Women Leaders in Market Access: An interview with Astellas' Katie Gardner

May 10th, 2024

In our podcast series, “Women Leaders in Market Access,” we engage in insightful interviews with eight inspiring individuals who are remarkable leaders in the global market access community.

This interview spotlights Katie Gardner is Head of Global Market Access Excellence at Astellas. Katie is not afraid to challenge the norm. She has a growth mindset and has compassion and support for how others respond to change and the challenges it brings.

You can access the podcast episode featuring Katie here, or continue reading for the complete Q&A..

Q1: What is your current role and your core responsibilities?

I’m the head of Global Market Access Excellence and Capabilities at Astellas. I’ve been at Astellas for just over three and a half years now, and really my remit is to define market access excellence. So ask what does an industry leading market access function looks like, and then ensure we have the capabilities to achieve this consistently across the organisation.

It’s a really wonderful role. I get to work across the full Astellas market access community, including global and country-based colleagues across all products and the pipeline and with so many cross functional colleagues across medical and commercial. I’m grateful for the role that I have and really enjoy it.

Q2: What did your own personal journey into market access look like? What led you to the industry?

After I completed a PhD in neuroscience, I moved into working in the pharmaceutical industry, my first job was in pharmaceutical advertising, and we were launching a product, the patients really wanted to have it. and the doctors wanted to prescribe it. So we thought this is all going great. But unfortunately, the patients couldn’t access it because the payers didn’t want to pay for it. That was because we didn’t have the evidence that payers required to really demonstrate the full value of the product. 

So this is going back 15 years and that was the first time I had heard of market access and really understood payers and the role of payers. That got me interested, so I left pharmaceutical marketing and joined a very small consultancy. It was less than 30 people that really focused on payer research and payer communications.

That small company got bought and sold and got bigger and bigger and bigger. But over the 12 years that I was there, it was great because I was able to really get a depth of of experience. So, the company, we added, health economics, outcomes research, real world evidence, value and access consulting, and I got to spend time with all of those functions and gain experiences there.

So, it really gave me a nice broad perspective of the market access function.

Q3: Did you always have a clear intention to work in science, or was it a career choice that evolved over time?

I would say so. I think looking back, even when I was a child and I wouldn’t have articulated it in this way, but I’ve always liked to make evidence-based decisions.

I think that naturally leads to science and leads to market access. I’ve always enjoyed problem solving. I’ve also just always been terrible at arts and languages, so maybe I had no choice but to be in science, but I think it’s a good fit and I do enjoy it.

Q4: What have been the most significant changes you've seen so far in your career?

I would say if we thought about the example that brought me to market access of not having that payer evidence that time of launch, I would say the biggest change over the 15 years that I’ve been in the industry is really seeing the payer perspective being reflected much earlier and earlier in the product development.

I think when you think of companies that do well. You know, they achieve optimal market access for their products. There tend to be companies that do go through those right steps at the right time. They’re asking, the right questions during the product development to make sure they’re not just thinking about what our target product profile is, but what is our reimbursable target product profile.

I think it comes down to a nice phrase that we often use when we’re educating people about market access and why you need to think about the payer perspective early and that on the road to success, there are no shortcuts. You do have to put that work in and put that in early. Within Astellas, we have a framework that we call Mishi, which is the Japanese word for the road or the path and that is our framework for market access pricing policy and stakeholder strategy and it makes sure that we are doing that. So, in phase 1, what do we need to think of from a payer’s perspective in phase 2 and phase 3? We’re always making sure we’re keeping the payers perspective in mind. So, when it does come to launch, we are able to get innovative treatments for patients as soon as possible, because as we know, patients are waiting for those innovative treatments.

Q5: Have you had to overcome any barriers or obstacles as part of your journey so far?

Well, that’s a good question. I think an interesting one that perhaps some people might be able to relate to is I joined Astellas during the very first lockdown. I had my interview in person, met my boss, met some of my colleagues, accepted the job, and then the government called the first lockdown. So, when I actually went in on my first day, it was a matter of wearing a mask, driving my car up to Astellas, having a security guard giving me my laptop and then there I was, working from home and having to interact with the team virtually.

