You cannot only save lives in the operating theatre

interview, discussion, meeting, one on one

Dr. med. Julia Annabel Wagle, born in 1974, has been employed at Roche Pharma AG since 2011. Before this the Stuttgart-born was active as specialist in neurosurgery for ten years. Since the beginning of 2016 she holds the position as a department head in Medical Management in Grenzach-Wyhlen.

Julia Annabel Wagle worked as a surgeon and sometimes saved lives directly – this is usually exactly why people study medicine. In her job at the pharmaceutical company she no longer has this great intensity. But in the interview with arzt & karriere (doctor & career) she reveals that she is now much happier in her work than before.

Mrs. Wagle, how did you actually come to Roche?

After studying medicine I specialised in neurosurgery because I found this an extremely exciting area. Before completing the specialist training, I also had the possibility of becoming involved in experimental science through a scholarship of the University, and worked in the laboratory of the paediatric clinic in the area of neuro-oncology.

I also wanted to get to know a different area of medicine outside of the operating theatre. If you really want to be successful as a surgeon, then you spend many hours in the operating theatre. Seriously engaging in scientific research in parallel is usually not possible. If you are active as a surgeon then the daily routine is clearly laid out, and usually routine interventions predominate. You can only perform more challenging operations to a much lesser degree.

So I then asked myself: Do you want to spend the next 20 or 30 years continuing to do the same thing? And then I found out that this would not be fulfilling for me. I wanted to have diverse possibilities in my professional life, and this is offered to me by the pharmaceutical industry.

And how did you then come into contact with the pharmaceutical sector?

After my studies, I worked as surgeon for a total of ten years and always had contact with pharmaceutical representatives who were highly experienced scientifically. I always enjoyed working together with them on projects. A girlfriend of mine started working in the pharmaceutical industry at an early stage, so I had first hand knowledge how it is to work there. So eventually I thought that this could quite easily be something for me.

How was your personal entrance in the area?

I first took a close look at the pharmaceutical companies and for several reasons found Roche attractive. I found it impressive that Roche invested so much in research, how scientifically oriented the whole company operates, how extremely large the pipeline is and also how widely diversified. For me it was very important to start with a company that is oriented towards innovative patent-protected medicinal drugs. At the beginning I expressed the wish that over the longer term I wanted to work in neurology – and it was assured to me that over the long term this will be possible.

Did you then also start in neurology?

No, my first station at Roche Pharma AG was rheumatology, but this was exactly what I wanted and found it exciting. After all, I wanted to get to know new medical fields.

What exactly was your task at the beginning?

I was team leader in Medical Management. The Medical Management at Roche prepares the overall medical strategy of a medicinal drug and then implements this. The main focus is on the generation of data, the exchange and the cooperation with medical experts and medical societies, as well as the planning and execution of medical events such as symposiums at scientific congresses. We are the medical experts for the product, for example in a negotiation with a health insurance provider. In our global Roche teams for a medicinal product we are the representatives for the German market.

How important is Germany actually worldwide as market for medicinal products?

Very important. In many areas and with many indications from the turnover perspective Germany is the number two worldwide after the USA. Therefore, it is also important for our international teams to know what is happening in the German medicinal drugs market. But this exchange is also very important for us.

Is your job actually international?

In principle everyone from my department is involved in the work of our international teams, and stand in close contact to co-develop the global strategy. We of course travel to the most important national and international congresses that are important for our indication areas. These are certainly eight to ten congresses per year. On average I am out on business at least once a month, of course often also in Germany. It is very important for us to stay very close to science, to network and to exchange information.

This means that after your entry in rheumatology a few other focus areas were added for you?

Yes, of course! That is also what is so great in my job, this diversity of topics. After one and a half years in rheumatology I started in psychiatry as previously agreed and was responsible for a very promising substance for treating schizophrenia. Unfortunately the Phase-III was negative  therefore we did not introduce it into the market. As team sometimes you unfortunately have to accept such setbacks. Fortunately Roche has enough new projects in the pipeline

For how many medicinal products are you responsible at present?

At present as department head at Roche Pharma AG I am responsible for all non-oncological therapy areas. These amongst other also include rheumatology, neurology/psychiatry, haemophilia, pulmonology, gastroenterology and ophthalmology. We are about 25 employees.

How did you then advance to department head?

Meanwhile I have two daughters and during the parental leave I applied for the position as I had already deputised in the position previously and had greatly enjoyed it. It is a challenge as mother, but fortunately at Roche there are very flexible working hours. It is usually not a problem to occasionally take an afternoon off or complete work in the evening or in the home office. That really is a big advantage, especially if you have a family.

When you compare your professional life today with your earlier professional life as physician:

Was the change worthwhile for you?

On the one hand I do sometimes really miss treating patients directly. You should not forget: I was a surgeon with very direct patient contact and together with the surgery team we occasionally saved human lives through the work of our hands. I no longer experience this in such intensity at Roche. But professionally I am now much happier overall.

What do you think is the reason for this?

On the one hand this is certainly due to the thematic and content diversity that is offered to me here at Roche. Over the last six years I have accompanied diverse products at Roche from completely different medical areas. In my work today I experience much more independence and self-reliance. This is certainly also due to the flat hierarchies here and also the exchange with academics from other specialist areas outside of medicine. Apart from this you also get feedback from the patients.

How can one picture this feedback?

I'll just simply give you an example: We are currently researching on a medicinal drug for haemophilia , which will ensure that in future children will no longer need an intravenous substitution of coagulation factors every two days, but due to an innovative therapy approach will only need to receive a subcutaneous injection once a week and are thereby on the safe side regarding the blood coagulation. The patients and patient organisations are already waiting for this today and are looking forward to the medicinal product. The patient feedback is a very big motivation for our employees.

Which employees are you looking for in your department in Medical Management?

We are not only looking for physicians, but also chemists, biologists, nutritional scientists and pharmacists. I appreciate this cross-area exchange very much because I experience it as being an enrichment. Due to their training everyone brings different competences along with them. At present we would like to acquire more physicians for our team. Preferably of course physicians who are interested in team work and research.

What other qualities should physicians bring with them who are interested in an entry at Roche?

From their general perspective they should fit with the values for which Roche stands. Our values are courage, passion and integrity. We all need to be courageous because that is the key to creativity and to the willingness to embark on new paths. Here really very, very many employees are passionate because they simply burn for the products, and developing these further is an extremely exciting process. And integrity is so important because it is the basis for success.

These values are intended to support us all in helping people to gain health and a long life. While I was still active as physician and heard about these values, this was the decisive signal that made me look at Roche more closely.

©Roche mit “arzt&karriere”, November 2017

Tags: Career Blog, Germany