Throughout his career spanning over two decades within the biopharmaceutical industry, Carsten Thiel has carved a niche for himself within the oncological and rare diseases sector. Although his proficiency and work ethic have enabled him to become employed by some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Thiel’s calling in life is to provide help to those who need it most and as a result has seen him transition with each change in position to smaller ventures with more specialized areas of expertise. Thiel has also refused to subscribe to the idea that in order to be profitable within his industry ethics must be thrown out the window, and instead has staunchly upheld a patient-first outlook in every leadership role he’s had. In his current position as president of European operations for EUSA Pharma, Thiel is able to combine his prowess for marketing in the pharmaceutical industry with his strongly principled outlook to aid in advancing the treatments for those who are often overlooked due to their ailment’s lack of profitability.
Born in Berlin, Thiel spent his childhood in the German metropolis where his parents both worked within the medical field. Growing up with medical professionals the importance of medical advancements was instilled in him from an early age, but it wasn’t until he took his first biology class that Thiel developed his own passion for the science of medicine. In particular, he remembers the day he first learned about DNA and immediately became fascinated with it. He thought that if all living creatures have within them a genetic roadmap that can be used to discover their unique traits and characteristics, then with the right compass DNA could also be used to find the cause for diseases, leading to innovation in both prevention and treatment.
Thiel took this idea with him as he entered into his academic career. Although he followed the paths of his parents towards a career within the medical field, Thiel deviated from their exact footsteps when he decided to pursue a degree in biochemistry and subsequently move into the realm of drug research and development. Having shown a natural prowess for biology and chemistry, he enrolled and attended the Philipps University of Marburg but eventually transferred to University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. The university was well-known to be research intensive, and placed an emphasis on academics rather than vocation making it an ideal fit for Thiel’s aspirations.
Earning his bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Bristol, Thiel then went on to pursue his doctoral degree at the prestigious Max Planck Society. Esteemed within the scientific community as one of the world’s top leading research institutes, the Max Planck Society has hosted scientists from around the world who have gone on to be awarded Nobel Prizes for their discoveries, including the likes of Albert Einstein. Thiel’s work at the Institute for Biophysical Chemistry saw him researching the role proteins play in turning healthy cells cancerous, marking his first foray into oncological issues. However, after he earned his Ph.D in molecular biology from the institute, Thiel found himself at a crossroads within his professional career.
He had been offered a position in Harvard University’s post-doctoral research program because of his accomplished work at the Max Planck Society and although this was the opportunity of a lifetime, Thiel hesitated. He had found enjoyment in academia thus far, but deep inside he felt a frustration at the pace at which he was able to affect change in his current trajectory. The root of his passion derived from his deep desire to bring innovations in medicine directly to the benefit of patients, and spending ten to fifteen years working on one molecule suddenly didn’t seem like the most efficient use of his time. Instead, he decided that he would pivot his substantial knowledge of drug research and development and use it as a tool in aiding pharmaceutical companies to properly and effectively distribute these innovations.
Thiel started his career within the pharmaceutical industry by accepting a position at Hoffmann-la Roche, the multinational Swiss healthcare company that is today the second largest pharmaceutical industry by revenue in the world. He was hired to work within the communications and marketing department of the company’s pharmaceutical division, and quickly rose in the ranks of the company until he was soon made global business leader for the drug Xenical. Although the drug was originally discovered and developed as a treatment for dyslipidemia, during Carsten’s time at Hoffmann-la Roche it was discovered that Xenical (the trade name for the oral lipase inhibitor drug orlistat) was also useful as a weight loss tool.
This was an exciting prospect for the company, as a prescription weight loss drug had the potential to mean huge profits if marketed towards the general population. However, if users did not follow an extremely low fat diet while taking the drug they could also potentially experience unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects. Thiel knew that while sales may initially be high as those looking to shed a few pounds purchased the drug, they would quickly lose many of those customers when they found that the drug required some extreme lifestyle changes in order to be effective. Therefore, he pushed to ensure the drug was instead marketed towards doctors specifically, who could then prescribe the medicine to people such as patients struggling with obesity as they would be the ones most likely to make the additional changes needed in their lives. Under Thiel’s direction, the drug had sales of over 1 billion Swiss francs in its first year alone, and he was promptly promoted to oversee the company’s entire Slovenian market under the title country manager and regional director.