I think one of the challenges we think about- building relationships virtually, it’s fairly easy to build credibility to build reliability, but it’s hard to develop familiarity when you’re working remotely. And that’s so important if you’re really trying to build trust within a team. So, I had to focus on asking connection questions, building in time to talk about life outside of work.

You know, if we would start a meeting before we got into the topic, I would try to ask something instead of just a, how are you? Something more like, what are you looking forward to this weekend? Or what are you most excited about today? Just so I could start a little bit of a conversation and get to know people and get to know them as a person outside of work. 

When thinking about my team or our team and trying to have a high performing team, I think it’s important, even if everyone’s dotted all over the world and we’re all interacting virtually, that we act and we perform like a team that is together all the time so building those connections is critical.

Q6: What are the biggest challenges that market access professionals face?

I think one of the biggest challenges is that we’re working in a constantly involving landscape. We talk about this perfect storm that’s being created with recent policy changes across the globe. We have the IRA in the U. S., the EU pharma legislation, numerous country level policy changes, and they’re all raising the bar as far as value demonstration.

And at the same time, we’re developing more innovative treatments. We recently had a panel discussion with a group of recent ex-payers and asking the question, our current value framework still fit for purpose. And the conclusion was just about so we know there’s going to need to be changes in our value demonstration frameworks, and that’s really going to need to be done through close partnering between industry and payer decision making bodies. 

If we want to bring innovative treatments to market, we’re doing so in this constantly evolving landscape, we’re going to need to have innovative solutions so that patients can access these treatments. I think we’re also going to have to really increase agility across the reimbursement landscape to reflect that constant evolution that’s happening across the globe. So, speaking of coven, we saw great agility displayed on the regulatory side of things, but it’d be great to see if we could have that kind of agility on the market access side of things.

So I think that it’s the constantly evolving landscape that need to innovate, that need to increase agility, that to me, are the biggest challenges.

Q7: What should market access professionals be doing to prepare for the ever-changing landscape they're faced with?

I would say one way to increase agility across the industry is embracing digital technology. I know digital is a big buzzword that we’ve been talking about for several years and numerous industries, including the pharmaceutical industry and within Astellas, it’s something that we talk about and within our team, we’re really aiming to have a digitally bilingual workforce.

So we are not expecting people on the team to suddenly become experts at AI or deep learning or advanced analytics. But what we’re hoping for is to really have that digitally bilingual workforce so that you are still a subject matter expert within market access or pricing or HEOR, but you’re able to speak around digital, you have that foundational knowledge of that space. So you know when to tap into and utilize digital technologies to get the work done in the most optimal way. So, if you’re trying to get payer insights, that could be that you need to go out and speak to payers, but it could also be that you need to use AI to look at previous decisions in the space to predict how your product may perform in the future.

So it’s really having that understanding of  the pros and cons of all the different digital technologies that are available and building it into all the things that we do within market access. So digital isn’t its own competency, but it’s part of all the existing competencies that you need to achieve market access. Whether it’s bringing it into how you operationalise your pricing, or how you do your pricing strategy, value demonstration, value communication, whatever that may be, you’re able to harness the power of digital technology when appropriate.

Q8: Given your close involvement with Access Infinity and the ongoing journey, could you provide some insights or commentary on this topic, specifically in the context of your experiences and observations?

It really resonates that being that digital bilingual team, I think is something I really enjoy about working with Access Infinity, and I think one thing you do well is instead of trying to be the jack of all trades, master of none, you have your technical experts and your market access experts and working together in one team.

It’s having that blend of that deep knowledge but bringing it together I think that is unique and something I really enjoy when I’m working with the Access Infinity team. And also, what’s interesting too is with a bit of diversity in the team, you get interesting ideas because often it could be the programmer that comes up with the best idea for your market access project. So bringing all those experts into a diverse team is nice to work with. I think it’s important to keep that in mind that ideas can come from anywhere. We have an initiative that we just recently rolled out within the team and it’s a project called Togu, which is the Japanese word to sharpen.

And it’s a project that allows team members to find and participate in short term projects that are being run by other sub teams where they normally wouldn’t be included. So it’s almost like a dating site for projects. This is the best way to describe it. So, if you’re a project owner, you can advertise your project and then someone can come and join it and get experience and it has 2 benefits.

