Global Health Foundation.

“The pandemic demonstrated what can be achieved when we mobilise around a common aim.”

Third, the fact that no Astellas medicine ran into supply issues during the pandemic was a huge achievement. “Ensuring patients could continue treatment without disruption makes me immensely proud,” Claus notes. “For example, Astellas teams in production and supply chain worked day and night to ensure one of our cancer medicines got to hospitals in Mumbai, where stock was running low. This meant a huge amount of effort, flexibility and agility from all parties while keeping what was best for patients in sight.”

“The pandemic demonstrated what can be achieved when we mobilise around a common aim,” and Claus implores readers to consider how the same degree of manpower and funding could positively impact other major global health issues. “Science is so powerful, but it does depend on societal understanding of the value of that future innovation, particularly as we move from a model of chronic disease management to potentially one-off, curative medicines.”

“Ultimately, pharma and healthcare providers around the world are working toward the same goal – better care outcomes for patients. If we are to continue to innovate and demonstrate the value that science brings then, as a society, this is the discussion and the ambition we must have.”

This article was initiated and funded by Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd.

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