After leaving Hoffmann-la Roche Thiel worked for Eurofins Scientific, an international group of laboratories, as worldwide marketing director for a year before becoming the oncology/hematology franchise head for Europe for Amgen. A biopharmaceutical company that’s headquartered in California, Thiel was tasked within the massive operation with leading the launches of many drugs in Europe and was able to bring the bone marrow stimulant Aranesp to the position of market leader within 20 months of its initial launch.
In another instance of exemplifying ethics within an industry that has historically avoided doing so, Thiel pushed to put a delay on the launch of a new colorectal cancer treatment because researchers had recently discovered a biomarker that could identify whether a patient’s outcome would be favorable when administered. Although he and his team had been working on this launch for a considerable amount of time and had been weeks away from launch, Thiel knew to not disclose such an important discovery could result in countless lives lost due to wasting time trying a treatment that could have been proven to be ineffective. Many on his team didn’t want to see the launch pushed back, citing the proximity to their original launch date and the potential to see higher sales if more people tried the drug, but Thiel remained staunch in his convictions and delayed the launch to create a standardized test for practitioners to use, as well as develop educational materials and a specialized customer service support for the drug.
Through his savvy marketing skills and commitment to patient care, Thiel was also able to grow sales for the European region fivefold and as a result was promoted to general manager for the company’s entire central and eastern European market. In this position, he helped the company expand into markets such as Russia, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria which were considered high risk at the time. He was also pivotal in growing sales for the region by over $70 million during his time as manager.
Thiel continued to make himself indispensable within Amgen, and seeing his innate ability to identify and solve problems while growing their central and eastern European presence the company made him general manager of their steadily declining German market. Under his steady direction, the company soon began to see year-over-year growth in the double digits and he successfully turned around sales for the region within three years.
Continuing his spectacular ascent up the ladder in his company Thiel was again promoted, this time to vice president, head of Europe. This giant leap saw him managing a $3 billion business with a staff of over 4000, and for three years he worked tirelessly to integrate and launch drugs that could help millions of people. Yet even with all of this success, Thiel felt that there was still more he could be doing. His company had released some amazing and life-changing drugs, but often they were targeted at ailments that were widely found across populations such as heart disease and diabetes. Thiel worried for the people who had more rare diseases that were potentially suffering just as much as those with more common ones, and so he made the decision to seek out a role in a smaller company that was focusing on developing therapies for rare disorders.
He found such a position in the company Alexion Pharmaceuticals, where they created the role for him of senior vice president for Europe, MEA (Middle East and Africa), Asia, Australia, and Canada. As a smaller company, although Thiel held this role officially he was often required to wear many hats and help out wherever he was needed. He not only worked to create a detailed plan for the company’s following fiscal year, but also headed the organization and moving of 200 employees to a new EMEA headquarters and after four short months was asked to join the executive management team and was promoted to a more senior role of senior vice president of EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and JAPAC (Japan and Asia Pacific). With plenty of prior experience growing markets, Thiel was able to create an entirely new business unit that grew the company’s size by 50% in record time and after one short year at the company was promoted to executive vice president and chief commercial officer, reporting directly to the CEO. In his near two years in the position he restructured operations and drove a sales growth of 20%, as well as supervised the most successful enzyme replacement launch in United States history, with year one sales topping $240 million. Still desiring to further help those in need, Thiel became CEO of the gene and cell therapy company Abeona Therapeutics which focused on developing novel cell and gene therapies for life-threatening rare genetic diseases.
All of the global experience Thiel had gained in his twenty years working within the pharmaceutical industry ideally positioned him for his next role as president of European operations for EUSA Pharma. The relatively young company specializes in oncology and rare diseases, making it a perfect fit for him to come in and lead their marketing and commercialization activities in Europe. Throughout his career, Thiel has consistently placed the patients his companies are serving first, and making sure the innovations and developments made by them have the widest reach possible.