So 1, if you’re the person joining a project, perhaps you’ve always worked in the pipeline and you want to get a bit of experience working on a project that’s more around launch. If you’re working in pricing, but you want to get more experience in HUR or in market access, it allows you to sample these other specialty areas, but then if you’re a project owner, we tend to get the same work done by the same team members.

You may be missing a trick there. So getting a complete outside perspective, getting almost a naive expert to come in to maybe, connect the dots for you to ask the big questions or be more challenging, really make sure that we’re executing our projects in the most optimal and effective way.

Q9: You've emphasized the significance of building a digitally bilingual team, a term I find intriguing. Additionally, you've highlighted the idea that insights can emerge from any source, and briefly touched on mindset. Could you elaborate more on your thoughts regarding the mindset theme and its role in fostering innovation and digital transformation within teams?

Yeah, to me, mindset is key. I tend to bang on about mindset any time I get the opportunity to talk about high performance teams.

But when you think of it, if you want to be a high performing team, and if your aim is to outperform the rest of the industry, you have to be innovative and to be innovative that really requires that growth mindset and getting the mindset right. So we need to be open to ideas coming from anywhere, as you mentioned.

But we also need to be open to feedback and we need to be open to being challenged. And those challenges can be internal or external challenges. And if we think of external payer challenges, if we want to achieve and maintain optimal market access for our products, it’s right for payers to challenge us, as members of society, they are spending our money, and we want them to do that wisely.

We need to be challenged. But at the same time, we need to be confident. And ambitious enough to challenge back to achieve and maintain that optimal market access because patients can’t benefit from innovative treatments. If they can’t access them and also as a society, we have to recognize innovation.

If we want to continue the advancement of healthcare outcomes, we need to be challenged, but we need to be open and ambitious to challenge back because it is that partnership between industry and payers that is going to. continue to recognize innovation and bring that innovation ultimately to patients.

Q10: What have you learned along the way in terms of key takeaways? Is there any advice that you'd give to young budding market access professionals starting their career now?

I would say given what I’ve talked about ideas coming from anywhere, being digitally bilingual, having that right mindset.

It comes back a bit to this idea of transferable skills. I think I look back and I realized it was the transferable skills that I gained in my PhD and during my working and consulting that’s led me to the job that I’m in today. So, my advice would be to focus more on having a career lattice as opposed to trying to aim for going up a traditional career ladder, that really also helps create more cross functional teams, a little bit less hierarchy. I think that’s also how you get more high performance., you get more diversity that way and then I think it’s just having that mindset to be innovative. I always say to the team, our corporate strategic plan is to be innovative, to bring innovative medicines to patients.

So, by definition, we’re going to have to do stuff for the first time, and that can be uncomfortable, but you need to be brave, and I would say, fake it till you make it. I always found myself, it’s where you end up. When you’re on the consulting side, the client comes to you with a project, or a problem and you are tasked with doing it. So, you have to do things for the first time and then before you know it, you’re there, you’re doing it. You’re the one with the experience. You’re able to pass that knowledge on and everyone can benefit from it. So yeah, being brave and having that right mindset and keeping the end in mind, knowing that this will help bring innovative treatments to patients, that can be motivational as well.

Q11: What makes market access a rewarding industry for you to work in?

Without a doubt, it’s making a difference in patient’ lives. I know it’s something that sometimes can seem a bit removed from what we do within market access, but you really have to remind yourself again, as I said, if you’re working within the market access industry, you are making a difference in patient’ lives because, as I said, patients can’t benefit from innovative treatments if they can’t access them.

I think bringing the patient focus to the center of what you do really can help with motivation. Also, sometimes things seem so slow to progress and it can feel like you’re dragging a bit, and you want to get that energy and that speed and a thing we always say within Astellas is run.

Patients are waiting and it’s true. You really have to keep that front of mind as well, because put yourself in the patient’s perspective, knowing what innovative treatments are being developed across an industry. It’s so exciting. But that’s what makes market access such an exciting and rewarding industry to be in.

For the complete interview with Katie, click here. Explore other episodes in the Women Leaders in Market Access podcast series here,  or find the ‘Market Access Matters’ podcast on all major podcast directories.