It isn’t every day that the entire C-Suite of a major multinational biopharmaceutical company comes to visit, all at once. But that’s what happened March 24, 2015 when the UCB Executive Committee Meeting came to the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
UCB’s senior executives from corporate headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and U.S. headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia met with leadership from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s bio community, further solidifying the partnership between the pharmaceutical company and one of the nation’s leading research institutions.
The Suddath Room was packed with a lot of people that have the word “chief” in their title, including UCB’s CEO, Jean-Christophe Tellier, as well as Chief Operating Officer Mark McDade, Chief Medical Officer Iris Lowe-Friedrich, Chief Scientific Officer Ismail Kola, Chief Marketing Officer Bharat Tewarie, and Chief Financial Officer Detlef Thielgen, as well as other members of the UCB leadership team.
“To have the whole executive team come in so that we can show what we do here at Georgia Tech – well, opportunities like this don’t happen frequently enough,” said Cross, executive vice president of research for Georgia Tech. “My hope is that companies like UCB will think about Georgia Tech as sort of the Bell Labs for an industry sector. There’s a lot we can do to support companies like this.”
The rare opportunity to meet face to face with UCB’s leadership was the direct result of the first UCB-Georgia Tech Day, which happened in November 2014, when a group of Georgia Tech students visited the company’s Smyrna facility. That was an event organized by Cynthia Sundell, director of life science industry collaborations for the Petit Institute, and Bruce Lavin, vice president of North American medical affairs for UCB.
“Positive feedback from that interaction led the UCB team to want to visit Georgia Tech and learn more about our collaborative environment and the interdisciplinary research of our faculty and students,” Bob Guldberg, executive director of the Petit Institute, who told the gathered executives, “It’s one thing to go out and sing the praises of Georgia Tech and tell you how great our programs are. It’s another thing to be able to show that to you. You are sitting in a building that is not restricted by any disciplinary or departmental boundaries.”
That concept of research without boundaries was particularly interesting to Tellier, who sees the wide-angled, interdisciplinary approach as a key to his company’s success in meeting the needs of patients.
“I really think that success in the future is linked more and more with the ability to create space and platforms where people from different backgrounds, different expertise, different environments can work towards common goals,” said Tellier.
Guldberg addressed some of what Georgia Tech is doing to lead the future of bioresearch, including the nearly completed Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), “which represents an investment of over $300 million in biotechnology,” he said. “But still, our best selling product is our students. That’s the reason I came here to Georgia Tech back in 1996.”
Both Guldberg and Ravi Bellamkonda, chairman of the Coulter Department, touted the strength of the student body, a talented resource pool UCB is very aware of (the company is offering a couple of internships for Georgia Tech students this summer).
UCB, founded in 1928 in Belgium, has carved out a significant niche in the industry, serving patients by developing and marketing therapeutics in two main focus areas – central nervous system and immunology.
This is a company that spends more of its revenues (the company earns about $4.2 billion in annual sales) on research and development, on a percentage basis, than almost every other pharmaceutical company – 25 to 27 percent, versus an industry average of about 17 percent. And now UCB and Georgia Tech are exploring ways in which to grow their collaboration, which seems like a natural partnership to Bruce Lavin, UCB’s head of medical neurology, based at the company’s Smyrna campus.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for UCB to work together with one of the nation's, in fact, one of the world’s top technological research universities,” Lavin said. “To have these resources only 15 minutes away from us is fantastic. We share a similar perspective. UCB is all about, 'what can we do to bring value to the patient.’ Similarly, Georgia Tech, through innovation and technology, wants to enhance the wellbeing of patients. We share a lot in common.”
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience