Dr. Josefine Römmler-Zehrer: The special melange of science, patient care and broad experience in the pharmaceutical industry evolves the healthcare landscape

Dr. Josefine Roemmler-Zehrer | Co-Owner and General Manager | ILSC
Dr. Josefine Roemmler-Zehrer | Co-Owner and General Manager | ILSC

What does it take to bring about a positive transformation in healthcare, especially in an industry where challenges abound and bold decisions are a necessity? Moreover, what does it entail for a woman to lead the charge in such a dynamic and demanding field?

In this feature, we dig into these questions as we spotlight the interesting journey of Dr. Josefine Römmler-Zehrer, a visionary leader who is developing the healthcare landscape through her knowledge and commitment to progress.

As the CoOwner and General Manager of ILSC – International Life Science Consulting GmbH & Co. KG, and the Chief Medical Officer at Immodulon, Dr. Römmler-Zehrer desires to further evolve the healthcare industry. With her extensive expertise in plenty of different medical indications such as oncology, endocrinology, immunology, and autoimmune disease, accompanied by her specialisation as a board-certified physician in internal medicine, endocrinology, and diabetes, coupled with her experience in working in the pharmaceutical industry and her leadership skills, she is paving the way for a brighter, healthier future for patients around the globe.

Her extensive experience spans between patient care, scientific research and working in the pharmaceutical industry, making her a driving force for innovation in medical science and life sciences consulting.

Together with her partner at ILSC, Thorsten Sperber, Dr. Römmler-Zehrer is dedicated to advance healthcare through holistic approaches to medical affairs, R&D strategy, science, business development and portfolio management. With a global network of experts spanning diverse fields such as oncology, immunology, endocrinology, rare diseases and neurology, she manages collaborations that exceed geographical boundaries in pursuit of finding collaborative solutions.

Dr. Römmler-Zehrer’s contributions are accompanied by her prolific authorship in peer-reviewed scientific journals, her involvement in professional societies such as the German Society of Endocrinology, and her commitment to advancing medical knowledge and best practices. Her exemplary work has been recognized with accolades, including the Endocrine Society Award for Publishing Excellence in 2011.

In our exclusive interview with Dr. Römmler-Zehrer, we dive into her journey, uncovering the insights that define her as an innovative leader in healthcare.

Josefine, could you share a bit about your background and journey in the healthcare industry, leading up to your current role as Owner and General Manager at ILSC?

My academic journey began with the study of human medicine in Budapest, Hungary, and continued at the Julius Maximilian’s University Würzburg, Germany, where I completed my medical training in 2004 and received my doctoral degree in medicine in 2005.

Throughout my residency until 2012, I specialized in internal medicine, endocrinology, and diabetes at the Klinik und Poliklinik IV, Ludwig Maximilian’s University Munich, obtaining board certification in 2012. During this period, I acquired extensive expertise in various medical domains, particularly in internal medicine, with a research focus on the pituitary gland and dysregulation of growth hormones. I also served as Sub-Investigator (SI) for multiple clinical trials, culminating in the completion of my academic lecture qualification (habilitation) with a research thesis on growth hormone dysregulation in 2013.

My industrial career commenced at Celgene GmbH in 2013, starting as Sr. Medical Advisor and Associate Director Medical Affairs Oncology, eventually advancing to Director Medical Affairs Oncology. Later, I was promoted to Director Medical Affairs Rheumatology and Dermatology.

During my tenure, I played a central role in the successful launches of various treatments, including Abraxane® in pancreatic cancer and NSCLC, and Cabometyx® in renal cell and thyroid cancer. Additionally, I oversaw the implementation of multiple clinical trials (CSS, IITs, and NIS), while also building and effectively leading cross-functional teams.

Furthermore, I pursued continuous professional development, obtaining an MBI certificate of advanced studies at the University of St. Gallen and completing various leadership trainings and qualifications for Medical Affairs for Modern Pharma, C.E.L. for pharma.

My journey continued as Director Medical Affairs Rheumatology and Dermatology at Celgene GmbH and subsequently for AMGEN, following the acquisition of Otezla® by AMGEN. There, my responsibilities primarily revolved around integrating the cross-functional Otezla team.

Prior to joining ILSC, I served as Medical Director for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at IPSEN GmbH, Munich, Germany with responsibility of 60 people in my team covering Medical Affairs, Medical Operations, Drug Safety and Regulatory.

Part of our portfolio at ILSC is also offering interim management for clients in need. So, for various clients I have temporarily and effectively also filled roles as country or regional medical leads, including but not limited to assigned roles as the CMO of an organization.

How has your medical training influenced your approach to healthcare consulting and leadership at ILSC?

With a robust background in medical education, specializing in internal medicine during my eight-year tenure at the university hospital LMU in Munich, I’ve encountered a broad and diverse range of patient cases, spanning from endocrinology, internal medicine and oncology to emergency and intensive care units.

