Millennium CEO Dunsire Juggles Growing Pipeline, Works to Maintain Nimble Culture—as New Owner Takeda Makes the Company its Center for Cancer Drug Development

9/10/08Follow @xconomy

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That applause is being translated now into the marketplace, contributing to Takeda’s bottom line. In a survey of 100 hematologist/oncologists this summer, about 70 percent said they expect to increase use of Velcade this year, by an average amount of 28 percent, according to Christopher Raymond, an analyst with Robert W. Baird in Chicago. That means Velcade should generate sales of $1.3 billion for 2008, Raymond said in a note to clients last month.

Dunsire says she’s sticking around because she wants to do something like that again.

“I really believe in what we’re doing here,” Dunsire says. “I loved Millennium as it was. We were in an exciting position with Velcade coming along and the pipeline advancing. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind that. For me, working in oncology, where there’s a high unmet need, is something I love to do—and now we have 10 other compounds we’re studying behind it.”

Dunsire has been given a lot of decision-making authority, but it’s not absolute. She reports to Takeda’s president, Yasuchika Hasegawa, who answers to Chairman Kunio Takeda and the board of directors. “They want to know what’s happening. It’s not autonomy without oversight. You have to be answerable to the board,” Dunsire says.

One of her primary tasks is to keep her Millennium team in place, She wants to “preserve the core” of Millennium, while finding ways to adapt to life within a much larger company with more projects, people, and resources. She defines the core traits as egalitarianism, empowerment, autonomy, quick-decision making, and inclusiveness. One of the dangers, she says, in becoming part of a larger organization is losing some of that verve—and becoming tentative, always feeling the need to run things up the flagpole.

Dunsire, who’s originally from South Africa, says she hasn’t been swamped with travel to Japan, although she has enjoyed her time there. On a recent trip, she got to try the traditional meal called kaiseki, an elaborate multi-course dinner made with fresh fish, vegetables, and soup, served on low tables placed on tatami mats. She still hasn’t learned much Japanese language beyond “Hello” and “How are you?”

Luckily, many of the executives at Takeda speak English, she says. They tend to work long days, so when she needs to communicate, it’s not uncommon to start a videoconference at 7 am Eastern time in the U.S., when it is 8 pm in Japan. Or the Millennium crew will meet at 9 pm Eastern, when it’s 10 am in Japan, Dunsire says.

“It’s hard because we try to preserve the concept of balance,” Dunsire says. “We try to preserve the dinner hour. Although we certainly do work hard and travel, we want to keep that.” It’s just one of many challenges to overcome so Millennium can make the kind of impact for Takeda that it did when it was a standalone, entrepreneurial biotech company.

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