12 questions with:

Daniel Kohlstaedt

Daniel Kohlstaedt, managing director of PurpleLeaf Strategy, with more than 18 years of experience in pharma, talks about his journey through the industry. He believes in the ‘transformation’ the pharma and biotech industries are going through. While he completely supports the new, he is a strong advocate of getting the basics right.

question 1

What are the main responsibilities of your current role?

Managing director of PurpleLeaf Strategy, which also includes a lot of client-facing project management and new product development.

question 2

What is your background prior to this role and how did it prepare you for the work you do now?

I’ve been in pharma since 2005, when I started to carry the bag for Gruenenthal Germany. My career in pharma included junior product management to group product management, global marketing excellence, global commercial effectiveness, global brand director, etc., in mid to big pharma companies, such as Solvay, Abbott, and Roche. I learned pharma sales and marketing from the beginning and was lucky being exposed to challenges in multiple country healthcare systems over a considerable time. I’ve developed multiple brand strategy processes, which let me end up in my current role.

question 3

What is your proudest professional accomplishment to date?

With PurpleLeaf, we faced the disruptors’ dilemma as it’s written in the textbook: in the beginning, nobody believed in our vision to amplify strategic decision making by using cloud technology and data. Since we were all locked in our offices during COVID times, minds changed. We could show that our approach holds multiple benefits to the “classical” way of doing commercial excellence and today we are exposed to high demand. I’m proud of our team, which does outstanding work, and we truly disrupted multiple processes in pharma commercial excellence topics.

question 4

What are some of the biggest ongoing challenges in your work?

Change management. Although our industry is moving in the right direction by trying new ways, I feel we (pharma and biotech) are still very much stuck on some topics. One good example is that every pharmaceutical company is looking for the next innovation to get themselves ahead of competition, but also to serve their patients better. Unfortunately, only some teams are prepared to go truly new ways and question the status quo. Often, we see teams looking for re-assurance to avoid mistakes. As an industry, we’ve spoken for ages about being more forgiving when someone tries something new. I believe, in this respect, we still have a way to go. When you want to be truly innovative, you must go where no one’s ever been. You cannot be sure that you will succeed. If you need proof that your new initiative was successful before to eliminate the risk, it is not innovative by definition.

question 5

What are your biggest short-term goals for this year and next year?

This year we have a lot of projects with big pharma companies, helping them to digitalise and simplify their brand planning processes. These projects are important for us, as our platform is constantly updated based on new business realities, especially from our big pharma customers. However, we will introduce our toolbox of solutions in Q2, also, as a block solution. What does that mean? This opens our innovative products to smaller companies and even single users, by allowing the customer to utilise selected modules from our platform. Customers don’t have to roll-out a full new planning system, but can enrich their existing planning process, with a selection of our tools.

question 6

What are your biggest long-term goals for five years or 10 years from now?

Some of our clients are using our platform in a very consistent way across the full organisation, which results in a lot of data being captured. The next development milestone for us will be data mining and success driver analyses, based on commercial data, using neural networks and machine learning. We want to equip our customers with the opportunity to find patterns in their historic data sets and figure out what needs to be in place to launch a product with higher chances, or which decisions have led to success in the past to inform future decisions. Currently, brand plans are “stored” in a closed format called PowerPoint: we want to unlock the potential that lies in that critical data.

question 7

What are the most important professional skills in your work and how do you hone them?

There is no universal answer to this question. Our teams are very versatile, as we are combining deep pharma marketing, sales knowledge and experience, with state-of-the-art coding skills. Obviously, not everyone in the team can do all of those tasks, but the most crucial skill for us as a company, and I believe this is a USP for PurpleLeaf, is that we can translate pharma marketing, sales, and medical challenges from our customers into a technology solution. There are not many companies out there that can do this. You have excellent pharma specialised consulting companies and you have fantastic coding groups: merging both under one roof is the art, which we at PurpleLeaf are doing very well.

The most critical mindset we look for in new hires is a problem-solving mindset. There is no project we are doing that doesn’t require the iteration and innovation of new ideas.

question 8

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

A big topic, obviously, is the omnichannel topic. I have my own little opinion about it, which would require a full article to go in-depth. However, I believe the omnichannel topic can be boiled down to that one question: how can we re-conquer share of attention from HCPs, realising that HCPs want to maintain the lower sales rep frequency from COVID times? I think this is a relevant question and, honestly, other industries have solved this question already, but we cannot copy FMCG closed-loop marketing approaches easily, as they are in a different buying process schedule to the average pharma company.

Another challenge, I believe is the consequence of a lot of western countries realising that using one source for raw materials is dangerous. These countries are creating think tanks to course correct pharmaceutical product shortages. I believe this will be a hard nut to crack for healthcare systems and pharma companies in the next coming years.

question 9

What excites you most about current industry trends?

Obviously, there have been some recent scientific developments in the last few years (CAR-T, CRISPR, etc.) that moved the borders of what is imaginable in terms of curing lethal diseases, which is absolutely mind-blowing for a life scientist. I’m looking forward to seeing the next generations of treatments simplifying the logistics, application, and aftercare, which will make these technologies affordable and feasible for mass market diseases, such as diabetes, cardio-metabolic, etc.

question 10

What has changed most about the industry since the start of your career?

When I started, we didn’t have CRM systems, they were called ETMS back then, and obviously no iPads, etc. The amount of data was limited to the company budget, as they needed to be bought from data firms. Today, a lot of meaningful data is generated internally. Data analysis and predictive analytics became big. Back then, a lot of companies had small molecule products. Mass markets such as statins, ACE-inhibitors, etc., were big. At least, in Germany market access was a given. The environment did change dramatically. Funnily, it seems the only thing that remained in most companies was the planning process. We still see some clients using concepts from the 90s and floating them around in 2024 brand plans. But not everything is outdated. A lot of “old” concepts and processes still work fine. It’s more about how we apply them that needs some refreshing. On the other side, there are also “old” concepts that should be sent to retirement.

question 11

What do you think pharma will look like in 15 years? 50 years?

Even more data mining, automation, and intelligent auto-creation of content. ChatGPT is the start of a new robotic future in areas that used to be the last frontier. I’m sure that, in 15 years, whole marketing campaigns will be planned, executed and monitored by artificial intelligence. To a degree, this is already possible today.

Also, diagnosis and treatment choice will be automated to a certain degree. I believe there will always be a human overseeing the computer technology, which is the way it should be, but diagnosis and speed of diagnosis, especially in rural areas, will be increased. Hopefully, this will grant increased access at affordable prices to a larger population. High-end medication in 2023 will be “generic” by then and new medical technologies will replace “old” therapies. You don’t have to be a fortune-teller to proclaim this. Explain to someone from 2008 CRISPR technology or ChatGPT, they would not have believed you.

question 12

If you could have any job other than the one you have now, what would you choose?

Chef. I like to cook, albeit it’s a stressful job. I believe crafting something with your hands that is of value to others is something very satisfying.

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