Driven by a genuine desire to make a tangible difference in patients’ lives, my mission has always been to enhance health conditions, elevate the quality of life for those in need, and to improve survival rates of devasting diseases. With the move into the pharmaceutical industry, I transitioned into the role of advancing the development of new drugs, I find myself at the forefront of medical innovation, poised to impact and serve thousands of patients; which remains a humbling experience in front of the tremendous remaining unmet medical need out there.

The prospect of contributing to the creation of novel therapeutics fills me with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Knowing that each new drug brought to market has the potential to address significant medical gaps, and alleviate suffering motivates me to strive for excellence in every aspect of my work.

With every breakthrough, I am afforded the opportunity to translate scientific progress into real-world benefits for patients, ultimately fulfilling my commitment to serve and improve lives on a broader scale.

What is the mission and vision of ILSC? How do you see the company contributing to the transformation of healthcare on an international scale?

ILSC aims to drive transformative change in the healthcare industry by providing comprehensive and cutting-edge life science consulting services. Our vision is to play a fundamental role in advancing healthcare on an international scale through strategic partnerships, innovative solutions, and unparalleled expertise.

At ILSC, we are committed to leveraging our capabilities in medical affairs, R&D, science, business development, portfolio management, reimbursement strategy, and venture capital funding to empower life science startups and established companies alike.

We carefully evaluate the level of support young start-ups need, and sometimes even support their journey on a “pro bono basis”, as especially young spin-offs often do not have the funding to pay for consulting services right away. However, leaving them without this support could mean failure from the get-go.

Furthermore, our partnerships with highly qualified specialists and renowned Leaders in key areas of life science and medical research enhance our ability to deliver impactful solutions and stay at the forefront of industry advancements.

ILSC’s commitment to excellence extends beyond traditional consulting services. We also provide support in talent acquisition and interim management, ensuring that our clients have access to the skilled professionals and leadership necessary to drive their organizations forward.

Could you elaborate on the distinctive aspects that set ILSC apart in the industry?

ILSC distinguishes itself in the industry through several unique features:

  1. Multifaceted Expertise: Our team possesses a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, including medical, scientific, and pharmaceutical industry roles.
  2. Comprehensive Knowledge: With extensive experience across various facets of the healthcare sector, we offer comprehensive knowledge spanning from scientific research to commercialization.
  3. Global Network: ILSC boasts a broad global network comprising key stakeholders, thought leaders, and experts across different regions and disciplines within the life sciences and medical research fields.
  4. Tailored Support for Startups: Recognizing the unique challenges faced by smaller biotech companies and startups, we offer specialized support and advice tailored to their needs.
  5. Proven Track Record: With a track record of success of the partners of ILSC spanning three decades in the biopharmaceutical industry, ILSC has established itself in a short timeframe as a trusted partner and advisor to companies of all sizes and in various indications and throughout global geographies.

How do you believe your role at ILSC contributes to the broader narrative of advancing healthcare through visionary leadership?

There are several ways in which I contribute to advancing healthcare through my role at ILSC.

Firstly, our extensive background and experience equip us with a deep understanding of the healthcare landscape, including its challenges and opportunities. This knowledge allows us to identify emerging trends, anticipate future needs, and develop strategic approaches to address them effectively. By leveraging our insights and foresight, we can guide our clients and partners towards innovative solutions that drive positive change and enhance patient outcomes.

Secondly, visionary leadership requires not only understanding the current state of healthcare but also envisioning its future trajectory. At ILSC, we are committed to shaping the future of healthcare by envisioning new possibilities, challenging existing paradigms, and championing new ideas.

Thirdly, we recognize that advancing healthcare requires a collective effort involving stakeholders from across the industry, academia, government, and beyond. At ILSC, we cultivate strategic partnerships and collaborations that bring together diverse perspectives, expertise, and resources to tackle complex healthcare challenges.

From your perspective, what are some of the most significant challenges that healthcare consulting faces today, and how is ILSC positioned to address them?

Consulting in the healthcare sector faces numerous hurdles, with the most pressing issues being financial support and backing for smaller biotech firms and startups. The global healthcare landscape is complex and dynamic, and securing adequate financing is crucial for the success and sustainability of innovative ventures.

Additionally, the competitive nature of the healthcare industry and the rapidly evolving nature of medical science and technology further compound the challenges faced by smaller biotech and startups.

In light of these challenges, ILSC is uniquely positioned to address them through our well-established network, expertise, and strategic approach to healthcare consulting. By leveraging our broad global network of partners, and stakeholders, we can help connect smaller biotech and startups with the funding and support they need to succeed. Our deep understanding of the healthcare industry and regulatory landscape enables us to provide tailored guidance and support to navigate the complexities of the development and commercialization process. Moreover, our track record of success and commitment to innovation make us a trusted partner for companies seeking to bring new treatments to market.

