Todd Chermak is divisional vice president of innovation and development for Abbott Established Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he relocated with his family from the Chicago area in 2015. He has worked for more than 20 years in the biopharmaceutical, and food and nutrition sectors, and has held a variety of technical and leadership roles in regulatory and related areas. Chermak has been an active and prominent RAPS volunteer. He has served on the RAPS board of directors, and as the board chair for 2017.
I recently had the opportunity to interview him for the first in a new series in Regulatory Focus that we are calling ‘Focus on…’ where we talk with regulatory leaders, thinkers and influencers from a variety of backgrounds. The series will share diverse perspectives on topics ranging from global trends affecting healthcare regulation, to the important role of the regulatory profession, to personal insights and life lessons. We want to not only to examine big ideas and learn from the experiences of these distinguished individuals, but also to get to know them as people.
Following is an edited transcript of my interview with Todd.
You recently completed your term as chairman of the RAPS board of directors. What is the most important thing you learned from the experience, and what advice would you offer others who take on the role?
Communication and board alignment is critical. We regularly engaged the board on issues related to RAPS’ strategy to make sure there was clear alignment and to update the board members on progress. Once there was alignment, we were able to move more quickly with critical decisions and implementation.
How has the regulatory profession evolved during the course of your career?
It is becoming even more important. The role of regulatory in shaping the environment and ensuring there is a clear regulatory path for product and technology approvals has never been more important. We are in a period of rapid technological development that has the potential to help solve or manage some of our most challenging diseases. Regulatory is among the most critical functions to ensure those products and technologies progress to the market.
How do you think the profession will change over the next five years?
There will be greater integration of therapeutics and devices, diagnostics and related new technologies, including many digital technologies. This will require a greater breadth of knowledge for regulatory professionals to be successful. Deep knowledge in pharma, biotech, devices and diagnostics will remain important, but companies that can integrate these domains along with emerging digital technologies more strategically and faster than competitors will have a competitive advantage.
In presentations, you have talked about the concept of the innovation curve. Can you explain that a little bit and how it applies to regulatory professionals?
Regulatory professionals need to be deeply integrated into all areas of innovation to ensure there is a clear regulatory path for these new technologies, and if not, advocate for an efficient regulatory path to approval. Regulatory can often be perceived as a barrier to innovation. The pace of innovation is becoming more rapid and often the regulatory processes and frameworks are lagging. For that reason, regulatory affairs professionals need to be involved early in the innovation cycle to formulate external engagement plans with regulators and create a timely path forward for approval and introduction of novel technologies or integrated drug-technology combinations.
What is the single most important skill for a regulatory professional to develop?
Learning agility and ability to influence. The healthcare landscape is rapidly changing, and we need individuals who can learn quickly, adapt and influence the internal and external environments.
How is the regulatory profession viewed differently in Europe vs. in the US?
I see both evolving in a similar manner. There is a bit more discussion in Europe related to how regulatory processes in Europe impact the rest of the world. For example, biosimilars are much more evolved in Europe compared to the US, and many countries are looking to adopt a more European approach in this area.
What personality traits do you look for in the people you hire?
Integrity, hardworking and with a high level of learning agility. These, along with great communication skills, are key to bringing in new talent.
What is the best career decision you ever made?
Moving to another Abbott division—from pharma to nutrition. I had significant personal and career growth by taking a risk and learning something completely different and outside my comfort zone.
What is the worst career advice you have ever heard?
Advice that overly focuses on one’s own career over the company and other people. I think you build serial successes by focusing on the growth of others, helping them reach their potential and keeping the company interests ahead of your own. When you focus on yourself, decisions tend to be shortsighted and not ideal for the long term.
With so much on your plate, how do you manage time?
You need to be very organized and disciplined about how you invest your time. Everyone should start with a list of what is most important. When time runs out, everything below a certain level gets put on hold. It is important you know where to establish that threshold.
What piques your curiosity?
I love to learn. Innovation is a big interest, particularly the successful introduction of new ideas and technology. It’s not always easy to introduce something new, especially when it displaces established technologies and those with a vested interest.
What is something you are passionate about other than work or family?
Travel. When I have time—and mostly with family—I enjoy experiencing new places and cultures. My work has provided exceptional exposure and when I have time, I love going to places where you can immerse yourself in the culture. One of my favorite places to visit is Thailand. I have traveled there many times and recently took my family to expose them to some of my favorite places. I love the people, culture and food. It is a really great place to experience diversity. I am also a big fan of Europe. We moved to Europe in 2015, so my family has been able to experience many different countries and cultures. Being immersed in a culture for a long period provides a rare opportunity to make friends and enjoy the best a country has to offer.
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