PARTNER WITH US

Health Equity

Working toward health equity in life sciences: An interview with Takeda’s Julie Kim

Tom Sullivan | April 12, 2022

Julie Kim became the President of Takeda Pharmaceutical’s U.S. Business Unit and U.S. Country Head earlier this month — and she played a critical role in the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance joint effort among plasma companies to develop a COVID-19 therapy.

Prior to Takeda, which Kim joined in 2019, she held international leadership positions at Shire, Baxter, and Baxalta. Part of her personal and professional mission is to advance health equity, including improving patient-centricity in ways that apply to the life sciences industry as a whole.

At the 2022 Health Evolution Summit, Kim participated in the Main Stage discussion “Life Sciences Insights: Competing Priorities Coming out of COVID-19.”

Health Evolution interviewed Kim about what the industry learned from convening to address the public health crisis, how those lessons can be applied to future challenges, what it will take to make health care more equitable, and more.

You recently moved into a new role as President of Takeda’s U.S. Business Unit and U.S. Country Head. What does this new position mean to you, and what are your objectives for the first year in this role?
Kim:
Yes, I transitioned into the new role on April 1. It’s very exciting to lead the U.S. Business Unit and navigate the complexities of the US health care market during a pivotal time for Takeda. We have one of the most diverse and exciting pipelines in the industry. In fact, 90 percent of our pipeline didn’t exist less than a decade ago. We could potentially launch multiple new products by 2025 and it’s exciting to be part of an organization that would lead most of these launches. I look forward to working with an exceptionally talented group of employees who will be driving these efforts and helping to meet important patient needs.

As I’m taking on this new role, I see an opportunity to listen and learn from this team, who have led the business unit’s outstanding performance. I can’t wait to hear about their experiences with the organization and understand their priorities. I’m also interested in hearing what has helped them to perform at their best. I want to understand what those things are, and explore ways to add to, or enhance, that experience.

Tied to the overall employee experience is our return to office. As country head, one of my priorities is working across the organization to create an environment that supports our new ways of working in a hybrid manner. Because every organization approaches this differently, we’re going to experiment, learn and adjust along the way.

There were many lessons learned from COVID-19, but I’m interested to hear your perspective since you helped lead the charge in your previous role on the formation of and Takeda’s participation in the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance. Can you tell us more about the alliance and how we can carry those learnings forward?
Kim:
It’s certainly true that the pandemic led to some meaningful, first of its kind, collaborations to address the challenges of the public health crisis, like the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance. I am incredibly proud of how the plasma industry put the needs of patients — and the broader public good — above all else and combined expertise in research and development and enhanced the infrastructure for plasma collections and manufacturing. Together, and in record time, we developed and tested a non-branded plasma-derived therapy. Ultimately, the trial did not meet its endpoints, but we gained so much insight through the experience and contributed meaningfully to the knowledge base of COVID-19. I feel truly honored to have been part of that effort and hope that we can continue to look for ways that our industry can collaborate to solve patient challenges.

Pharmaceutical companies must consistently innovate, and a key aspect of fostering that innovation is creating a diverse and inclusive culture. Without the inclusion, a company will struggle to benefit from diversity.

Julie Kim, Takeda

What does it mean to you to be a woman of color in the C-suite? Do you have any advice for others as they ascend in their careers?
Kim:
First, I should mention that I’m not the first woman, nor the first woman of color in Takeda’s C-suite. The executive team at Takeda is quite diverse — six out of 18 members of the executive team are women and of those six, four are women of color. It’s important to me to be part of a company that values leaders from all backgrounds and experiences.

My whole life, I’ve described myself as a blue fish in a pond of orange fish, as I have never identified with the majority. I feel strongly that true diversity is beyond what we can observe physically, as that is just the starting point. It must also include what’s below the surface.

My advice to others is two-fold. First, leverage your differences, whatever they may be, to lean into listening and making space for a variety of perspectives. Good ideas can come from anywhere and my experiences have taught me to be more inclusive when I look for solutions to a problem.

Secondly, choose the harder option when given a career choice and accept the challenge. Early in my career, a trusted mentor told me that making the easy choice will keep you in your comfort zone and may allow you to get promoted faster, but in the end, it will limit you. By making the harder choice, you may be uncomfortable, you may make more mistakes, but those things will grow you and make you that much better of a leader.

What role does diversity and inclusion play in this industry?
Kim:
Pharmaceutical companies must consistently innovate, and a key aspect of fostering that innovation is creating a diverse and inclusive culture. There are many research studies that show the benefit of diversity on results and yet we are still far from the ideal, particularly when looking at areas driven by STEM. In addition to representation, inclusion is critical because if you have a seat at the table (diversity) but the others at the table don’t listen to you, then you don’t have inclusion. Without the inclusion, a company will struggle to benefit from diversity. On top of this, a safe environment for robust exchange of ideas, debate, and collaboration needs to be fostered. At Takeda, we embrace and celebrate diversity. We strive to give patients and our people equitable access to opportunities to achieve their full potential. 

Is your organization thinking about health equity differently today? What has changed?
Kim:
Health equity is an incredibly complex and nuanced topic to which there is no silver bullet and no easy answer. Here at Takeda, we are investing significantly to make sure that we are asking the right questions and developing a deep understanding about the environment in which people are born into as a piece of how their health outcomes are determined. Only then can we begin to look for solutions.

To make health care more equitable, we must approach reform systemically and look at the role communities can play in finding more holistic and equitable solutions. We must begin with the basic human needs and work from there. Along the way, we will listen carefully to understand what the needs of that specific community are and not assume there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. And we must acknowledge the deep traumas, injustices and barriers that many communities have faced and take a long-term approach to partnering with a variety of organizations to move the needle. This requires partnerships across the health care continuum to make an impact.

What impact do you hope your organization can have on the life sciences industry as a whole?
Kim:
Takeda’s culture revolves around our values of integrity, honesty, perseverance, and fairness that have existed for over 240 years. We’ve translated these values into a decision-making framework of Patients-Trust-Reputation-Business (PTRB), always in that order, as we intentionally put patients first. In terms of patient-centricity, I believe as a company and as an industry, we are making progress. We spend a great deal of time engaging with patient communities, all the way from the research stage through to commercialization. We take what we learn to design strategies that support patients from their diagnosis and through their treatment. Yet, our work is only just beginning. We must continue to listen to our patient communities, even when it’s feedback we may not agree with — because it’s in those spaces that innovation often happens. And I am excited to be part of it.

Related Summit series interviews: 
Edwards Lifesciences CEO Mike Mussallem on blaancing innovation, ethics and resilience 
Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer on improving the patient care journey
What will it take to fix the mental health crisis? ‘A social movement’
BCBSA’s Kim Keck reflects on her first year as CEO
Clinical research 2.0: An interview with Verily Life Sciences’ Amy Abernethy

About the Author

Tom Sullivan, EVP & Editor-in-Chief of Digital Content

Tom Sullivan brings more than two decades in editing and journalism experience to Health Evolution. Sullivan most recently served as Editor-in-Chief at HIMSS, leading Healthcare IT News, Health Finance, MobiHealthNews. Prior to HIMSS Media, Sullivan was News Editor of IDG’s InfoWorld, directing a dozen reporters’ coverage for the weekly print publication and daily website. Contact: toms@healthevolution.com or @SullyHIT on Twitter.