How crucial is collaboration on a global scale in today’s healthcare landscape, and how does ILSC navigate and foster such collaborations?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, global collaboration was already important, but its significance has been underscored even more in recent years. The pandemic highlighted the interconnectedness of healthcare systems and the need for rapid, coordinated responses to global health crises. Furthermore, advancements in medical science and technology are increasingly reliant on interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing across borders.

ILSC recognizes the importance of global collaboration and actively navigates and fosters such collaborations to drive success in the healthcare industry. Through our extensive network of partners, experts, and stakeholders around the world, we facilitate collaboration on a global scale, connecting clients with the best people and resources to meet their needs and achieve their goals.

For example, in my current role as CMO of Immodulon, we have leadership team members placed in the USA, Europe, and Australia. This global presence allows us to tap into diverse perspectives, expertise, and resources from different regions, enabling us to develop innovative solutions and strategies that are tailored to the specific needs of patients and healthcare systems worldwide.

What principles or philosophies guide your approach to steering ILSC towards success? How do you inspire and motivate your team to achieve the company’s goals?

There are various fundamental principles and philosophies that define our culture, steer our decisions, and drive the company towards success:

  1. Good Collaboration: We believe in the power of collaboration and teamwork. By cultivating an environment of open communication, mutual respect, and shared goals, we encourage collaboration both internally among team members and externally with clients, partners, and stakeholders.
  2. Well-Connected: Our extensive network of contacts, partners, and experts allows us to stay well-connected within the healthcare industry. By leveraging these connections, we gain valuable insights, access to resources, and opportunities for collaboration that enhance our ability to drive success.
  3. Highest Standard: We are committed to upholding the highest standards of quality, integrity, and professionalism in everything we do. By setting high expectations for us and holding ourselves accountable to these standards, we ensure that our work meets or exceeds the expectations of our clients and partners.
  4. Greatest Knowledge and Experience: Our team comprises individuals with diverse backgrounds, expertise, and experiences. By harnessing the collective knowledge and experience of our team members, we are able to provide our clients with unparalleled insights, innovative solutions, and strategic guidance that drive success.
  5. Always Reach for the Best: We are continuously striving for excellence and improvement. Whether it’s in the quality of our work, the effectiveness of our strategies, or the impact of our outcomes, we are always pushing ourselves to reach for the best and fulfill expectations.
  6. Have Fun with What We Are Doing: We believe that passion and enjoyment are key ingredients for success. By nurturing a positive and supportive work environment where team members and partners feel inspired, motivated, and valued, we encourage creativity, innovation, and collaboration that drive results.

What advice do you have for aspiring women who aim to make a significant impact through leadership roles?

Here are some valuable pieces of advice for women aspiring to make a substantial impact through leadership positions:

Trust Yourself and your self-confidence: Believe in your abilities and trust yourself to succeed.

Maintain your humbleness towards the greater good: It is important to carefully evaluate your own level of conscious competence and knowing about your boundaries.

Embrace Your Strengths: Recognize and embrace the strengths and qualities that you bring to the table as a leader.

Balance Career and Family: It is possible to balance a successful career with family responsibilities, but it requires careful planning and support, as well as a supporting family or partner.

Be Mindful of Maternity Leave and Part-Time Work: While maternity (and paternity) leaves and part-time work arrangements can be beneficial for achieving work-life balance, be mindful of the potential impact on career progression.

Pursue Opportunities with Passion: Pursue leadership opportunities that align with your passions and interests.

Seek Mentorship and Support: Surround yourself with mentors, allies, and supportive colleagues who can provide guidance, advice, and encouragement along your leadership journey.

Have Fun and Stay True to Yourself: Finally, remember to have fun with what you are doing and stay true to yourself. Leadership can be challenging, but it should also be fulfilling and enjoyable.

Josefine’s Journey of Impact

Being recognized as one of Europe’s extraordinary women is both humbling and empowering for Dr. Josefine Römmler-Zehrer. Throughout her career journey, from her years as a physician at the University of Munich to her roles in pharmaceutical companies, she has been driven by a passion for improving patient outcomes and advancing healthcare innovation.

Balancing professional responsibilities with family life has further shaped Dr. Römmler-Zehrer’s perspective, reinforcing the significance of patient-centered care and the need to drive the development of the healthcare systems.

Looking ahead, Dr. Römmler-Zehrer envisions leveraging her blend of clinical, research, and leadership experience to continue making a positive impact on the healthcare landscape. Whether through developing innovative treatments, being the interface between science and patient care, she is committed to driving progress and improving the lives of patients and their families.

As a woman in a leadership position, Dr. Römmler-Zehrer is also dedicated to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare, ensuring that diverse perspectives are represented and valued in decision-making processes.

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